Danielle Rollins has been called "Atlanta's preeminent hostess and tastemaker" but she is so much more than that. She has made incredible contributions to the Atlanta community by serving on various charities and boards. She is particularly proud of her efforts in establishing one of the city’s most popular events, Women of Style and Substance Annual Luncheon benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, which was inspired by the health care professionals who cared for her daughter following a near fatal accident.
Last spring “Soirée, Entertaining with Style" was published by Rizzoli. Danielle worked tirelessly on this project during a very difficult time in her life - Her middle child had suffered a near fatal accident and spent over a year recovering both in the hospital and at home. At was during that time that Danielle realized that entertaining at home was easier than going out, and she began to enjoy making all the decisions that creating a special celebration entailed.
Danielle has contributed to such magazines as Veranda and Southern living where she has been dubbed a “genuine expert" and a "natural born entertainer.” Her book, "Soiree, Entertaining with Style" has garnered praise for both its beauty and practicality on various websites and blogs, including Martha Stewart.com, Oprah.com, as well as right here at The Entertaining House. Danielle has also received coverage in Wall Street Journal, Women’s Wear Daily, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Post, she has been featured on several TV morning talk show segments such as Marie Osmond’s show “Marie” as well as national and local radio shows.
Pour yourself a glass of bubbly, or bourbon, or gin & tonic, relax and stay with us a while as we get close up and personal with Danielle. Learn about her latest venture, the launching of a full service design firm, Rollins Ingram, with her best friend, architect, Bill Ingram - learn about what inspires her style, her parties, and the issues she is passionate about.
Who was your first fashion Icon?
Grace Kelly was my very first & still is my favorite style icon. Her all American classic good looks & effortless glamour has always been appealing & quite influential in my own personal style. I’ve also been influenced in one way or another by many other very stylish women, including Bunny Mellon, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Babe Paley, Maria Agnelli, Diana Vreeland, Audrey Hepburn. and the Duchess of Windsor.
How do you describe your style?
My style - in the way I dress, decorate and live – is somewhat traditional, always classic, but with a little avant-garde & often, bohemian, twist. I’ve always been someone who has never followed other people. I love classic
designs, the tried and true, but I bend towards things with a distinct flair, and I adore color! My own personal style is decidedly classic with a casual & comfortable, unpretentious sense of glamour. I like things that are elegant but effortless & often, unnoticeable. I strive to dress in a manner of wearing what looks good on me, but never in a way that is “fashionable”. I like clothing that fades into the background which allows me to stand out, and let my accessories to do the work. I decorate and design much in a similar way. If you get the basics right, then you can focus on what makes you happy for the rest! I live in a way that is comfortable, inviting and warm, but most of all gives me a sense of joy. I love anything that is well made and has a sense of timelessness -- things that last and things that have sentiment. My Pinterest boards are loaded
with vintage style photos, entertaining & design inspirations that are very reflective of my personal taste and influences.
Have you ever made a fashion faux-pas? (We did grow up in the 1980s!)
Heavens knows I certainly hope so! Experimenting is part of finding your own personal style, the mistakes & missteps are all part of that! I know I had a dreadful spiral perm, loved Adam Ant & had an Arnold
Scaasi dress for a Washington & Lee Fancy Dress Ball. So, yes I have, definitely and absolutely!
Tell us about your very first dinner party?
I honestly cannot remember a “first” because I have loved entertaining for so long! I subjected my dolls, stuffed animals and patient parents to daily tea parties as a child & the president of my college wrote me a
note after my first piece was published saying she was pleased I found a calling for my passion.
What have you learned since?
A whole lot! And I am still learning all the time. I love not only learning from my own experiences but also from being the guest at other peoples dinner parties. But the basics still apply and always will for a foolproof
never fail recipe for the perfect party —if you focus on your guests comfort and enjoyment they will think you're a brilliant host or hostess and if you are relaxed and have fun, they will too!
What 5 pieces of advice can you give the novice party-thrower?
