When I first laid eyes on Skylands, a 1925 summer house on the southern coast of Mount Desert Island, Maine, I could never have believed that one day I would own such a wonderful piece of American architectural history, a place that evokes an era gone by -- an era of grand summer trips, two-month-long vacations, and lavish entertaining both indoors and out.
When the house, with its vast outdoor terraces, gardens, and woodlands, was offered to me, I was excited at the prospect of making new friends, as well as learning old traditions and adapting them to my style of living and entertaining. It has been a fascinating process, making Skylands mine yet respecting everything that went on there in the past.
The vistas have been opened up -- the sparkling sea stretches out below the house and beyond; the gardens and terraces and woodland have been restored to what I think Jens Jensen, the original landscape architect, envisioned. My goal has been to combine the grandeur of the place -- in the views, the trees, the red granite cliffs, and the massive rooms of the house -- with true comfort and real warmth. I want to make Skylands a refuge where close friends, new friends, and great food merge into a lovely and relaxing environment.
I studied the house and the habits of the former owners, Edsel Ford's family and the Leedes, and realized that they used the place only from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That was why a house more than 80 years old showed so little wear and tear.
Nearly everything was original. Only the kitchen equipment had been updated; washing machines had been installed to replace the staff of laundresses. The cupboards and closets and storage areas were amazingly well stocked with glassware for every type of party and plates and platters suitable for any kind of entertaining -- barbecues, formal dinners, Mexican fiestas. The flower room (yes, a room especially designed for flower arranging, with a large refrigerator, a giant sink, and a long counter) was filled floor to ceiling with bowls and vases and urns.
I entertain quite often at Skylands, and I try to vary each party. I like to include as many new friends as old, young people as well as older. It is fun to introduce colleagues who come to Skylands to work with me to some of the local residents. They include artisans and artists and craftspeople with whom I have collaborated on projects, as well as members of the old families who have shaped the character of Mount Desert Island and its national park, Acadia.
This late-summer party was no different in terms of its guest list. Among the guests were David Rockefeller, the mainstay of the summer community in Seal Harbor, and other members of his family; Martha Stewart Living editor in chief Michael Boodro; Avery Bourke, whose great-grandfather was Edsel Ford; Jeff Gammelin, a stone artisan from nearby Ellsworth; and David Barber, who co-owns the amazing Blue Hill restaurants in New York.
Of course, I wanted delicious food, so I devised an Asian-inspired menu replete with spring rolls, rice-paper-wrapped summer rolls, crab puffs, and steamed Chinese sausages. The Skylands garden provided herbs and vegetables, including radishes and carrots. And because everyone loves them, I baked extra-long cheese straws made from puff pastry that looked as festive as fireworks on the table. The morning fog burned off just before the guests arrived, and the afternoon sun burnished the scene as everyone mingled.
The only family to have owned Skylands besides Edsel Ford's family was the Leedes. They were a large family from Texas and Colorado who entertained lavishly and well outdoors during the summers they spent on the island. I always invoke their name when I throw a party, hoping that mine will be as enjoyable for my guests as theirs were.
Lemon Whiskey Sours with Fresh Cherries
Honeydew Mojitos with Melon Balls and Mint
Tortilla Chips with Grilled Corn and Cheddar
Coconut Water and White Cranberry Punch
Parmesan Puff Pastry Straws
Vegetable Summer Rolls
Chinese Sausages with Mustard
Shrimp, Pork, and Sugar Snap Spring Rolls
Carrot Roulades with Radish and Herb Goat Cheese
Olives with Fresh Bay Leaves
Text by Martha Stewart