The talented event planner shares earth-friendly ideas for dinners and guest rooms
As we all reconsider the impact we make on the environment, there are plenty of sustainable practices we can adopt in our daily lives. But how do they carry over into our entertaining, when we want to treat guests to an experience that's elegant and special? We asked Colleen Kennedy Cohen, the luxury event planner whose work in the United States and Europe has been celebrated in Vogue, The New York Times, and Vanity Fair.
After years of managing sumptuous events for Valentino, Cartier, Yves Saint Laurent, and goop (including designing and planning Gwyneth Paltrow’s 2018 wedding), Colleen has made it her mission to prioritize environmental responsibility and zero-waste practices for every project she undertakes. She shared with us images from a recent photo shoot, beautifully propped with Matouk products, that illustrates some of her favorite ideas for entertaining at home in a more sustainable way.
Tell us a little of the story behind this photo shoot.
"The focus for this shoot was on sustainable entertaining and how eco-friendly can still be effortlessly beautiful. The images were shot at our flat in Notting Hill, because I wanted the story to feel authentic to my design style and how I would naturally welcome guests into my home."
What’s your philosophy when it comes to tabletop design?
"My design philosophy is clean, understated elegance. For this sustainable summer dinner, I paired elegant cut-crystal glassware and salt and pepper shakers with beautiful Matouk table linens. I selected blue-rimmed porcelain dinnerware to complement the linens and wood-handled cutlery and serving dishes for a casual al fresco feel. Blue-striped cushions were provided for extra comfort on the bench seating, and herbs adorned the table, allowing guests to garnish their own meal. Purple carrots and Thai basil created texture on each place setting."
What sustainable practices do you apply to table settings?
- "I love using herbs as centerpieces; they double as garnish and create an interactive element that guests love. Whatever is leftover you can keep on your windowsill for weeks or send home with guests. If you do want flowers, shop local or use a florist that sources local blooms and have them composted afterwards."
- "Always opt for long-lasting linen napkins and tablecloths in lieu of anything disposable, and reusable dinnerware, glassware, and flatware instead of one-time-use plastic or paper. Don’t hesitate to use what you have: pull out your best crystal and pair it with more relaxed dinnerware for an understated elegance. If you have to, rent the rest."
- "Go paper free and enjoy a more organic seating plan. If you need assigned seats, get creative with sustainable options such as embroidered names or initials on linen napkins."
- "Beeswax candles support sustainable beekeeping and are actually good for the air we breathe. Most paraffin candles are made from petroleum-based wax, but beeswax has a clean, non-toxic burn."
"Don’t hesitate to use what you have: pull out your best crystal and pair it with more relaxed dinnerware for an understated elegance."
Describe your sustainable approach to preparing meals for guests.
"Food waste is always a huge problem when entertaining (for both intimate and large-scale events). There are several more sustainable options that help.
- Shop locally and seasonally. For this dinner, we used local produce and made popsicles from imperfect fruit.
- Cook versus ordering in (we served homemade pasta).
- Go meatless or reduce portion size.
- Focus on whole food and plant-based options.
- Use fresh herb centerpieces that double as garnish and décor."
How do you incorporate eco-friendly practices into the events you plan professionally?
"I always try to partner with eco-conscious vendors, brands, and clients. Some other considerations:
- Choose a nearby location and vendors to reduce the carbon footprint.
- Opt for local, sustainable, and seasonal cuisine.
- Source locally grown flowers or plants (make sure arrangements are devoid of floral foam).
- Reduce paper and opt for linen, leather, or seed paper alternatives.
- Always compost! I love working with global organizations like Repeat Roses that donate leftover blooms to hospitals and retirement homes and ultimately take them for composting."
Tell us about the Matouk table linens you used here. What drew you to the Calypso collection?
"I loved the simplicity of the Calypso linens, and I felt the color, Lake, was the perfect choice for an al fresco summer dinner."
When it comes to hosting guests overnight, what are your favorite ways to make a guest bedroom and bath comfortable and beautiful?
"I try to provide our guests with all of the creature comforts of home as well as some thoughtful touches to surprise them. My signature move is to organize a dedicated closet within the guest room complete with extra pillows, sheets, blankets, bath and beach towels, and candles. I like to have a bathrobe (Matouk, of course!) hanging in the bathroom with slippers (be sure to ask for shoe sizes in advance). Plants or locally sourced florals are also a must."
"My signature move is to organize a dedicated closet within the guest room complete with extra pillows, sheets, blankets, bath and beach towels, and candles...plants or locally sourced florals are also a must."
Describe your sustainable ideas for the guest room/bath.
"Some of my favorite sustainable items for a guest room and bath include a guest tray with a glass carafe of filtered water, bamboo toothbrushes, linen face towels, and eco-friendly bed linens, blankets, and towels. It’s also nice to include moisturizer, sunscreen, and essential oils in the bathroom. Tata Harper and Uma Oils are perfect sustainable options."
Tell us about the Matouk bedding you selected for this shoot.
"I chose the Margot bedding in Cornflower (a beautiful, vibrant blue) and paired it with Lowell shams in a similar color to create a clean, cohesive bedding set. The white space in the shams balances the print in the Margot duvet and pillows, and Margot also complements the simple texture of the white Kiran bath towels. Blue is also known to have an incredible soothing effect, which makes it the perfect choice for a bedroom.
What do you love about using Matouk?
"I love the incredible quality and timelessness of Matouk linens. They are equally comfortable, elegant, and stylish, which helps make any home (or dinner table!) feel unique and special."