I was recently at a spectacular home. I observed that every guest room - there were five of them - had a kitchenette fitted with a small refrigerator, a coffee machine and a pantry sink. Guests are encouraged to prepare their own coffee, and at times even their own breakfasts.
This must be a new American trend. The grand old American homes of the past century were not outfitted with guest kitchens, nor were visitors encouraged to remain separate and distinct from the rest of the household.
Whenever I entertain weekend company, I enjoy a morning cappuccino at the large kitchen table with the early risers. Some come down fully dressed while others wander around in bathrobes and slippers.
My guests and I often go on a very early walk with the dogs, take a vigorous hike or go horseback riding. These activities are followed by a big breakfast, with all the guests seated around the table. This is always a highlight of the weekend - a great way to introduce friends to other friends.
Breakfast is usually quite hearty: pancakes and bacon, waffles, eggs to order, fresh fruit, croissants, muffins, freshly squeezed juices, yogurt. A vast selection of teas is on offer, and my large Italian espresso maker is inevitably very popular.
Entertaining guests can be a challenge. I try to design the roster of visitors so there is variety in personalities but homogeneity in guests' desires to converse and be active. We discuss possible activities before the weekend to ensure that each guest brings the appropriate clothing and footwear. I leave umbrellas in handy places in case of rain showers, and I keep extra tennis rackets and sneakers on hand for unexpected guests.
There are always six to 10 guests for a weekend. We have so many options for outdoor activities: hikes, boat rides, sea kayaking, canoeing around the lake and pond, horseback riding, carriage driving, biking, cycling, swimming, and, of course, exploring, antiquing and visiting great Maine houses and gardens.
Every evening, before we go to bed, some basic plans are laid for the following day: the time of the first hike, the tennis schedule, the timing of breakfast. Every room is equipped with an alarm clock - although it's hard to sleep through the typical early-morning hustle and bustle, it's not impossible.
The bedrooms are numbered, and all guests are preassigned rooms. A welcome note awaits on each bed, and there is also a list of dos and don'ts - very important in any big, old house, which inevitably develops certain peculiarities over the years.
It's important to keep your guests' needs in mind when assigning them a bedroom in your home. Size of the room (particularly if the guests have small children or if more than one person will be sharing), proximity to a bathroom and whether stairs will be manageable should all be taken into consideration.
Meals also need to be thoughtfully considered. I love to cook, but I generally have someone else do all the shopping, and on big weekends with many guests, I have someone there to cook so that I can enjoy my company fully. I work on the menus carefully, balancing the courses and the timing and the variety as well as I can.
Snacks are very important, as are cocktail time and healthy drinks for after yoga and tennis. I usually put out nuts, fruits, hard-cooked eggs, crudites and cheese and crackers. Meals are healthy but hearty and rely very much on the season. Fresh fish, beautiful lobsters, local vegetables and milk and yogurt are always very much a part of the weekend.
Casual meals around the large kitchen table are a must. But a formal dinner, with great wines and a big fire going in the dining room, is also welcoming and loved by all.
My goal is to have the guests leave sated, pleasantly tired, well exercised and happy. The plate of freshly baked cookies, the freshly squeezed juice, the handmade lattes and the vegetables from the garden make all the difference in the world. Pampering, but not too much, and the effort to include all visitors in the goings-on transform casual acquaintances into friends, and friends into best friends forever. I love entertaining this way and will do so as long as I am able. *