Nashville’s Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art benefit offered understated elegance reminiscent of days gone by.
It was an evening that felt much more like a divine dinner at a magnificent mansion than a traditional fundraising gala. An atmosphere of intimacy suffused Nashville’s 2011 Swan Ball, transporting patrons back more than three-quarters of a century to a time when the Cheek family (of Maxwell House coffee fame) might have asked a few charmed invitees to join them for aperitifs and a summer supper in their meticulously tended gardens. And that was exactly the feeling Swan Ball Co-chairs Missy Eason and Shannon Barton intended for this particular Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art benefit. With its understatedly elegant approach complemented by the retro, sing-along sounds of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, the 49th-annual gala hit all the right notes with perfect pitch.
Guests entered the Tennessee-sized tent where room-length bars—handcrafted to look like oversized English mahogany chests—anchored the space’s edges, leaving ample area for the high-decibel, festive cocktail hour. The entrance to the main dining tent showcased monumental mirrors with French transoms hanging above ram’s-head pedestals, holding casual, garden-fresh hydrangeas, tulips, roses, peonies, and hybrid delphiniums created by Mark O’Bryan, owner of Nashville’s Tulip Tree.
Event designer Amos Gott, assistant designer Jane Sloan, and a gaggle of energetic volunteers surpassed all décor expectations with the outdoor dining area, complete with robin’s egg blue “bead board” fabric ceiling, wood plank flooring and a raised-porch surround, banked with crisp-white Chippendale railings. Boxwoods (revered by many Southerners as the peerless shrub of choice) flanked the porch steps, and matching sets of shutters and oculus windows on either side of the performance stage provided mirror image reflections of the mansion’s 1930s neo-Georgian architecture.
Though guests marveled at the outsized, copper gaslit lanterns suspended overhead, the table settings were the gala’s piece de resistance. Unique place settings featuring Louis XV Servres-inspired floral porcelain chargers were the decorative showstoppers of the evening. Low centerpieces—fashioned from subtle-shaded varieties of peonies, hydrangeas, and roses—presented in vintage-look silver boxes and antique garden containers, supplied the requisite essence for the ball’s family heirloom–feel ambience.
After dinner, guests mingled and danced around the painted-flagstone patio’s luminary koi pond. As the night melted away—one hour slipping languidly into the next—it took only the slightest imagination to envision the original Mrs. Cheek gliding smoothly past while steering her dinner companions out toward the monumental spiral staircase and down to the home’s stately paneled front doors. It was a reach-into-the-good-china-cabinet-and-bring-out-the-family-treasures kind of evening, in precisely the same manner that Southerners have been entertaining for generations.