Ever the hostess with the mostess, HGTV’s Monica Pedersen graciously spoke with NI at 6:30 a.m. while ironing four sundresses she was to wear later that day for a taping of her new show, House Hunters World Tour. The Chicago native added author this year to her laundry list of illustrious credentials with Make It Beautiful, in which she shares her secrets for throwing fabulous parties. She’s famous as much for her design savvy as her down-to-earth charm, and she can often be seen around Naples, never missing a trip for friend´s birthday each November.
You were last here in August speaking at the Miromar Design Center. What´s on your agenda now?
When my husband and I visit, of course we enjoy the beach, but I also go shopping. I hit all the places downtown, Miromar—oh my gosh, I could spend a lot of time shopping. You think you go on vacation to take a break, but it’s actually really fun for me to go to other cities and see what they’re doing. I like Naples because people appreciate good design. There’s a terrific, sophisticated style to Naples. For a smaller city, you can find a ton in the world of design and that’s unusual.
Safe to say you feel at home here?
Naples is just a lovely, welcoming place. And when you’re taking a trip, you want it to be an enjoyable experience from the time you land, and that’s what Naples is: It’s very, very easy.
You became famous for home makeovers on Designed to Sell and interiors are the focus of your other shows. Why choose entertaining for your book?
I have a secret thing for china. My mom and I have always been buying dishes. We can’t help it! I wanted my first book to celebrate something that’s very personal to me. Even when your house is falling apart, you’re renovating, you’re adding on, the one thing you can still do is make your table pretty and invite people over.
Any advice for Neapolitans planning parties?
Take advantage of outdoor dining. When you live somewhere, it´s easy to take things for granted. For ambiance and romance, there’s nothing like dining outside. To me, it’s the most special way to entertain. Have a “we’re in season” party, a welcome back for friends returning. The whole experience writing my book reminded me of how important it is to set a date and get it done, because when you’re busy, it’s easy not to make an effort. Throwing a party outside also helps people whose homes are not in perfect shape. A lot of people will say, “oh, I want to have a party at my house, but it doesn’t look good” or “I’m in the middle of this project”—so I say move the party outside!
Thanksgiving is coming up soon. Are you hosting it?
My husband has a really large family, so Thanksgiving Day is usually hosted by his sisters, but I always do my own Thanksgiving. Even though we get together with a big group, the next day I always have my own. I want to experience Thanksgiving dinner for me; I think it’s an easy one to cook, it’s fun, and it’s tradition—and you know, we definitely want the leftovers! I always do a turkey, I always do the dressing, I always do everything because I want to pull out my fancy china, too! Whether you have a large group or a small group, do it. Make the effort. You don’t have to have 25-pound turkey. You can have it small, and it’s actually really nice. I always do Thanksgiving, even if it is a small little group.
What do you think about Thanksgiving on the lanai?
I love it! It would be super-special. Bring your autumn colors onto the table. It doesn´t matter if you have a large group or a small group—and clean-up is a lot easier if you host it outdoors.
I love your shows, including Dream Home and House Hunters World Tour, but especially Designed to Sell. I watched it for the tips when I first moved down here and bought a home. I was really bummed they stopped producing new episodes. Was it hard to let it go?
That was a great show. I miss it. You know, a lot of people say that to me. That was my first show in television, and we did almost 100 episodes in Chicago. Some people watched it to be entertained, some watched it to learn. But you know I was careful. I always did my best to come up with ideas and tips that people could actually use.
What was the experience like working on the book?
The book was a lot of fun. What I did in the book was very different from what I do on television, but when you think about it, designing a table or your home for entertaining, it’s the same muscle memory that you’re using in your room. In your room, you’re using the color, the balance, the scale. You know, I’ve got this bright color here, and now how am I going to balance it. And with your table, it’s a fun way to practice those design skills in a small setting. It’s like: Am I going to have a patterned table cloth? Am I going to have solid place settings? And what color am I going to make pop?
Any advice for someone throwing a dinner party for the first time?
If you’re entertaining and if you’re nervous about it, look to your room for inspiration. You’re better off bringing a look into your table that really looks good in your space, and then you can tell the story of the event through small accessories. A good example from the book is that black-and-white baby shower. I picked that out because I loved that black and white fabric for the porch, and then I told the story of the baby shower through little pink roses, pink painted cardboard letters, and baby accents, but once you take that stuff out, the space still looks great with everything. Decorating your room and decorating your table is the same thing. I spent a lot of money on fabrics for the book because fabrics are my thing and I love them, but you can copy any of that stuff on any budget.
I read that you volunteer a lot back home in Chicago and give back to charities. Naples is a very philanthropic community. Can you share what you do and why?
I’m really involved with Catholic Charities in Chicago. It’s a program called the LOSS Program, and it provides free counseling for people who have lost a loved one to suicide. I had actually lost a brother years ago—my twin brother in high school—and Catholic Charities is important because it’s a program that my family got to benefit from. And it’s wonderful to be in a place to be able to give back to that. I also help the Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center; it’s where kids get free help if they’ve been abused. I think suicide and abuse are causes that people don’t typically get behind because they’re not the glamorous causes that everyone relates to. I think it’s important to use my platform to help people, and it feels really good. And it’s a gift to myself. [Laughs.] I’m helping them and helping myself at the same time.
I didn’t want to interrupt you before, but I’m very sorry about your brother.
That’s okay. There are pictures of us in the book, and that’s part of the book, too: It’s about making the effort. I lost my twin brother. I also lost my sister a few years ago. For me, I thank God that I had my mom who made the little events special and who made holidays special. I can look back and say I had those memories that you want to look back on that are so important—I’m able to say I had them. Wonderful birthdays, great holidays. The times in life that we were supposed to celebrate, my mom made the effort to do that, and I wanted to pass on that message to readers. I didn’t go into it too much in the book because I didn’t want to depress people, but it’s about making the effort. It’s how I am in life and with my family. Doing the charity work is a natural extension, and what’s interesting now is that from working in television, if it helps to raise money or if it helps raise awareness for a cause, I’m really happy to do it.