BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Designer Todd Schwebel creates some of the dreamiest houses and gardens—and also does the flowers himself for very special occasions at home or at the house of a lucky client.
No tight, unopened FTD-style blooms are allowed as this opulent spring centerpiece bursting with joyful garden flowers illustrates. Like Nancy Lancaster or Sister Parish, Schwebel believes the rooms he designs are most alive when full of people and flowers. The peonies, roses, and tulips are carefully selected to heighten the color scheme driven by the handblocked Federal-style Adelphi wallpaper he selected for this Maryland dining room hung with Hudson River School landscapes.
Yellow roses are the tradition symbol of friendship. Every five years Schwebel generously hosts the signature event for his University of Chicago class reunion, making sure yellow roses are in abundance to welcome his many dear friends and classmates. Here the yellow roses are mixed with lilacs and snowball viburnum (straight from his garden) to create a stately look in his de Gournay scenic wallpapered dining room.
“When you invite the Chicago Botanic Board and President’s Circle over to see your formal garden and serve High Tea, it’s a good idea to color coordinate the punch ice ring with the strawberries and your fancy Japanese tree peonies!” says Schwebel. “In other words, when you’ve got the blooms in your own garden, cut them and flaunt them shamelessly—it’s better than ordering from the florist!
Careful readers of the late, great Bill Cunningham’s column in the New York Times will remember Todd Schwebel’s over the top Easter centerpiece ode to Brooke Astor to benefit Lennox Hill Hospital. To celebrate the queen of New York society and one of her favorite causes, Schwebel’s female guests all received Easter bonnets and the gentlemen a Kentucky planter’s straw hat when they arrived at their tables. He says, “A good host should make it easy for their guests to dress the part—when in doubt channel Mrs. Astor!”
Schwebel is well known for his pitch-perfect red, white, and blue Americana (and his civic engagement). In honor of Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold’s important book on campaign finance reform, he designed this patriotic table that was also featured in Cunningham’s column in the Times.
To celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday in festive style at a swank club, Schwebel playfully washed the rooms in colorful balloon bouquets and simply used the same selection of balloons as a centerpiece. He explains, “Keep it simple, keep it pretty!”
The designer and party impresario lead the effort to save Howard van Doren Shaw’s Quadrangle Club from demolition when its land lease from the University of Chicago was set to expire and a high-rise dorm was slated on the University’s master plan for the property. Here he is hosting one of the many Preservation Balls he chaired, this one complete with a May Day Pole festooned with garden flowers!
When a favorite curator recently retired from the Art Institute of Chicago, the Old Master’s Society Board decided to throw her a party in a past President’s stunning David Adler apartment on the Gold Coast. In true old-fashioned charity board style, the Board divided up the work with Schwebel providing a Dutch still-life centerpiece to honor the retiree.
In the magic kingdom of Murray Bay, the designer’s summer centerpieces and bouquets are all cut from the colorful gardens surrounding his summer house. Heirloom roses, and old-fashioned annuals like sweet peas, zinnias, and nasturtiums abound! His mantra is “live colorfully” and I can assure you flowers are the best way to do so!