Café Kathleen // Dinner is Served

"Laughter is brightest in the place where the food is."
- Irish Proverb

A setting to evoke the special qualities of the Winter Solstice.

My daughter said to me recently, “Mom, I was thinking about your life, and I realize you don’t have any hobbies.” At first, I didn’t know how to respond because she was right. I spend most of the 24 hours of each day either working or sleeping.  Then on further reflection, I realized I most certainly do have a hobby, and more than one, at that!

As a child, I was constantly doing and making.  I loved to cook, knit, crochet, smock, read, take dance lessons, do crossword puzzles, and play my clarinet.  I had more hobbies than I could handle.  Many of these early loves have followed me through my life:  I still love to cook.  I love to entertain.  I love to set a pretty and unique table.  I love to gather people.  Nothing brings me more pleasure than creating an environment that captures things unexpected and special.

Café Kathleen is “guest ready.”

A mantle filled with auspicious Chinese Foo Dogs and a plethora of mood-enhancing candle sticks.

The current temporary kitchen at our farm in Kentucky, as well as the wonderful brand-spanking-new-kitchen in my Nantucket studio, are laboratories for concocting special evenings, be they small, quiet drinks parties or large and festive holidays.   My family has affectionately named our sitting room Café Kathleen, a cozy space where family and friends gather to share a tipple and a laugh.  The bar is always well stocked, the candles flicker with an inviting ambiance, and the fireplace emits a warm glow on colder evenings.

I have created tablescapes for client projects and I have put together many personal settings to welcome family and friends around my own table.  I find it extra fun to create an evening around special events, such as Winter Solstice or Chinese New Year, gearing the menu and place settings to the theme of the holiday. It is sheer pleasure to allow my creative juices to flow, to channel my inner Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, and James Beard, and to let the settings unfold with abandon.  Cheers to a few of my hobbies!

Custom-designed, hand-cut menu for a themed dinner party.

More Images of Special Tablescapes

The Creative Process: Designing for Threads of Life

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air's salubrity."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, excerpt from "Merlin's Song"

We are thrilled to be one of fourteen designers from around the globe invited to design a quilt for the “Threads of Life” exhibit as part of this year’s Nantucket by Design. The exhibit, conceived and produced by UK luxury fabric house Christopher Farr Cloth, is a celebration of the craft of quilt making and the greater theme of legacy. The exhibit will take place at the Nantucket Historical Association’s Greater Light property, a fascinating architectural space in its own right. The quilts will be sold with proceeds to benefit the NHA. Don’t miss this special opportunity to see up close the creative process as interpreted by renowned designers and expert seamstresses. Read on to discover what inspired my quilt design.


I have spent my entire life living near the water, not with conscious planning, but just as it turned out.  This fact is an intrinsic part of my entire being; my soul is sustained by it.  Even my recent purchase of a second home on a farm in Kentucky is situated in front of a large pond that is fed by tributaries of the Elkhorn Creek and near to the banks of the Kentucky River.  So, it was without too much time pondering the theme for my quilt design: it would be inspired by the sea and the natural world.  It would also tie to my home on Nantucket and would emphasize that time on, and near, the ocean plays such a large part of life on the island and is the main backdrop.  It would incorporate colors that are reminiscent of days spent by the coast:  blues, whites, oranges, with a splash of yellow to represent the sun.

Although I have been a designer for decades, I am not known for my drawing skills.  However, I did manage to execute a child-like sketch of my concept for the quilt, clearly enough to impart my idea to my senior designer who would have the task of fleshing out my rudimentary design. I also wanted the design to capture a few of my favorite lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem Merlin’s Song, which have always inspired my own sense of how to live life to its fullest: “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air’s salubrity.”

A few days after putting pencil to paper and getting my concept firmed up, I was scrolling the 1st Dibs website looking for product for a current interior project.  There I saw an original work incentive poster entitled “The Perfect Finish” printed by Charles Mather in 1929.  It is the image of a sailboat and crew racing to victory with the byline: “No jobs done till (sic) it’s ALL done; Only full days make full records.”  The posters were sold to businesses to motivate and encourage workers in factories and offices.  And the design was almost exactly what I had drawn in my sketch.  I almost fell off my chair with the synchronicity of it.  There are no accidents.

