Energetic and warm, Dawn Lovell has a twinkle in her eyes, accompanied by an open smile as she approaches with an outstretched hand. Her 2-year-old Doberman, Calli, a sleek black package of curiosity, pokes hopefully at me with the toy she’s brought in her jaws. It’s the perfect icebreaker, and Dawn later tells me she brings Calli to job sites and meetings quite often for just that reason; she’s the ideal ambassador to get a conversation started. Her business, Party Time Rentals, is one of the busiest event companies in the region, handling everything from 700-person banquets to two-person intimate dinners. For her, it comes down to the connection between the people, the surroundings and the food.
“My mom cooked. All the time. Every meal, we ate at home,” she recalls.
Her mother was big on gatherings. Not just cooking, but the full tilt experience of a dinner party, with multiple courses accompanied by linen, china, crystal and candles. The food was presented with elegance and flair, with an eye toward making the entire affair enjoyable and memorable for guests. It was, Dawn says, a creative outlet.
“I think she just enjoyed doing it. The table and the room were the canvas for her.”
There is a familiar comfort in the shared experience of a meal that goes beyond the mere preparation and consumption of food. It’s the simplicity of the communal; the exchange of conversation, the pleasure and engagement of beautiful surroundings that gives us a moment to pause, breathe and enjoy the tangible connection with other human beings. In a space where everything has been carefully designed and chosen to entertain, to please, to whet the senses and delight the spirit, it’s easy to relax in the security of a warm welcome. It’s a concept her mother instilled in her from an early age, and has remained with her.
Her Mom’s big-ticket event was New Year’s Eve; everyone wanted to be at that party.
“She’d go all-out,” the native-born Floridian remembers. “Everything was from scratch; roasts, homemade pâté, desserts. I liked it because I got to have the next day’s leftovers.” It was a coveted invitation among friends who made an elegant evening of the affair in gorgeous dresses, suits and jewelry, the women’s hair done up in flattering styles. Lovell’s home would be filled with music, conversation and warmth, with delicious aromas in every room.
The memory still resonates with her in crystal-clear detail, and likely influences her love of creating beautiful and equally memorable experiences for her customers. Using her talents as an architect to make an empty room her canvas has proved to be a creative, artistically fulfilling pursuit with a real purpose.
“I’m big on tradition; I think there’s a place for it,” she says. “When people take the care to dress up and get ready for something, they’re going to take the time to really absorb and enjoy the experience.”
Reflecting her mother’s aesthetic, her showrooms are full of delicate collections of china and tea services, crystal stemware, silver samovars and serving dishes, soft curtains and candles, carved wood furniture, and plush sofas and chairs. Each gallery on “Inspiration Alley” has a theme; from elegant to edgy, kitsch to casual. They look like dream rooms that have been plucked unobtrusively from lived-in homes; little samples of ambience to whet the appetite. Lovell is a firm believer that the visual enhances the food, making the moment into a full experience.
“Before you even get to the culinary aspect, you want to set the tone,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be elaborate–just well thought out and well-appointed.”
As much time as she spends creating and organizing beautiful tableaux and food experiences for a living, Lovell herself doesn’t cook much outside of work.
“I like to bake,” says the former University of Florida architecture student. “I’m very good at instruction; I’m very precise.”
She didn’t take advantage of her mother’s cooking prowess as a kid and ask for lessons, though now she thinks she probably should have.
“I was never in the kitchen with her,” she says, and laughs, “because I was probably more of a nuisance!”