In his very first book, A Year at Clove Brook Farm, famed ceramicist and weekend farmer Christopher Spitzmiller invites us to tag along on a four-seasons tour of his bucolic country retreat nestled within the rolling hills of Millbrook, New York. The lush photographs follow Spitzmiller as he preps for intimate suppers, tends to his prized flock of chickens and harvests the garden’s latest yield—all while the property transitions from the hushed hibernation of early spring to the kaleidoscopic blooms of high summer to the crisp, frosty days of fall and winter.
With warm-weather entertaining just around the corner, we’ll be taking inspiration from a peony luncheon that Spitzmiller threw one glorious May Saturday in celebration of the season’s blowsy blooms. Read on to see how it all came together in an excerpt from the book.
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My love for peonies is unwavering, so much so that I’ve immortalized them in a series of hand-thrown plates I designed that feature ones I’ve grown at Clove Brook Farm. Together with my studio team, I photograph the blooms in a small white-box studio in the grange hall on my property. They are then put on a ceramic transfer, which is like a decal or tattoo, and applied to the plates. These plates are fired at a much lower temperature than other ceramics. We played with the scale for a long time and ended up with a look that we like and that customers responded to with enthusiasm. The success of those plates has, in turn, inspired the creation of two additional sets of flower plates: the aforementioned peonies, plus a sweet pea and dahlia collection.
For this gracious Saturday lunch in my field, I surrounded the table with vintage chairs from my great-grandparents’ house along the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. Covering the table was a new tablecloth that features a classic Tillett Textiles print favored by Bunny Mellon and Billy Baldwin. I happened upon forty never-used napkins in this same Tillett pattern at an auction of Mellon’s home furnishings, and a friend gifted me the matching tablecloth. I sent most of the napkins to friends but kept a few for myself. I love the juxtaposition of the pale blue Leontine Linens napkins with the bold red monogram in a block script set against the flowery tablecloth.
The real joy of this table, besides the ebullient peony blooms, comes from the assortment of petite accents. The silver shovels and salt spoons may not be one-of-a-kind pieces, but they are certainly conversation starters, just as the frogs and ladybug ornaments inspire delight and add a touch of whimsy that often seems to be missing from contemporary tablescapes. There are also objects that I search for more actively. I have thousands of napkins and a small army of place mats, but it’s not a stellar bounty. You could say that I’m napkin rich and place-mat poor! I love the contrast and juxtaposition of mixing and matching linens, but it takes patience to build a collection.
Christopher’s Peony Arranging Tips
Adapted from A Year At Clove Brook Farm by Christopher Spitzmiller.