The co-owner of the fabulous new Miami design shop NiBa Home, Beth Arrowood throws parties just about every week in her color-saturated apartment, from Moroccan-themed evenings to buffet dinners for 75 friends. Here she shares her tips—including how to (nicely) ensure that a friend brings the proper dessert.
How did you come to decorate your apartment with such striking colors? I recently found myself single again and decided to redo my place. I talked to my friends, designers Doug and Gene Meyer—Doug did the NiBa Home store—and they said, okay, you need to get rid of everything. I cleared out my apartment and we started by picking out the wall paint. The color they chose, Caribbean Blue Water from Benjamin Moore, frightened me a bit because I thought the shade was too dark (from $41 a gallon; benjaminmoore.com). But once I saw it on the walls, I really loved it.
Did you save any furniture from before the renovation? I kept this humongous china cabinet where I store all my dinnerware. Because my kitchen is so small, the cabinets there only have room for spices and dried goods and things like that. Doug wanted me to get rid of the china cabinet, and I said, "Doug, if you can find me another piece of furniture big enough to fit all of my tableware, then I'm happy to get rid of it." He never found one. So he painted my old cabinet Benjamin Moore's Kelly Green instead. It's really deep and cavernous and I stack all of my plates and glasses in it, organized by color. Color makes me so happy. I own a lot of the glasses we carry in the store, like these beautiful handblown Mexican glasses from a company called Nouvel that come in lime green, strawberry and amethyst ($16 and up from NiBa Home, 39 NE 39th St.; 305-573-1939 or nibahome.com). At the store, we organize everything by color, so if designers are doing a home in a particular color, they can pick just from that section.
How do you like to set your table? I just bought new "Kelli" everyday tableware from Crate & Barrel that's very '60s-style, to match the apartment. The plates are white porcelain with lime-green concentric rings (from $5 a salad plate; 800-967-6696 or crateandbarrel.com). At NiBa, we're starting to carry beautiful "Akiko" porcelain dishes with peonies and chrysanthemums from Kenzo, and I just got a few pieces for my home ($32 and up from NiBa Home).
What are your favorite places in Miami to buy party food? I buy a lot of appetizers from Epicure Market in Miami Beach (1656 Alton Rd.; 305-672-1861). I like to pick up roasted-red-pepper dip or pâté and great baguettes. There's a Russian-owned grocery store, Marky's, that has unbelievable smoked salmon, caviar and cheeses— including selections from France and Italy, which are a rarity in Miami (687 NE 79th St.; 800-522-8427 or markys.com). I also get great prosciutto and salami there. And there's a Lebanese market off US 1 near Coconut Grove called Daily Bread Marketplace that sells delicious hummus and tabbouleh (2400 SW 27th St.; 305-856-0363). They get ingredients from the Middle East.
What do you tell guests who ask if they can bring anything? It depends on how much I know about their cooking, because once I asked someone to bring an appetizer and the person just went to a random grocery store and bought something premade. I can't stand that. I ask guests to bring either wine or dessert. If I tell someone to bring the dessert then I say what I'm cooking so the person can think about what will go with it. Certain friends of mine know me well enough now that they'll ask what to bring specifically and I'll say, "Why don't you get sorbet and fresh strawberries?" I'm that specific because people often don't want the pressure of figuring out what to bring.
What's the trickiest part about planning a party? I have a degree in hotel management, so I've learned a lot about how to make people feel welcome. I find the hardest part is timing the cooking so everything is ready at the right time. If I invite guests to come at 8 p.m., obviously not everyone is punctual. That's why I typically don't serve dinner until 9, but then I flow through the courses without too much time in between. In the end, I try to create an atmosphere where people can linger if they wish. Or if they want to go home, they don't have to feel like, Oh my god, she hasn't served dessert yet.
What are some of your shortcuts for entertaining? I do as much kitchen prep work as I can the day before—for example, I prepared the meat mixture yesterday for a stuffed zucchini I served at a dinner party tonight. I also set the table the morning of the party. I feel it makes guests uncomfortable when the host is running around setting up.
How do you set up your house for large parties? A few months ago, I invited 100 people and probably 75 people came. I had all of the sliding doors open onto the terrace and I strung Chinese lanterns along the railing. I created little seating areas on either end of the terrace, so people could stand or sit in different places, and I put a table outside with tons of hors d'oeuvres on it. When I have that many guests, I always have two bars, one inside and one outside, and I always serve a buffet for dinner. That way, people can mingle whether they sit inside or outside.
How do you make sure there's enough seating at big parties? A lot of people sit on the floor because I have really comfortable rugs. I also have four very low tea tables, so people can pull one up and have a tray of food right in front of them. My sofa and chairs are low to the ground, so people sitting on the rug still feel like they're part of the group.
Do you ever throw theme parties? I've thrown a lot of Moroccan parties because one of my closest friends from college is Moroccan. When you go to Morocco and sit in a restaurant, they usually bring out three, four or five small bowls or plates of appetizers. Sometimes it's pureed pumpkin with a bit of cumin and cinnamon or julienned zucchini that has just been slightly braised with olive oil and cumin or a spicy chopped tomato salad. I usually make four or five different little things like that the night before the party, because they're served at room temperature, then serve them buffet-style. For the main course I usually do some sort of tagine, like a whole chicken with preserved lemons and cracked green olives. They don't really do a lot of sweet desserts in Morocco. Instead, they typically bring out an enormous platter of fresh fruit, like watermelons, figs, plums and nectarines. So I'll serve that and mint tea at the end of the meal.