Even though I live in a small studio, I make it a point to entertain as often as possible. Even if it’s just one person over for a glass of wine and some cheese. I’ve always believed entertaining people in one’s space is a huge factor in making a house feel like a home. The other factor? Well, the decor. This is why I’m so excited to introduce you to OKA, a British interiors and design company that has been outfitting residences in England (and across the world) for the past twenty years and is finally available in the United States. We asked Sue Jones, the Creative Director of OKA, to tell us a little more about the brand and why gathering around for the holidays is so important to her…
How did OKA begin and how has it grown since it started?
OKA was established in England 20 years ago by myself and my friends Annabel Astor and Lucinda Waterhouse. This was pre-Internet, so it was practically impossible to find good quality furniture at reasonable prices, that weren’t antiques. So, we decided to do it ourselves. We designed a collection of furniture and décor and traveled the globe, searching some of the most remote places to find the finest craftspeople in the world – which was quite difficult at first, as we had no budget, no translator and no contacts at all! But each of us has our own different style, skills and experience and this is an integral part of why we have worked so well together.
At first our office was a typical barn in the English countryside, but this was just the start of the journey; within a couple of years we opened our first (of many) stores and became a well-known brand in the UK. We are delighted to have furnished homes all around the world, but we had a greater ambition: to launch in the US. Little did we know it would take us 20 years to fulfill this dream.
Why do you find it so important to set the table and space to allow people to gather around it?
There’s nothing quite like gathering around the dining table at home with family and friends. It’s so important, where else do you properly catch up? Setting the table is such a big part of this for me, it’s like a ritual. I like to surprise people though and do something slightly different each time; it’s much more fun when no one knows what to expect. I also think that when you make lots of effort setting the scene, it’s impossible for people not to have a good time. At Christmas I like to put fun little gifts at every place, like a pretty glass paperweight or ornament to take home, and I always get creative with place settings – writing names on a holly leaf with a metallic pen is so simple and never fails to impress.
What are your favorite tips when people feel overwhelmed when entertaining for the holidays?
Planning is key, especially when it comes to the menu – make sure to be prepared for last-minute dropouts or additions. Make sure your bar is fully stocked, with plenty of glassware and drinks ingredients so people can easily help themselves – non-alcoholic options are thoughtful for children and non-drinkers too. If you feel like there is too much to do, just get everyone involved – no one really minds, and I find children can always be bribed with some sweets.
Favorite place to spend your own holidays?
It really depends. There is nowhere prettier than the English countryside at Christmas. It is so picturesque, especially in the snow. But I love to host over the holidays as well, I think it’s such fun throwing festive dinner parties and getting the guests rooms ready – I like to add personal touches that will really make people feel at home. If we need some winter sun, we always go to Lamu in Kenya; it has such beautiful beaches.
What are you most excited about regarding OKA launching in North America?
America is so influential when it comes to interiors, so we are really hoping that people love our pieces as much as we do. We’re so excited to open our first store in the US next year as well, that will be a big step for us.