The discovery of the vintage poster while searching the world-wide web confirmed for me all the many inspirations around us each moment of every day.  We just need to stay open, be ready to recognize them, and raise our awareness of the beauty of them, be they small or large.  My quilt is ultimately a nod to Emerson’s transcendental principles of nonconformity, self-reliance, free thought, confidence, and the importance of nature. It is “declaring to enjoy nature for what it is, to value the idea of having the freedom of it, and to realize there is more to life than what you are living.” ( Now go, breathe deeply, and drink in some wild air!

You Can Go Home Again

“…The way the sunlight came and went upon a certain day, the way the grass felt between bare toes, the immediacy of noon, the slamming of an iron gate…Nothing that had ever been was lost.”
– Thomas Wolfe, excerpt from 'You Can’t Go Home Again'

When people ask me where I live, I respond jokingly, “Delta Airlines, Row 2, Seat D.”  Like many of my colleagues, I live a peripatetic existence, magnified by the fact that my home base is an island thirty miles out to sea.  My occupation as an interior designer requires me to travel often.  The “getting there” isn’t always glamorous (think planes, trains, and automobiles), but the beautiful destinations make the travel hassles and often grueling, sometimes nightmarish, slog worth the effort.

Castle & Key Distillery

Recently I have been finding time to wind down in the rolling green pastures of central Kentucky.  My husband and I purchased a former thoroughbred farm in Midway as a getaway; located in the heart of the Bluegrass State, just outside the capital city of Frankfort, not far from Lexington, and east of Louisville where Rob grew up.  We were inspired to acquire the property after visiting his family several years ago for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Buffalo Trace Distillery honoring Rob’s 3x great grandfather, Colonel E. H. Taylor.  Col. Taylor is known as the father of modern bourbon and was a huge force in the modernization of bourbon distilling.  He owned several distilleries in the Frankfort area, was Mayor for a decade, instrumental in getting the Bottled-in-Bond act passed through Congress and named “The Man of 100 Suits” due to his sartorial panache.  He was even dubbed a “Master of Hospitality” by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars for his convincing proficiency as a “lavish host, genial leader, and cordial friend.”

The Springhouse at Castle & Key Distillery

Koi pond in the sunken garden at Castle & Key Distillery

The grounds at Castle & Key Distillery

His final distillery – the eponymous Old Taylor Distillery – recently underwent a major restoration and is now called Castle & Key, partly for the architecture that Colonel Taylor built in the late 1800s.  The spring house has the subtle shape of a key because the Colonel felt that the Kentucky water was the key to fine bourbon.  My oldest daughter Madeleine, Senior Designer at my firm, was commissioned to illustrate many of the buildings at Castle & Key and featured the beautiful spring house in her series for them.

Castle & Key Stationary featuring artwork by Madeleine Hay

It didn’t surprise me that Colonel Taylor, a man of great taste, would have made this lovely town his home and fought to keep it as the capital of the Kentucky when there was a push to move it west to Louisville.  This magical area of America is reminiscent of England and Ireland, from where my ancestors hail. Like the Emerald Isle across the pond, acres of beautiful farmland dotted with cattle and sheep unfold and decades old stone walls outline the narrow country roads.  The limestone-rich soil in Kentucky is responsible for the making of many great racehorses and equally delicious bourbons.  For us it presented the opportunity to renovate and restore an antique farmhouse, cultivate the rich land, raise livestock and chickens, and invest in a city that is on the verge of a renaissance.  Fueled by the renewed interest in “brown water” and an almost religious devotion to the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky finds itself burgeoning with excitement and new growth.

Our first two heifers, Destiny & Fortune, grazing on our farmland

The design phase of Limewater Bistro

Concurrent to getting the farm up and running, we are collaborating with our younger daughter and her fiancé on the design of their restaurant, Limewater Bistro, slated to open later this spring.  The restaurant is situated on the banks of the Kentucky River just a few paces from Buffalo Trace in the historic Glen Willis House, which is the oldest property in Frankfort.  Kentucky has afforded Isabelle and Axl the opportunity to make their dream of opening their own restaurant a reality, like it has Rob’s dream of owning a farm.  It has given my family a new place of discovery, and me a place of respite.  In the words of Thomas Wolfe, “Peace fell upon her spirit. Strong comfort and assurance bathed her whole being. Life was so solid and splendid, and so good.”   Who said you can’t go home again?

