I have noticed that this has become an increasingly common fixture in the homes of many of my friends. Guests are often encouraged to prepare their own coffee, and at times even their own breakfasts, far removed from the hosts or other visitors.
This must be a new American trend, for I cannot recall this form of hospitality in any residences I have visited in Europe or Asia. The grand old American homes of the past century -- I own one in Maine -- were not outfitted with guest kitchens, nor were visitors encouraged to remain separate and distinct from the rest of the household. Indeed, even in those houses in which there were servants, a tray with hot coffee or tea might be brought to each guest in the morning. But this was the exception, not the rule.
Wherever and whenever I entertain weekend company, and I do so quite regularly, I most enjoy a morning cappuccino at the large kitchen table with the early risers. Some come down fully dressed while others wander around in bathrobes and slippers.
In East Hampton, I generally plan a very early walk with the dogs. When in Maine, it's a vigorous hike. In Bedford, it's usually a horseback ride. Any of these is followed by a big, sit-down breakfast, with all of the guests seated around the table. This is always a highlight of the weekend-I often invite neighbors, too. These gatherings are a great way to introduce friends to other friends and to get to know local residents I don't see often.
Breakfast is usually quite hearty: pancakes and bacon, waffles, eggs to order, fresh fruit, croissants, muffins, freshly squeezed juices, yogurt. A vast selection of teas is on offer, and my large Italian espresso maker is inevitably very popular.
Entertaining guests can be a challenge. I try really hard to design the roster of visitors so there is variety in personalities but homogeneity in their desires to converse and be active. We discuss possible activities before the weekend to ensure that each guest brings the appropriate clothing and footwear. I leave umbrellas in handy places in case of rain showers, and I keep extra tennis rackets and sneakers on hand for unexpected guests who come unprepared.
At Skylands, there are always six to 10 guests for a weekend. We have so many options for outdoor activities: hikes (there are 125 miles of trails mapped out in Acadia National Park), boat rides, sea kayaking, canoeing around the lake and pond, horseback riding, carriage driving, biking, cycling, swimming (if you can stand the cold water), and, of course, exploring, antiquing, and visiting great Maine houses and gardens.
Every evening, before we go to bed, some basic plans are laid for the following day: the time of the first hike, the tennis schedule, the timing of breakfast, and the boat-trip departure, which is based on the tides. Every room is equipped with an alarm clock-although it's hard to sleep through the typical early-morning hustle and bustle, it's not impossible.
The bedrooms are numbered, and all guests are preassigned rooms, so the housekeeper knows everyone's preferences and special needs. A welcome note awaits on each bed, and there is also a list of dos and don'ts -- very important in any big, old house, which inevitably develops certain peculiarities over the years.
It's important to keep your guests' needs in mind throughout the weekend and especially when assigning them a bedroom in your home. Size of the room (particularly if the guests have small children or if more than one person will be sharing), proximity to a bathroom, and whether stairs will be manageable should all be taken into consideration.
Meals also need to be thoughtfully considered. I love to cook, but I generally have someone else do all the shopping, and on big weekends with many guests, I have someone there to cook so that I can enjoy my company fully. I work on the menus carefully, balancing the courses and the timing and the variety as well as I can. Snacks are very important, as are cocktail time and healthy drinks for after yoga and tennis. I usually put out nuts, fruits, hard-cooked eggs, crudites, and cheese and crackers.
Meals are healthy but hearty and rely very much on the season. Fresh fish, beautiful lobsters, local vegetables, and milk and yogurt are always very much a part of the weekend. Casual meals around the large kitchen table are a must. But a formal dinner, with great wines and a big fire going in the dining room, is also welcoming and loved by all. The effort expended is worth it, and I have never entertained a group that wasn't elated with everything that had been planned.
My goal is to have the guests leave sated, pleasantly tired, well exercised, and happy. The plate of freshly baked cookies, the freshly squeezed juice, the handmade lattes, and the vegetables from the garden make all the difference in the world. Pampering, but not too much, and including all visitors in the goings-on transform casual acquaintances into friends, and friends into best friends forever. I love entertaining this way and will do so as long as I am able.
Text by Martha Stewart