Positively Zoe

By staff April 1, 2005

The first thing you should know about Zoe Goldfine is that her cell phone rings a lot. The second thing? She loves color. In-your-face explosions of color. Orange married with ivory. A canary-yellow New Year's theme. "Find your color," Goldfine, 29, is fond of saying. "Do something unexpected." The clients she works with on interior design already know all that about Goldfine, of course. So do those who have attended her parties, both those she produces for organizations such as Sarasota's Young Professionals Group and the big dinner parties and smaller cocktail gatherings she and her husband, Peter, throw for friends throughout the year.

Goldfine's signature style-colorful, unexpected, low-stress and high-fun-fits well with the YPG crowd. They're eager to party but don't necessarily want to do things the way their parents did. That's prompted her and Lesley Devrouax, a friend and former colleague from New York, to work on a book that she calls a "handbook to growing up," with decorating, fashion, etiquette and entertaining tops for people between 25 and 40. The book, which will be ready to send to publishing houses this summer, offers serious advice, but in a light, tongue-in-cheek tone, says Goldfine.

"It's for those people who are just starting out on their own," she says, "and who suddenly find themselves with homes and spouses and bosses." How do you have the boss over for dinner? What do you do with all the junk you dragged with you through your college days? How do you create a grown-up, gracious living space?"

Meanwhile, locals have benefited from her imaginative staging of events such as the YPG's party in the courtyard of the Sarasota Opera House, which included an exclusive 15-minute opera performance. Illuminated only by candles and starlight, the event had another dramatic highlight: explosive-looking centerpieces of trumpet vases filled with stargazer lilies, bells of Ireland and other tall greens.

Flowers often star in Goldfine's social productions, just as they did in the lavish parties she helped style when she worked as assistant to Alexa Hampton, president of Mark Hampton, Inc., the acclaimed New York design firm. After graduating from Riverview High, Goldfine (then Feldman) moved to New York City, where she studied interior design at Parsons. At Mark Hampton, she worked on glamorous events for New York City's rich and famous denizens. Budgets? What budget? With illustrious artists, politicians, stars and financiers as clients, the "b" word was never spoken. "There was never a budget for floral events, and they were always works of art," recalls Goldfine. Millions of dollars were used to turn these events into remarkable affairs. Tables glittered with precious china, Tiffany sterling bowls, caviar in stemware and $1,000 bottles of wine and champagne, she says.

Goldfine did the work behind the scenes, learning about designing a space to maximize the fantasy and turning events into happenings. But then an event-not one she planned-changed her life. After the attacks on Sept. 11, she says, she and her boyfriend, Peter Goldfine, "reprioritized" their lives. Peter had visited her family in Sarasota and thought they should move here. "I was used to life in the fast lane," she says. "I just didn't know if I could make that mental switch."

But in 2002 they moved to Sarasota and married soon after. Peter went to work in Michael Saunders & Company's commercial real estate division, and Goldfine opened her own design business, Goldfine Interiors, Inc. To keep things moving, she freelanced as an events planner and found herself back in the world she enjoyed the most: designing spaces and happenings that put smiles on people's faces. The Zoe Goldfine philosophy when it comes to decorating a space or creating an event: Don't do it if you can't have fun. And that leads to maxims like this: "Never throw a cocktail party without indulging in a cocktail before your guests arrive." Or, "Don't beat yourself up. It's only a party."

Goldfine doesn't let yesterday's etiquette dictate the details of today's parties. For example, she'd rather creatively mix serving pieces and table settings than follow the traditional rules for a formal table, where everything matches and is fixed in an inflexible spot. Above all, don't forget color. "Linens come in 10,000 colors," she says. "Have fun with them."

As a host, she stresses, your job is less about following rules than about creating an emotional atmosphere by welcoming guests to your space and making them feel comfortable. That means finding ways to introduce strangers to each other and seating new people-not spouses-next to each other at dinner parties.

Goldfine will be the first to admit that throwing a successful party is a lot of work. That's why she strongly advises hiring help, especially a bartender. She likes to create a signature cocktail, which can work smartly with the color theme. For her canary-yellow-themed New Year's Eve bash, she served "flirtinis," a champagne cocktail with pineapple juice. (She also recommends serving martinis because "they work well with women.") Whatever you do, she warns, do not serve red wine unless you want to see it all over your rugs and furniture.

To help guests shed their inhibitions at that New Year's Eve party, she invited everyone to come in wigs. "It worked," she says. "The wigs created a naturally fun environment." And she says most parties are livelier if you mix up the guest list. That's hardly new advice, but Goldfine's spin on it is probably not something your grandmother would do: If she plans to host 50 people, she'll ask 15 of those people to invite someone else. She welcomes the strangers, who add spice and an element of surprise to the affair.

When it comes to food, Goldfine admits that it's her weakest link. "Don't spend a lot of money on it," she says. Canap├ęs do the trick for a classic cocktail party. "Keep it simple. I use domestic caviar, unless budget really isn't an issue. That, and some good cheeses and smoked salmon and bread-never crackers-will keep people happy at most cocktail parties." Another Goldfine touch is to use glass serving plates. "I want the food to create the color," she says. Stick your breadsticks in a vertical glass container and your celery in horizontal dishes, she suggests. "Have fun with dimensions and heights. Otherwise it's like living in Iowa; everything looks flat.

"Whether you're creating the perfect party or the perfect space," she says, "expand your mind. Do the unexpected!"

And with that, she-finally-picks up her cell phone and answers it.

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