“In England we couldn’t eat outside at night,” says interior designer Corinna Gordon. “It was too chilly.” Gordon left England long ago for warmer climes, and she’s mastered the art of outdoor entertaining wherever she’s called home.
Since 1998 home has been Montecito, located in California’s Santa Barbara County. While the Santa Barbara area, which was settled in the late 18th century, is populated by Spanish and Mission-style adobe buildings, Gordon and her husband, the commercial and travel photographer Larry Dale Gordon, live in a historic stone cottage that once was the carriage house of the Miravista Estate, Montecito’s first large manor.
The Gordons’s house has a decidedly English feel, and the couple played on its charm by adding iron lighting and architectural details both inside and out. Corinna Gordon, who enjoys throwing parties outdoors, found an antique wood Indian wedding banquet table for her back terrace (pictured above) at Malabar Coast in Los Angeles, and she had the wood benches made locally. “The tradition is for the bride and groom to dance on the table after the wedding banquet, which means the table is very solid.” Gordon explains. “I also like it because it seats up to 20 people.”
For nighttime entertaining, she brings down the ivy-covered iron chandelier hanging from the 200-foot oak overhead, and she uses antique iron lanterns everywhere—in the trees and on the table (below). “I love the idea of having a mid-summer night’s candlelit dinner. The candles make it romantic and magical,” she says. “I don’t use anything electrical.” And she means it. Rather than renting heaters to warm up the area on a nippy evening, Gordon places huge rusty cauldrons on stands around the table and burns a combination of wood and coals.
While the cauldron might appear to be English in origin, the London-born Gordon laughs off any suggestion that it is. “I use them because they’re iron and rustic looking, and they fit in with the character of the house, which is stone with iron elements.”
The back terrace also serves as a boule court—boule being the French game of pétanque. (The terrace is made of packed earth, coated with a hardened powder and sprinkled with finely decomposed granite.) “The Santa Barbara climate is nice and balmy, and boule has become quite popular here,” notes Gordon, who collects antique pétanque balls but uses a steel set that Bo Derek gave her. “We like to have friends over for cocktails and to play boule. It’s a social game. People of all ages, even children and elderly people, can play, and it can get quite competitive.”
On another one of her terraces, she has a gazebo that’s covered with a thick blanket of woven jasmine and potato vines and serves as a verdant luncheon nook. Gordon designed the arch-back wrought-iron chairs to echo the arches of the doors to the house. And she handpainted the china—a few at a time over the years until she built a collection of more than a dozen plates, mugs, espresso cups and platters decorated with a bamboo pattern in green with deep yellow accents. Gordon also is fond of designing furniture and takes credit for the gazebo seating, as well as the iron sunbeds with reclining backs and the pillows, which are made of antique Balinese sarongs (see picture on cDecor.com home page).
Outdoor entertaining has always been a passion of Gordon’s, and for a project she collaborated on in the South Pacific she created a dining pavilion (above) and an outdoor living room (below), both with bamboo roll-down blinds and thatched roofs with woven-bamboo on the inside. Heavy bamboo seating was used in both areas to stand up to any winds.