A designer transforms a photographer's studio into a space for a dinner party

WHEN PHOTOGRAPHER JAMIE PHILLIPS and his partner, Susan Davidson, the president of DKNY Jeans and Active, hired Mary Meehan to help them design their loft in Manhattan's SoHo, they asked her for a little bit of everything: a living area, a studio for Jamie, an office and an entertaining space. Since each square foot of the loft had to serve more than one function, Meehan approached the project with a sensibility somewhat akin to that of a boat designer--or maybe a cross-dresser.

A close friend of mine for 15 years, Mary has often collaborated with me on my home in Southampton, Long Island. She was at one time known for her English country look, but she has also developed a streamlined, modern aesthetic that was perfect for Jamie and Susan.

The two entertain in their loft at least four times a month. Recently, for a special evening, they asked Mary to create a setting for a small dinner party. The centerpiece that she selected says a lot about her clean style. She wanted to stay away from fussy flowers and came up with oil lamps filled with bamboo leaves, from Manhattan's Sarut and L.A.'s Zipper.

setting the scene
Instead of traditional place cards, Jamie took prints from his extensive photography archives, wrote guests' names below the images and put the pictures in Lucite frames, from Banana Republic. Luckily, I was one of the guests, and my place card went right into my purse and home with me at the end of the evening, a memento of the night!

Before the party began, Mary and I had a moment to check out the catalog, from a show that Jamie had done in Shanghai about two years ago. I'm showing Mary one of the naughty shots from Jamie's advertising campaigns for such intimate-apparel companies as Hanes, DKNY and Hanky Panky.

a photo finish
Jamie was just wrapping up a photo shoot, when Mary came in to work her magic. She and an assistant hung a pair of Jamie's French Gothic chandeliers, that hold real candles. Glass bobeches prevent wax from dripping onto guests' heads! Once the table was set up (two plywood panels on a metal frame), Mary draped it with an inexpensive canvas cloth from Rosebrand, a theatrical supplier in New York and Los Angeles, and with Susan's antique lace tablecloth. Next came woven place mats and lacquerware trays and plates in alternating colors of burnished gold, red and black, from New York City's Covington Candle. Two of the oil lamps, plus a vase of exotic leaves,lined the center of the table. Gold ballroom chairs were the last touch; like me, Susan bought hers after years of paying rental fees. Finally, time for the guests to arrive. I had a blast seeing my old friend, the actress Valerie Perrine. She loves to have a good time and is absolutely outrageous in all the best ways!