WE’VE COME today to talk about Rosanna Bowles’ favorite holiday.
And that turns out to be . . . the Fourth of July.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s a celebration of everything good in America. We go down to the Oregon coast. We’re on the beach, the whole community is celebrating, roasting hot dogs; there’s a parade. It’s very old-fashioned and spontaneous.”
Community and spontaneity. No mere words for Rosanna, the woman who single-handedly (with $15,000 in seed capital and a $15,000 home-equity loan in 1982) created an empire of home-entertaining accoutrements called, appropriately, Rosanna. Her dishes and serving ware are for sale around the world. Here at Nordstrom, the Rack, Molbak’s, Fireworks, Starbucks (those plates and mugs with the gold diamond pattern this holiday season? Rosanna) and more.
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Seated around her own dining table, a rustic and well-used thing, she pours tea from a pot of her own design into mugs that match it. Ancient Italian script over a floral pattern.
“My big thing is spontaneous entertaining,” she says with a bang of her bracelet. “Bringing us back to the table. There’s nothing more intimate than breaking bread. Especially in a society where we’re more disconnected than ever.”
This brings us to the matter at hand, the rituals around our winter holidays. Her philosophy is sort of a make-it-work affair mixed with a little just-do-it.
“Draw on your own repertoire,” she says. “Take and tweak something you can do. My mother made 12 kinds of cookies at Christmas. I can’t do that. I make two.
“Just create events where people come together. We’re craving that so much. It doesn’t take much. It doesn’t cost much. Go back to old-fashioned ideas and make them modern. Like the potluck. That’s a great idea.”
This year the Tuscan-yellow Laurelhurst Craftsman belonging to Rosanna and her husband, Mimmo Rosati, will be filled with family. Two daughters home, family in from Portland.
Christmas skews Italian here (Rosati is from Umbria; Rosanna attended school in Perugia). The night before Christmas, Rosanna prepares osso bucco. And later, it’s plates of cookies and Fran’s Chocolates. (“I love sugar, and I adore Fran’s.”)
The next morning, “I make Italian dishes, puff pastry with spinach and cheese, and another with mozzarella, Parmesan and assiago and layered with prosciutto. We have that with egg nog. It doesn’t really match, but I like it.
“We open presents, and then,” she says, her eyes lighting up, “we start getting ready for dinner. I order hams from Voget Meats in Hubbard, Ore. You cook them in a paper bag, slowly, all day. My family’s been doing it for years.” It is served with roasted vegetables and potatoes, “and really good wine from Umbria.”
Friends are welcomed all day long for drinks, charcuterie, cheeses. “I get all my food from (Big John’s) PFI.”
Right about now you might be tempted to make a comparison to another of our nation’s professional happy homemakers, Martha Stewart. And that would be just fine with Rosanna. “She made people appreciate creating a beautiful home and getting back to tradition.”
And then, suddenly, she asks, “Wanna see my dishes?” Why, yes, I do. Cabinets fly open. In the living room, across the dining room, into the kitchen. Everywhere carefully stacked collections are revealed. Her own designs, others.
“This is my china. I have five sets. No, six. No, seven. This is old Limoge; I’ve been collecting it since I was a child. There’s Spode back there, and here’s the Deruta.”
She holds up one very old white dinner plate. Irreplaceable. Her eyes sparkle.
Just like a kid on Christmas.
Rebecca Teagarden writes about architecture and design for Pacific NW magazine. Benjamin Benschneider is a magazine staff photographer.