The entrance to Limewater Bistro

A view of Buffalo Trace Distillery and the Kentucky river from the grounds at Limewater Bistro

Café Kathleen // Snowy Sunday Stroganoff

We were battered with a classic New England nor’easter last month.  Snow blanketed the landscape (even Buddha donned a suit of white) while the winds blew a gale, gusting to over 80mph at times. Many of the downtown streets were flooded and a group of trepidatious island teens made international news canoeing down Easy Street.  I was one of the fortunate residents on the island who retained power throughout the storm. I used the time free from the usual distractions of life to catch up on work and make a cozy, stick-to-your-bones supper.  This rich, yet delicate, beef stroganoff is a favorite of mine, taking me back to meals enjoyed as a child at the famous Russian Tea Room in New York City; serve it with buttered egg noodles and a smooth glass of red.  And you don’t need to wait for a snowstorm to enjoy this delicious classic supper.


1.5 lbs boneless rib eye or beef filet

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

1 large onion, sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

10 oz mushrooms, sliced (I use a mixture of white and baby bellas)

3 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

1 ½  cups beef broth

½ cup dry white wine

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1 bunch fresh tarragon pulled from stems

2/3 cup sour cream

Salt and pepper to taste

For serving:

10 oz egg noodles

Chopped parsley and chives, for garnish


  1. Flatten the steaks to about 1/3” thickness using a rolling pin or mallet
  2. Slice steaks into ¼” strips, making sure to discard excess fat;  sprinkle strips with salt and pepper
  3. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over high heat, scatter half the beef in the skillet, and spread it quickly using tongs.
  4. Cook for 30 seconds untouched until browned and then quickly turn and leave untouched for another 30 seconds to brown.
  5. Remove beef to a plate (it is fine if some of the meet is still pink)
  6. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and repeat with the remaining beef strips; remove the strips to the plate once browned.
  7. Turn heat down to medium-high and melt butter.  Add onions and cook for 1 minute, then add mushrooms and garlic and cook until golden.
  8. Add half the broth to the pan while stirring;  once incorporated, add the remaining broth and the white wine,  then add sour cream, mustard, and tarragon.
  9. Stir mixture until incorporated.  Don’t worry if sauce looks split as sour cream will melt as it heats.
  10. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium-low until sauce thickens and reaches the consistency of pouring cream (it should take about 3-5 minutes).
  11. Add salt and pepper to taste and then add the beef back to the pan along with any juices and simmer for 1 minute.  Remove from stove immediately.
  12. Cook egg noodles according to package directions, drain, coat with butter.
  13. Serve the beef stroganoff over the cooked noodles; garnish with chives and parsley.


Café Kathleen // Holiday Sausage Bread

Sausage Bread

This sausage bread is a holiday favorite in the Hay household and a staple of Café Kathleen. Inspired by Kathleen's upbringing in New York with a strong Italian influence on the food scene, this bread is a never-ending hit at parties, especially in the cold winter months. Mangia!


4 packages of pizza dough

16oz shredded mozzarella

12 sausage links

3 eggs (reserve a small amount to brush onto dough)

3-4TBSP parmesan

1 green pepper

1 onion

4-5 garlic cloves

1 jar of Kalamata olives

1 jar of sliced mushrooms

Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sauté garlic, onion, peppers on medium-high heat until fragrant and softened. Remove vegetables from stovetop and place to the side in a large mixing bowl. Remove sausage meat from its casings and brown in a frying pan over medium-high heat until cooked through and no longer pink. Remove from the stovetop. Combine browned sausage meat, sauteed vegetables, cheeses, and eggs, olives and mushrooms  in a large bowl until combined. On a flat surface, sprinkle cornmeal to keep dough from sticking. Remove pizza dough from its packaging and spread each individual package onto cornmeal surface and flatten into 10” oblongs. Take a spoon and place sausage/vegetable/cheese mixture into the center of the dough, leaving about ¾” around the edges of the dough. Once desired amount of mixture has been placed on dough, take the edges and fold it over itself, completely sealing the bread so that there is no mixture leaking out. Combine a beaten egg with a splash of water and with a culinary brush, brush egg wash over the top of the loaf to ensure the loaf will remain sealed during baking. Place the loaves on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake in oven for 30mins or until golden brown and dough fully cooked. Place on a cooling rack until able to handle. Slice and enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Taste of Home

My Quarantine Kitchen – A Story of Making Do

“It is said the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.”
- Thomas Fuller

It was mid-March of last year,  and the world as we knew it was about to change seemingly overnight.  I was back on my island home of Nantucket after a quick trip to NYC for business.  Things were starting to fray at the edges of normalcy: the Uber driver spoke of a colleague who had contracted the virus, Dr. Fauci was becoming a household name, and talk of lockdowns was being disseminated by governors nationwide.