Here are my P’S FOR A PERFECT PARTY:
A. Planning--plan b and plan for disaster!
B. Presentation-- Just like in fashion don’t focus on trends but what looks good on you For those who are intimidated in the food arena, remember: it is not what you serve but how you serve it. Do not let your kitchen-phobia stop you from creating memories you will cherish for a lifetime! Add your own personal flourishes and make it pretty, keep it pretty.
C. Polish-- your house, your silver and yourself. Everything is better with some sparkle.
D. Personalize--monograms, details are what separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.
E. ImPROVISE--necessity is the mother of all inventions.
F. APPropriate--for you- don’t bite off more than you can chew, doing something for 6 is easier than 60. The idea is not to kill yourself, there is no blue ribbon for survival.
G. Positive Attitude-- If you enjoy yourself, others will too.
H. Post-Its—low fi seating plan! & little papers will help you remember what on earth you had originally intended to do!
Help! I was pulling my roast out of the oven and I dropped the pan and
dinner is ruined. I have 12 hungry guests, what should I do?
Oh I have had my share of flops! I still remember the dinner party I did for my closest group of friends for my 40th birthday and I used a certificate from an unknown caterer purchased at a charity auction. The
food was so bad that one of my friend’s husband said it tasted like salted coddy (not a compliment)! Cat food was the closest description I can give you. I laughed about it then so did everyone else. I dismissed the caterer nicely, but early, scraped everyones plate into mine, threw it outside. Then I whipped up a quick and easy pasta with cream sauce for everyone. It was not the dinner party I had planned but it was still funand
certainly memorable! Things happen. It is not what you serve, but how you serve it. It is a good idea to keep a well stocked pantry of basics and a few go to items in the freezer that helps for any last minute entertaining. And a rolodex of good takeout options with delivery can be a lifesaver!
What inspires your parties?
The best answer to that question is what DOESN’T inspire my creativity for entreating & parties! I find inspiration everywhere. It is usually something seasonal or celebratory. I look to nature, fashion, flowers & jewelry for a start on a feeling, rather than a theme & for color moods. I peruse through recipe, vintage and design books for my go to on gathering ideas. I’m a sponge. I soak up everything that I see, read, hear, feel, touch. Being in my head is sometimes overwhelming because it is alway on, always going… thinking of ways to do things better, more practical, out of the box. I guess that’s the silver lining of what my youngest innocently refers to as having 80HD (ADHD) – at least my input is as good as my output! That’s why I love having my website, www.danielledrollins.com, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram - so I can share my boundless energy and creativity with other people.
What's the most memorable party you have ever attended as a guest?
My most memorable is still one that I actually hosted. Not everyone knows the story behind the story of "Soiree Entertaining with Style”, which I completed during some of the hardest times in my life - while caring for my daughter while she was recovering from a near fatal accident and in the midst of a highly contentious, very public and painful divorce. Quite the opposite of the way most people would approach a large project, but in a way it was very therapeutic. I hosted a dinner at my home to benefit Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the institution that, along with its caring doctors and nurses, saved my daughter’s life honoring the late, Oscar de la Renta. He was truly one of the most gentle, kind & selfless men I have ever known. Feeling a little hesitant about doing anything with even the slightest hint of frivolity, I initially had a hard time getting into the planning of the event, but I was dedicated to giving back with 100% effort. In going through the motions, to do something to try and make other people happy, even if I wasn’t, I actually began to enjoy myself. During the dinner, while looking at all the smiling faces around me, I realized that my true joy was back. I had forgotten how great throwing a party could make me feel. And it was Oscar de la Renta that turned to me during the dinner and suggested that I write a the book, with Miles Redd chiming in with abounding enthusiasm and support. My answer was, “on what?”, as I am not sure I thought what I was doing was anything very special! Both pushed me like a mother bird encouraging a baby bird out of the nest. The mark of a true leader is to recognize, cultivate & develop other peoples gifts, talent & potential. I have these two to be forever grateful for emboldening my own passions . Almost losing a child made me focus even more on what’s important in life: relationships with people, the joy of spending time with family and friends, and the memories that are created. These intangibles can do wonders for the soul. My mission for the book was to capture the emotional quality of entertaining. Many books tell how to entertain with directions, but I wanted to show why with photos. It was truly a labor of love for me.
