There’s something about summer that makes you want to entertain, right? We’re not sure whether it’s the brighter evenings, the promise of good weather or simply the fact that most of our favourite shows have wrapped up filming until September meaning we have no excuse for yet another date night with our sofas and Netflix, but there’s nothing we love more than having people over this time of year.
Tapping into our inner Martha Stewart isn’t easy; putting on the perfect summer spread isn’t as obvious as it sounds and that’s why we called on Amanda Shine for help. If anyone knows how to throw a good party, it’s her. Despite starting her career as a model, she spent years organizing blow out events for the likes of Everlane, Free People and Gucci, all of which served as the perfect training for The Setting, the customizable ceramics concept she launched last year. In a charming studio-meets-gallery space in SoHo, she does what very few people do nowadays – she’s makes things with her own hands – think personalized bowls, mugs, trays and serving pieces all lovingly adorned with phrases and motifs to suit any occasion.
Entertaining is something that’s always come naturally to her. With The Setting, she aims to make ceramics feel less stuffy all while offering suggestions to customers on how to elevate home entertaining without the fuss and formality. A stone’s throw away from her studio, her home serves as the testing ground for her ever-evolving collection and is the perfect advert for her easy, less is more aesthetic. Here she explains the eureka moment for The Setting, why having a strong sense of self is important in anything you do and breaks down everything you need to create the perfect summer spread. This is one you’ll want to bookmark.
LIFE BEFORE THE SETTING: I modelled and worked in fashion marketing with a focus on special events. I got a job as a VIP PR assistant at Theory and Helmut Lang at 22 and never looked back. Producing events is not for the faint of hearted and anyone who has worked in that arena knows exactly what I mean. That said, it was and still is my favorite type of work. I love the magic behind the scenes of a truly incredible event with important attendees and an amazing venue. It feels like putting on a show. Your role is never to be seen or heard but your presence is crucial.
THE EUREKA MOMENT: I have been fortunate to work for some brilliantly powerful women over the course of my career and I think that I felt compelled to explore my desire to be on my own. I have always been interested in making things whether it be a loaf of bread or a ceramic mug and my career took me in a much more corporate direction which was great experience but ultimately left me wanting to get back to that basic notion of creating. I think The Setting is a really unique brand in that way. We encourage our customers to customize their pieces and as a result, everything we make is collaborative. My brother always told me that I was destined to work for myself. He said our family is one of entrepreneurs and when the time is right, it will happen. That propelled me to believe in myself and when I felt that I was mature enough to try and that my concept was strong enough, I went for it.
ON HAVING A STRONG SENSE OF SELF: It’s really valuable. My first agent at Ford was an amazing woman and after a particularly rough day she said: “Everyone is going to have an opinion. Make sure that you have your own.” I never forgot that. I was impressionable; an 18-year-old model living in New York. Despite what it looks like, modeling is unapologetically cutthroat. You can be on first option for a life-changing job and it looks like a sure thing then suddenly they decide they want someone with a more exotic look or shorter hair. And I took the rejection hard. The silver lining is it made me fiercely protective over my goals and dreams. And my instinct has always been to never give up and not to take no for an answer. If someone says no, find another person who says yes. Do it with grace and make it look easy but work like hell behind closed doors because no one is going to do anything for you. My instinct comes from believing in my work. I truly believe that anything is possible. Be organized, be polite and ask lots of questions. When you work around smart people or have smart people in your life, you can do anything. It’s important to evolve and exploring new territory is a big part of that.
HOW WORKING ON TABLESCAPES IN HER PAST LIFE HAS HELPED: I’ve always been a bit OCD and prefer things to be a certain way. That became a useful tool for me because in luxury event production, things really need to be as close to perfect as humanly possible. You can never have too many backup chargers or adaptors or pens and you can never measure the floral vessels too closely to ensure that the profile is perfect from every angle. Honestly, a lot of those things come from hard won lessons. The experience of making mistakes and vowing to never repeat them has laid the foundation for being as meticulous as I am today. If you want to create a unique visual moment, you’re going to have to experiment. The Setting is about providing honest and realistic options for impactful experiences at home that are achievable and high touch. We aren’t here to talk as experts, just as women who are being adventurous in the home décor space who are sharing a few of the shortcuts that we’ve discovered along the way.
