Los Angeles-based interior designer Nathan Turner likes to joke that he should work for the California Office of Tourism.
"I feel so lucky to have grown up in California," says the native of Martinez who spent his childhood sailing on Tomales Bay and visiting his grandparents' cattle ranch near Stockton.
Staying true to the title of his new book "Nathan Turner's I Love California: Live, Eat, and Entertain the West Coast Way" (Abrams, $40), Turner has drafted a love letter to the Golden State using classic examples of California living — from an alfresco seafood lunch in Calistoga to a colorful Mexican fiesta in Rancho Santa Fe — to illustrate how anyone can adopt a California state of mind.
"The era of big, grand things is over," Turner says. "People — especially younger ones — aren't interested in that at all. I wanted to show the rest of the country that you don't have to live in California to achieve our easy, barefoot, casual, lifestyle."
When it comes to entertaining, Turner likes to keep things simple. "Have a welcoming house, put together a nice table and serve delicious food. It's as simple as that," he writes. In a recent interview, Turner elaborated on what that means and offered tips on hosting a successful outdoor dinner party this summer:
1. Don't try to do it all
Entertaining is not about about showing off or impressing people. If you're not a cook, don't cook. You can set the table and do chic takeout. Pick a theme — Chinese, Thai. It's about connecting with family and friends.
2. Set the table
It's fun to put effort into setting a pretty table. It shows your guests that you care about them.
3. Skip the paper and plastic
I hate paper plates. It bothers me on so many levels. It's such a crazy waste. I don't like eating food on a paper plate. It doesn't feel nice to me. For summer, I like to use vintage tinwear. I love galvanized because it is so inexpensive and you can find it anywhere — even at the hardware store. Put some beach grass in a galvanized pail on the table and you're done.
4. Love linens
I never buy tablecloths because they are expensive and I always want a certain color. Instead, I like to go to the fabric store and buy a few yards of fabric. At $8 per yard, you get exactly what you want for $16. Don't get hung up on the hem. If you're worried about your friends looking closely at an unfinished hem, then you don't want them as guests.
5. Serve buffet-style
For outdoor entertaining, I like to go with a buffet. I'm a "the more the merrier," casual type of person. I want my friends to be able to bring guests if they like. You can't do that if you have a set number of people at the table. I love to set up a big pretty table in the backyard and let my guests serve themselves. That's what summer should be: relaxed and easy.
6. Plan ahead
I like to cook the day before. A lot of the recipes in my book can be cooked in advance. That way, on the morning of the party, I can do the flowers and decorate the table and address whatever food prep is necessary. I like to put the food, drinks and dessert all out at once and at separate tables. All you have to do is make sure everything is replenished.
7. Flower power
Make it simple and not fussy. Choose things that are hardy and can withstand heat and sun. Pick one flower and do an arrangement — one vase of marigolds, another white anemones — and then mix them up on the table. In a pinch, go to Trader Joe's and buy an arrangement and dissect it. I am big on using what you have in your backyard. I love fig leaves. Put them on the placemats. In L.A. you can walk down the street and find lemons or palm fronds or kumquats. There is inspiration everywhere.