What's the favorite room in your house? (I know you're renovating your new home... have fun with this!)
Oh, thats a tough one, especially considering my house has 2x4s for walls at the moment! I am knee deep in the renovation of a 1970 Georgian gem that was practically hidden for decades on its overgrown property. It had been uninhabited for the past few years when I luckily got the opportunity to purchase it. I quickly snapped it up the first day it hit the market. I like a house of this era because they were typically well built, with classical influences & proportions but with modern day space needs like closets & bathrooms. I have been blessed with a gift of vision to see the possibilities, of what things can be & should be. A renovation is really all about hope, it is taking what you have from your past and tossing it or reusing it in another way, as well as a chance to change, both your environment and who you will be going throughout the next phase of your life while living in that space. I strongly believe the outside of a home dictates the look of the inside—a house tells you what to do. While I love a certain formality in my design, this house is not a “serious” house and lacks personality so I am able to have some fun and do things I might not otherwise feel would be appropriate and acceptable in a more stylized setting. I am reusing the few things I was able to keep from my other house, adding new pieces, using more wall coverings and a whole lot more of almost every shade of blue from pale to navy! It is basically a shell for me to use as a laboratory & a calling card! But if I have to pick just one room, it is probably a tie for the kitchen, my master bedroom and a pool (which I have never had before!). I will be blogging on the renovation very soon on my website www.DanielleDRollins.com so readers can follow along on my ideas, inspirations and the way a house is transformed.
My latest venture is launching a full service design firm with architect (and best friend) Bill Ingram. We met just after I separated, through a mutual “Facebook Friend”, whom ironically, neither of us have met in
real life, in person(yet!) who thought we would get along. And we did, like a house on fire. Spending so much time with each other, talking and texting multiple times daily, as well as favorite traveling companions, while designing my new house, it all just became very clear that working together just made sense. We are very similar and share a mutual design aesthetic, work seamlessly together, often finishing each others sentences and knowing what the other one is thinking without saying a word. We challenge each other, too and have a vast and broad range with both of our creative input. To say I am a little nervous is an understatement but it is so exciting! Eventually, I hope we can expand even more…..we have some ideas for things we both like and would love to see others be able to have! I am starting to formulate plans for a second book and talking to a few production companies about my own show. I have learned so much in the past few years and I am very
grateful for all of the opportunities. I feel like a little kid in a well edited and deliciously decorated candy store and love what I am doing. I am blessed with overwhelming support from other very successful decorators such as Miles Redd, Alessandra Branca and Celerie Kemble, just to name a few, who have offered me their assistance, use of things in their lines, and invaluable advice and encouragement. Ralph Lauren Home and Ralph Lauren Paint were the first to step up and help us for the Atlanta Homes and Lifestyles Home for the Holidays Designer Show House and several other projects, and you don't really get a better endorsement than that, right off the bat!
If there's one thing we should all splurge on for our home, what would it be?
I am a big believer of the old adage, “buy the best and you only cry once” but I also believe in buying what you love! Style should be personal and a house is where you spend the most of your time. I do not believe in
doing anything to impress any one else. I tend to focus on rugs because that is usually where I start a design concept. Good rugs & carpets, quality upholstered pieces and a little something old, something new furniture wise will always be a good composition for any room. I have always tried to invest in pieces I can use for years. Unfortunately, while I have always been the type who collected rather than acquired, most of my prized things were cruelly stripped from me, forcing me to start over again. With the new house renovation I admit, I am purchasing things with the thought of being able to move things to a variety of locations and settings in the future. It is influencing a lot of my design decisions such as doing wallpaper instead of upholstered walls and using the fabric for curtains instead and making sure the upholstered breakfast room with curtains is tented in a way that I can take it with me later. I have had to learn to take a more zen like approach to many areas of my life and look for the opportunity in what I have gained and not what I have lost.
