Sotheby's: You are known for creating the most fabulous and photogenic tablescapes in London and beyond, with your precise eye for detail and texture and curating objects. What was your route to where you are now?
Fiona Leahy: I grew up in a small hotel in Ireland and starting setting the table at a very young age. I started my career as a fashion stylist and then started getting involved in events when I was Assistant Creative Director at Garrard. I hired Burlesque performer Dita Von Teese for an event and we quickly became friends. She then asked if I could design her wedding. 15 years later the work is still coming in, I feel so lucky.
There has been much talk of a scaled-back Christmas this year, with people perhaps not as able to celebrate in the same way as they traditionally would. How does one go about dressing a table for a small get together, whilst still keeping it festive?
Christmas this year will definitely be scaled back in numbers, but this doesn't mean you need to scale back the celebrations. Sometimes the more intimate gatherings end up being more manageable and enjoyable. Intimacy and small numbers if we look at a differently, is an amazing luxury; as couple, or even alone. There is no need to scale back. Use your best plates and placemats, incorporate flowers, candles are essential, and of course so are Christmas crackers.
"You want to feel comfortable and to be able to sit there for hours, enjoying every minute of it."
Which items from the Thomas Goode sale most excite you and how would you style them?
The set of china that were owned Napoléon is my favourite, which I styled this with a large Victorian silver epergne. I love the idea of eating from piece of history. The epergne is the most beautiful centre piece, I would love to have one of my own.
If you had to choose the one item that simply must be on a table for entertaining guests, what would it be?
Definitely candlesticks. To me, candlelight is the greatest mood enhancer.
Are there different schools of thinking on table design schemes and styling? Do you get people who love to mix and match, and others who have everything coordinated? And crucially, what are the rules for both approaches?
There are definitely different schools of thinking for table design, but I think the same rules apply. Design your table so you can sit at your table, not just for appearance. You don't want to have floral arrangements that obstruct the view, or anything that is too distracting. Allow a considerable space in between each guest, say 60cm. You just want to feel comfortable and be able to sit there for hours, enjoying every minute of it.
In your opinion, who was the greatest host in history? (and what can we learn from them?)
Dorothy Draper was an incredible hostess. I have read her book Entertaining is Fun! many times, but most appreciated it over lockdown. There are chapters on entertaining from one to four which have been so fitting for these times.
Who would be on your dream guestlist for a dinner party?
Larry David, Chelsea Handler, Morrissey, Rupert Everett, Martha Stewart.
Do you favour formal dining or a more relaxed affair?
I like the aesthetics of formal dining but I like a relaxed dining experience. I like to have a setting with placement and candlesticks, but I am happy to eat pizza at that setting.
How will Fiona Leahy be spending Christmas this year, and what will be the centrepiece of your dinner table?
I will be at home on Christmas day. I'll be using a beautiful burgundy table cloth and filling the table with pine and eucalyptus. There will be lots of candlelight to illuminate and reflect on what has been a challenging year.