Most of my family was in Kentucky where we are working on two large historic renovation projects.  My oldest daughter and husband are both part of my design team.  They phoned to urge me to join them so I would not be stranded alone on the island.  I quipped, “Oh, I am fine here.  This whole thing is going to blow over in a matter of weeks.”  It goes without saying I am no longer considering a career in fortune telling.



The main reason for my hesitation in returning to Kentucky was the condition of the property we were now calling our second home.  We had purchased a thoroughbred farm the previous fall with plans to renovate it.  Complete with a large barn, several outbuildings, and a majestic antebellum brick house, the property is magical.  However, the condition of the house was in greater disrepair than we previously thought.  The old part of the building (circa 1847) was in relatively good shape, but the back half, which housed the kitchen, family room, and first floor master bedroom, was rotting at its core: infested with vermin chewing their way through the floorboards from underneath the building, a main carrying beam that had been hacked through in the 1970s to install trunk lines for the HVAC, sagging walls, and a leaking roof; it required  a complete gut of the back half of the house.

A few days passed and news of the spreading pandemic grew grimmer. State after state announced closures and airlines were grounding their fleets.  My husband, an experienced builder and finish carpenter, brokered a deal with me: if I agreed to come to Kentucky, he would work to get the house more live-able and, perhaps, even a little more beautiful.  I decided it made sense to head south and join my family for lockdown even though I had never envisioned living in the old house during the necessary renovation.

I arrived with much trepidation and a less than optimistic view on the situation.  I was, after all, in the business and knew we had our work cut out for us.  It involved unloading the dining room – precariously stacked floor to ceiling with boxes and furniture, and affectionately renamed POD world – as well as clearing out the entry foyer which had become a hodge-podge of necessities: a rolling rack filled with winter coats, bookshelves holding household supplies, more stacks of boxes with no home, and a discreetly concealed cat litter box (heavens!)  Rob promised to set the living room with bits and pieces of furniture as placeholders and turn the dining room into a cozy study, even hanging a treasured chandelier to give me hope and a slice of beauty.  Both spaces held the promise of rooms with better futures ahead.

Our COVID pod of five turned out to be the perfect team to undertake the “swat” decoration and comfortable habitation of an antique home during a pandemic:  an interior designer, a builder cum architectural draftsman, an artist, a sommelier and trained photographer, and a chef.  It was not wasted on me how fortunate to find myself “imprisoned” on acres of picturesque pastures with this talented group. When the confines of the gutted house became less than bearable, one could escape to the green rolling hills just outside our door – a safe and socially-distanced haven in which to breathe in fresh air and a clear perspective.

My husband created countertops out of flooring material from Home Depot and set them on top of metal racks that became our de facto pantry and pot storage.  We called into service the refrigerator from the gutted kitchen and added a gas log set to the existing fireplace.  We even installed a kitchen sink in the old bar cabinet and placed next to it a new washer and dryer topped with a counter fashioned from the antique French cherry island that had once been the proud centerpiece of the former kitchen.   A rug from a local home store, skirted Ikea Parsons chairs being held in storage for our daughters’ future first homes, our old wooden kitchen table once a homework station for the girls, a prized antler chandelier, and various pieces of art from our collection completed the scene.




This quirky room (which will eventually become our formal dining room) was our sole sanctuary during the months of lockdown. A quarantine kitchen that warmed us literally and figuratively, providing food and shelter during a time of uncertainty. The space ended up feeling like a cozy English country kitchen and pantry, layered with memories and many stories to tell.  On any given day, you could find a pot of soup simmering in the slow cooker while a casserole bubbled in the Breville.  Chef could be found most afternoons at the prep area miraculously producing gourmet meals from thin air, while our daughter tested on us her burgeoning bartending skills with deliciously crafted cocktails.  The table would be set with linens and crystal unearthed from the stacks of moving boxes now stored in the gutted rear of the house, and candles were lit for dinner each evening without fail.   I could have easily bemoaned the lack of so many things about this humble room: state-of-the art appliances, a proper kitchen sink, and an automated dishwasher, but realized instead I had everything I needed not only to survive, but to do it in style.