What books/magazines are on your bedside table?
I work so much that reading isn't something I get to indulge in unless I am on a vacation, but I do try to read at least a little bit each day! I love biographies, in particular, & right now I am reading “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue” by Merly Godron, about the life of Hugette Clark. I am also reading “Crazy Love” by Leslie Morgan Steiner and I keep a mix of design & cookbooks on my bedside table as well and right now I have The Mrs. Paul Mellon Sotheby’s auction catalogs, “In Color” Tory Burch, “Decorating the Way I See It” Markam Roberts, “An Invitation to Chateau du Grand-Luce” Timothy Corrigan, “Vegtables from and Italian Garden”. I also love my magazines so I always have at least a foot high stack of monthly issues of everything from Vogue to
Veranda ready to flip through until the new issues arrive and I either throw out or archive the past months.
What's the one thing you cannot live without?
There is no one thing I couldn’t live without. I know this sounds trite, but for me, people and my relationships with them are the greatest treasure as well as pleasure in my life. My three children are my constant joy (even though they give me a grey hair or twenty). I’m happiest when surrounded by my friends and loved ones. As I always say, it's the people, not the food or the décor, that make for a great party.
You’ve been outspoken about spousal abuse... if you want to talk a bit about it, please do.
At the very bitter end just before filing for divorce for the 3rd and final time, a therapist told me that people EARN loyalty, it is not something automatically given, unconditionally, unilaterally and indefinitely. That sentence has stuck with me and been a guiding influence in muck of my decision making and life reevaluation the past few years. I have little by little been opening up about my very difficult 20 plus year failed relationship because I have realized there are a lot of people who are in similar circumstances. By speaking with honesty I hope my openness and acceptance of an unpleasant reality has the potential to unlock a prison for someone else who is suffering silently. I feel an obligation not to present a false, whitewashed and sanitized version of myself to other people because the idealization can be damaging to myself and others. Now that I have a more public platform, if I can help even just one woman who is struggling the way that I was, unburdens the sense of shame that a person feels for having this happen to them and in any way reduces the social stigma of domestic abuse, then it is worth the small trade off of my own privacy A lot of women cannot speak up for many reasons, and in the family court system, judges are often untrained to recognize the ways an abuser uses the legal system to further abuse an already fragile person, who is used to being coerced, controlled and in so many cases, financially at the mercy of the abuser, thus revictimizing the victim. I olerated and put up with so many things for so long that I should not have, in silence and with fear of others finding out because I felt alone, frightened, embarrassed and had this crippling shame, however, I was in a situation I didn't understand and one I wasn't equipped to handle. I blamed myself for many years for things not going well in my marriage thinking if I could just change this or change that, or be more this way or that way, it would all be okay.
And then once I did leave I put even more blame on my self for not leaving sooner, but ultimately I have learned that the forgiveness needed to go toward myself because I did the best I could given the limited skill
set that I had and be thankful as well as have the self pride that I did take the bold step and leave. I do not regret one thing, in my life, or any experience though because I have my beautiful children and as painful
as this has been, like all mistakes, I have learned so much from this. I have grown as a person and I like the person I am now much more. Despite going through this brutal spectator style divorce and the fact
that it should be all over and done with, it is far from it. It is something I have accepted and just learned to deal with, with out letting it define or confine me. I have been fortunate that I had the access to a LOT of
therapy, both individual and group settings, the support of my family and friends & dose of, what my grandmother called the best healer of all, “tincture of time’. I didn't set out to be the poster girl for spousal
abuse, but if the banner fits & it helps someone else, so be it, I will wear it. I am just grateful I am still standing and I am taking one day at a time.