While I was reading a 1990 issue of House & Garden a few months ago, I came across an article that I can't seem to get out of my mind. The feature was on the Manhattan home of the late Gene Hovis. For those of you not familiar with Hovis (and that included me until a few months ago), he was a North Carolinian who came to New York back in the 1950s to seek fame and fortune as an actor. Although that career did not pan out, Hovis did find success as a well-regarded cook and food authority, eventually becoming the creative-food director at Macy's as well as the food editor at H&G. He also gained notoriety as a charming and sophisticated host, entertaining much of New York society at his Manhattan apartment. I just love this story: a small-town Southern boy ventures to the big city and woos the A-list with his down-home Southern cooking- and eventually winds up on the International Best Dressed list.
But back to this article. I think what struck me most about this home is its elegance and graciousness- something that unfortunately seems to be lacking in many homes today. Yes, the home is rather formal, but formality and comfort are not mutually exclusive. I'm wondering if Hovis decorated his home with his guests in mind. First, how could one look bad in such lovely surroundings- plum colored walls, soft lighting provided by candles and antique parchment lampshades, and richly upholstered furniture. And how could one not feel cosseted sitting at such a beautifully appointed table? It really seemed like the ultimate home in which to entertain.
Gene Hovis did not achieve success with his cooking skills alone. He had charm and grace and he seemed to spend much time ensuring the comfort and happiness of his guests. And in this age of computers, BlackBerrys, and frenzied schedules, perhaps it's time we start to focus again on some of life's pleasures such as entertaining at home, pulling out the fine china and crystal, and making our guests feel special. Perhaps the timing's right for a return to graciousness.
FYI: Hovis planned his menus around the likes and dislikes of his guests (another mark of good hostmanship). According to Hovis, Pat Buckley liked red beans. Carolina and Reinaldo Herrera are also bean people. Slim Keith's favorite dish was chicken potpie. And Bill Blass loved apricot-raisin bread pudding. Hovis also stressed that the food he prepared was simple and straight-forward, something to remember when we're planning our next dinner party!
Many of Hovis' antiques were American and English. He was able to amass his collection by buying what was not in vogue at that time.
A beautifully set table was a Hovis signature.
How fabulous is this? Look how organized Hovis was. This photo has inspired me to do the same for my linen collection (which unfortunately is not as large as that of Hovis.)
If this were my closet, I'd die and go to heaven. Look at all of that antique china, crystal, and silver! And in a marbleized painted closet no less!
Image at top: The host with the most Gene Hovis. All images from HG, Dec. 1990.