FALLING IN LOVE WITH CERAMICS: The other day my mom sent me a photo of about five small ceramic pieces: bowls, a cup and a small vase. She called it “my early work”. She’s an illustrator and a true artist so that formal title made me smile. I think I was probably eight or nine and took ceramics through an art program at school. My brother and I were always surrounded by art at home and were encouraged to paint, draw, sing and just create and explore that side of ourselves so the idea of making is engrained in me.
WHAT MAKES THE SETTING DIFFERENT: The home-ware space in general didn’t feel like it was speaking to my generation. It felt either very formal or overly funky. I didn’t see anything clean, handmade in the US that appealed to me and my friends. And if it did, it was outside of our price range and more of a collector’s item or precious art. I wanted to take ceramics and make it feel custom but stylish. Any mug I’ve ever seen with writing looks like it was printed by an old machine in a scary factory with no sense of creative quality. I started writing on pieces and I knew right away that it was special. As we have grown, we have had to bring on production partners to ensure that we can handle the demand. We are committed to our line being handmade in America and that will never change. The way that the process works now is I create a prototype and then we work off of that to make adjustments in terms of color, accents or silhouette. We always want to make a functional product. Our pieces are dishwasher and oven safe. They are made to be used and that is the foundation of every design. We would rather a customer invest in something beautiful, customized and handmade that is more durable than a cheaper, mass produced option out there. That way you only need to buy four or six pieces ever instead of a new set every eight months.
ON HER SIGNATURE HANDWRITTEN PHRASES: They come in different ways. I love to read and I love words so sometimes if I’m working with a client we’ll exchange a few ideas together and then we’ll select from there. I’m currently working on a vase in Mandarin and two bowls in Hebrew and those projects have been my favorite to date. The client sends through the text and then I draw it free hand back to them for approval. That sketch is then applied directly to the piece so that it never looks generic but still feels custom and thoughtfully made.
ON PACKAGING: The Setting is about re-setting the way you entertain and packaging is as important as the gift inside; every customer should feel like they’re receiving a gift from us. We are actually in the process of making beautiful hang tags and stationary to include within each shipment and we will continue to have hand written notes that can be customized by the purchaser for their recipient or can just be a simple hello from us. We want everyone to have a special experience with our product and to make memories that last a lifetime using the line. That memory should start the moment the package arrives.
ON HOSTING: My boyfriend and I often have friends whether it’s just a handful or a larger group for a special occasion. My favorite casual occasion is the Super Bowl. It’s so American and everyone is relaxed so I can focus on taking traditional menu items and giving them an unusual twist. I make everything from scratch and start the night before. As far as formal events go, Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. I cook every year and recipe ideation begins in October!
THE KEY INGREDIENTS OF A STRONG SETTING: I like having candles, one scented and the rest tea lights in small glass vessels around floral arrangements. I punctuate arrangements around the home. One at the entry so guests are greeted by a nice moment, a few in the kitchen and living area, and then maybe one in the hallway or restroom. Of course having food and cocktails are just as important. I don’t think you should go crazy with these unless you love to cook and experiment with mixology. Focus on a nice presentation and don’t feel bad about outsourcing some of the recipes by offering up a specialty store crudité or charcuterie and then have some mixed nuts with an interesting cocktail. If you’re having a full dinner party, that’s a different. Ask a friend to help you prep the menu and definitely start the night before. The most important thing is to take your time and enjoy the process. Entertaining is one of the oldest traditions in the world and it doesn’t need to feel overwhelming or stuffy. Your friends just want to come over and hang out so have fun and take some risks!
FLOWERS, FLOWERS, FLOWERS: They’re alive and make a room feel that way too. Pops of color really breathe fresh air into a space and I always have a mix of blooms around the home. It’s fun to explore palettes whether you want a muted feel of succulents just to have that accent or if you want to have bright bursts of roses or sunflowers, the choices are endless. My only advice would be to go with something in season. Small tips like roses love warm water and you can use mouthwash instead of flower food in case you don’t have it… these are the types of notes that we love sharing. I love incorporating flowers into settings in unique ways. I like using unexpected vessels like mugs or a chemex depending on the occasion.
CREATING A SPREAD AT YOUR NEXT SUMMER PARTY: Go to a farmer’s market and build a recipe around a few key ingredients. Something like roasted sun chokes or a rhubarb pie will make for an interesting centerpiece and then you can create small side dishes to revolve around that. Smaller, shared plates are always better for large groups.