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Olatz Schnabel

Olatz Schnabel, who designs the gorgeous linens sold at her new store, Olatz, in Manhattan, loves to throw parties. Here she talks about her favorites (like one she had for her husband, the painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel) and influences on her style.

What are your favorite travel destinations?
I love Africa, Mexico, Indonesia; I used to have a house in Bali. Cuba is my favorite, especially Havana, but I haven't been there since Julian and I went after making the movie Before Night Falls five years ago.

What music do you play at dinner parties?
I love Cuban music because it makes people relax. I'm Spanish, and I grew up with it. During dinner, I'll often play María Teresa Vera or Omara Portuondo. I also love Los Van Van and Celia Cruz for dancing. Celia Cruz performed at my house, actually, for Dennis Hopper's wedding.

How do you like to set the table?
I always use tablecloths. I've designed several for my store (from $700 each; 43 Clarkson St.; 212-255-8627 or olatz.com). Some look like bed-linen patterns with colored borders. Others are more elaborate, with embroidery that's done in Madeira, Portugal.

How do you decorate your house for a party?
For a small dinner party, I don't really do much. I just put out flowers and candles and leave things as they are. But when I throw a party for 400, I hide what I can. I don't like to have personal items out so people can spy on my life. No one needs to know what kind of moisturizer or shampoo I use. The only personal things you see are books. In general, my home is a little like a museum, because people are always walking through to take a look at Julian's paintings. The house is ready for a photo shoot 24 hours of the day.

But I like spaces that look like people live in them. Our place has so many different things in it that it can look good cluttered. People now have these very architectural, "designy" houses, and if you have the wrong toothbrush, it sticks out. The more designed a space is, the weirder personal objects look.

What flowers do you like for parties?
I always use purples, pinks—I think soft colors work better than bright ones. Little bouquets of roses can also look good, or bunches of peonies with lovely thick stems. I'll do that kind of arrangement everywhere except for my living room, where I use red blooms because the paintings on the walls there are red. I like flowers that smell good—gardenias, lilies, tuberoses. Most of the time I do the flowers myself, but if I'm giving a big party or I'm too busy to take care of the arrangements, I'll ask the flower shop Magnolia to do them (436 Hudson St.; 212-243-7302).

What books do you keep out on your coffee table?
There is a big collection of art books, including my husband's latest, Julian Schnabel: Malerei/Paintings 1978-2003. Right now, I'm in the middle of reading two books: Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, and Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind.

What food do you serve at parties?
I like to cook when it's for a small group. I make a lot of Spanish recipes, like black-ink calamari with rice or croquettes with béchamel and bread crumbs, the kind you get at every tapas bar in Spain. Julian is a great cook. He makes a delicious frutti di mare pasta with clams and a really good paella. For big events, we'll order from one of my favorite restaurants in New York City, Mr. Chow, because everybody likes it (324 E. 57th St.; 212-751-9030). I always get the same things: jellyfish, crab claws, chicken brochettes, Peking duck. We'll also order in dessert. I really like the mille-feuilles from s (376 West Broadway; 212-343-0999 or cipriani.com). The best version comes from the Venice Cipriani, of course, but the New York Cipriani does a good one. Soufflé is one of my favorite desserts, and Wallsé (344 W. 11th St.; 212-352-2300), which caters and is around the corner from my house, makes a great huckleberry soufflé called the Salzburger nockerl.

What's the most fun you've ever had at a party?
I had a great time at Julian's birthday party last year. We invited the right number of people—about 15—to Mr. Chow. We ended up playing games at the table. Al Pacino proposed a game called Assassin. Everyone gets a folded piece of paper. One person draws the role of the assassin, but no one else knows who it is. That person has to "kill" everyone at the table by winking at each person without anyone else noticing. There were a lot of actors there, so every time someone died, it was really dramatic. We had so much fun. We laughed like little kids.

What's the best party you've ever thrown?
Of the big ones, Dennis Hopper's wedding was the best. David Bowie's birthday was great; so was the annual party I used to do for the San Sebastián Film Festival. There's dancing and everyone stays until 1, 2, 3 a.m. This is the sign of a good party. It's bad when people want to eat dessert and run, but that happens in New York all the time. It's different in Europe. If I can, I like to invite just my friends. I'm not into inviting people I don't know and having to introduce everyone, and myself. I can't help it. I'm not so curious about meeting people. It may sound weird, but when I have to go to a party, if I see someone I know, I want to stay with that person. I'm terrible at small talk. I like having a long conversation with someone who is really interesting or who I really like.

Published August 2005
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