When you meet Nathan Turner, you meet California sunshine. The fourth-generation Californian is all about ease and enjoyment when entertaining. “I’m in the business of style, but I’m also in the business of living well, eating well, and spending time with friends and family,” says Turner. And in true California fashion, he has successfully merged his greatest passions—design, travel and food—into a thriving career as an interior designer, shop owner, author and entertaining expert. Turner, who is bicoastal (with homes in LA and NYC), is almost as well known for his effortlessly stylish entertaining as he is for his beloved interiors—which are at once vibrant, chic and classically relaxed. In his new book, Nathan Turner’s I Love California: Live, Eat and Entertain the West Coast Way, Turner spills his secrets to throwing the perfect, relaxed party and to bringing the West Coast vibe to anywhere you live.
What sets CA style and entertaining apart?
California entertaining is more a state of mind than anything else. To me it means a laid-back room, a friendly host, and a beautiful table with simple recipes and fresh ingredients. There is generally less formality on the West Coast and people are more casual. I am often barefoot at my dinner parties and that sets a super relaxed tone. The relaxed, chic California design sensibility comes from the indoor/outdoor lifestyle where you can do everything—from eating to hanging out—outside.
What is one of your favorite tricks for successful parties?
Having a theme. A theme can be something as simple as a color, but once I choose it I carry it through on the invites, the décor, the food, the flowers and the table. People appreciate the attention to detail and it’s really fun to go all out. A theme helps me think, ‘How can I take this party up a notch, make it more fun and really give people an experience?’
Most memorable party you ever hosted?
I hosted an Indian-themed bash at my store that was over the top. I found an Indian wedding planner in LA and went crazy with all the details she suggested—like having a bright marigold arch for guests to walk through. We transformed my store courtyard into an Indian fantasy that had everything but the elephant! I did a gorgeous orange and pink letterpress invitation that suggested guests wear saris and we served a signature ginger and lemon-infused vodka.
What one element is a must at all your parties?
Lots of food and alcohol. I believe in abundance. Nothing kills a party like running out of food. I want my guests to have so much fun sitting around the table eating and drinking that once they’re done with dessert they might wander back into the kitchen to have some more chicken.
Do you have any easy ideas for impromptu get-togethers?
I love having a margarita and guacamole party. I make homemade margaritas and put them in giant Ziploc bags in my freezer. Anytime someone unexpectedly comes over I can serve them a fresh margarita. And in California there are avocados everywhere, so it’s easy to whip up guacamole! For a party, I put out tons of nibbles for the guacamole, from the obvious like chips to shrimp and crudité. Another easy dinner to host is to order in Chinese. I go crazy on the table décor and serve the takeout in beautiful, Asian-inspired dishes. You don’t have to always cook, but you do need to go over the top on the styling of the table.
Where do you turn to for décor?
Ikea, Ebay and Etsy are my best friends. Depending on the type of party I am hosting I can go to any one of these sources and find inexpensive, chic items. Often people are unloading personal collections on Ebay so you can find something unique like 12 pink dessert plates for $10.
What is the secret to helping guests mingle?
If you make people feel comfortable and welcome they will have a great time. Of course, booze helps, but the host has to work hard to introduce and connect guests. I always have a few good friends attending that I can boss around to help me with the mingling and introducing!
Have you always loved to entertain?
Yes! I started cooking at a very young age—so young I shouldn’t have had access to a gas stove! One of my earliest memories is helping my mother get ready for parties. I loved setting the table, planning the menu, and the anticipation of waiting for guests to arrive.
What inspires your cooking?
My family. Eighty percent of the recipes in the book are family recipes that I grew up cooking and eating at our California ranch. I grew up eating seasonally and organic and doing the whole farm-to-table thing before it was even called that. My grandmother was Italian and she taught me that cooking is a way to show the people around you that you care.
These are Nathan’s top tips for throwing a fail-proof party.
1. Serve Family Style
People pass things, share, and interact with the meal they’re having together.
2. Build a Self-Serve Bar Everyone gets what they want and you’re not running back and forth like a bartender!
3. Skip Paper Plates
They are not eco-friendly and everything tastes better on real plates! I use camp tin-wear or anything lightweight.
4. Make an Outdoor Room You can use a blanket and cushions on the grass or a complete lounge with outdoor furniture and lighting. Inexpensive string lights and lanterns can transform a place.
5. Don’t Make Everything Give yourself a break and supplement homemade dishes with things you buy.
Text by Holly Parmelee
Photos by (beach picnic, fish tacos, mango tart) Ray Kachatorian; (Pomegranate, opening photo) Victoria Pearson