Debra Lansing and Walker Zabriskie's Balinese designs bring a ceremonial grace to the table.

Bob Morris
November 01, 1998

"In Bali, making beautiful things is a way of offering your essence to the gods," says designer Debra Lansing. With her partner, Walker Zabriskie, Lansing will be opening a third store, Walker & Lansing Amandari, this month, in Palm Beach, Florida. Two other Amandari stores--in Southampton, New York, and Salisbury, Connecticut--have already struck a note with the fashionable set, which is coming to hold Bali's culture in high regard.

"There's a tranquillity and graciousness in Bali," Lansing says, "that we are trying to bring to our stores." Surrounded by the shop's mahogany bowls, lacquered serving trays, batik fabrics, pillows with raffia fringe, ice buckets with polished pewter linings and lacquered rattan chopstick holders, one might well be sitting at the dinner table in the couple's Balinese bungalow. "Whatever we eat or drink when we're there, we do very ceremonially," Lansing says.

In fact, she and Zabriskie believe that their designs can promote a more ceremonial approach to dinner anywhere. "The Balinese are very social, and their culture is based on ritual," Lansing says. "They're always serving things on banana leaves and garnishing dishes with frangipani and gardenia blossoms, because they're consumed with the visual pleasure of the presentation. There's an obligation to honor your guests there, and we take that seriously. We like to ease our guests into leisurely meals by serving lots of small courses--slices of mango, savory pickled salads and other little delicacies that take time to enjoy."

They use Champagne in the ritual too. "It keeps things festive," Zabriskie says.

While the Balinese are known for their love of exuberant, intricate detailing--Margaret Mead described it as "an insatiable appetite for an elaborate patterning of the world"--Lansing tends to tone things down in her own designs. "We prefer simple shapes that show off the sensuousness of the natural material," Zabriskie says. "It's a more modern, streamlined approach." Which isn't to say that their objects are not as painstakingly crafted as the elaborate constructions that the Balinese offer the gods on feast days; some of their bowls can take a year to produce.

Right now Lansing and Zabriskie are looking forward to their new store. "You don't see all the ritual extravagance in Palm Beach that you do in Bali," Zabriskie says. "You do see some extravagant outfits. Last time I was there I saw a two-toned Rolls-Royce."

"Palm Beach is a tropical place with lots of interesting people hidden away behind jungle foliage," Lansing adds. "People there aren't afraid of color. They're like birds of paradise."

It's like Bali, then? Well, not exactly.

"In Bali, people are very humble," Lansing says. "I don't think we'll be seeing much of that in Palm Beach."

BOB MORRIS is a frequent contributor to The New York Times.

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