I had no idea there was even such a word as PUNCTILIOUS before I discovered this wonderfully artistic and inventive company.
showing great attention to detail or correct behavior
“he was punctilious in providing every amenity for his guests”
Karen Suen-Cooper and Martin Cooper are the consummate dinner party hosts in their lovely 200 year old home, B’ellow, in New York’s Hudson River Valley.
As with so many things that are creative, their company was founded out of their desire to make their guests feel welcomed. And what does that better than a place card with your name at the dinner table? It just says – this seat has been reserved especially for you, so please sit down and enjoy a wonderful dinner with us!
Karen so graciously sat down with me for a “girl’s chat” and Martin sent me his lovely photo images. So many heartfelt thanks to them both.
Let me introduce you to Karen and Martin as they share the magic of their company with us.
1. TELL US ABOUT MR. P’S AND WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO LAUNCH SUCH A BOLD AND UNIQUE COMPANY
You sound like you are on a crusade to bring back the Dinner Party. I think that is lovely. The world is moving just way too fast and we are losing the art of the simple things like ~ getting people together. We have to eat everyday but we are opting for choices that are fast but they leave no fingerprints behind of the pleasure. You start to hanker for the depth of relationships of the here and the now.
We live in an 18th century house that we have been restoring for the past 15 years simply guided by our instincts to bring the house back to life. So when you ask us why we started The Punctilious Mr. P’s ~ the house made us do it!
Pre 911 we were living in a loft surrounded by the canyons of the New York skyline but after 911 we really started thinking more in survival mode wanting a place where we could create a sustainable life style growing things and be surrounded by nature.
About a year later we went to a dinner party in Claverack in Columbia County New York and that’s when it all began. There were fields and fields of growing crops, orchard, horses, rolling hills and really it was just magnificent. It was a new reality for us.
We looked for about 2 years to find a house we would both mutually liked. Something about this house just spoke to us. It was like falling in love for the first time. It literally asked us to come and save it and bring it back to life. It was a very strange calling. This house wanted to be alive to have people to create memories. It was a kind of destiny ~ where we were in our lives, where this house wanted to be.
It has been a 15 year project and we’ve only finished half the house. But now we are starting to realize why this all happened and that is what Mr. P’s is all about. We had built these rooms that were so transportive they take you back to a different interesting splendor. And although The Punctilious Mr. P’s is an idea we had been living for over 30 years it really came to life as a business because of the soul of the house and our love affair with it.
When we entertain we have always put out place cards and frankly they were pretty plain and boring. The most charming thing was that they were always hand written by our son. Finally Martin said “I can’t stand the boring back of another place card” and the rest is history.
2. WHAT WAS THE DESIGN OF YOUR VERY FIRST PLACE CARD OFFERED BY MR P’S?
The Courtship Bird was our first place card.
It is a Chinoiserie print of a bird with Chrysanthemums. It’s so funny, whether you are restoring a house, creating a fashion collection or setting up a dinner party there is a way that you see in your mind how something should be. You are planning, working, researching and orchestrating so when we found all the right pieces to produce that very first place card we were just so in love with it. When we tell people “we make place cards” a lot of them just go blank. But then you have those that really get it and they are like “oh my God”.
Because of Martin’s fine art photography even back when there was still lots of solutions and mixtures it was kind of like a witch’s brew our place cards are printed on professional fine art photography equipment and the papers are archival. The colors are gorgeous and the detail is amazing.
We are not spring chickens but we still have some life left! The thing that really gives us life is the creative process. We wanted to make something made to order not just mass produce like a warehouse. I have spent so many all nighters but what keeps me going is thinking ~ these people are going to have a great time and these little place cards are going to go on the table and be the finishing touch to the client’s beautiful linens, china, silver and crystal because none of it really matters until someone sits there. It really gives us inspiration to know we are part of what brings each place setting to life.
Our actual very first order was for a fabulous 40th birthday party and the client commissioned us to find a peacock. The party started off about 40 people that then went to 70 and then to 100. We called the place card Eternal Peacock because the colors on the feathers never fade. We loved the idea that in a ephemeral world there is something that is eternal.
3. WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING A HUSBAND AND WIFE BUSINESS?
Here is the nice part. We have been married 30 years and for the last 28 years we have always been sound boards to each other creatively. Even though we had different jobs we would always touch base with each other whether it was a design issue or work issue, always each other’s best friend. It was through fine art photography that we worked most creatively together. But we always had our own thing.
So fast forward … having a child, raising a child together, that really brings a couple together. Mr. P our company is actually the nickname of our child. But it’s also based on a fictitious English character from P.G. Wodehouse, Jeeves the butler. So like Jeeves and Dinner Party Guru Mr. P’s tries to bring guidance to what you are trying to do and make everything right with the answer to questions you have about entertaining. So Mr. P has become a character of our house in a way.
Martin and I wove this story together and it just seems right. It’s funny but I think we were just rehearsing to work together for the first 28 years. If the real Mr. P, our son, is a combination of each of us then The Punctilious Mr. P’s is the same. Everything that comes together between Martin and me is wrapped up in that beautiful little packet. Somehow we have learned to dance together creatively and commercially.
4. IF YOU COULD GIVE SOMEONE THE SECRET FORMULA FOR A GREAT DINNER PARTY WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Chemistry is important ~ the people you put together is like one big chemistry equation. You as the host should be the conductor of the evening. The dinner party is a reflection of the host. The host needs to be relaxed. If the host is uptight the evening will be uptight. Take care of yourself before your guests arrive and come to the party with a sense of fun and excitement. Remember ~ Your quests will reflect back what you bring to the door.
We’ve had so many fabulous parties but one that really stands out was our Cabaret Party we had years ago in our New York loft. Every guest had to come in as a character from a cabaret.
We sent out a video invite that illustrated the era, hired a cabaret singer, rented small high top cocktail tables and basically created a nightclub for the evening to ring in the New Year. Everyone was decked out in costumes and makeup and we were all young and had better shapes!
Martin was using his medium format Polaroid camera and took some amazing portraits. We just recently found the album and the black and white photos were just stunning bringing the memories flooding back.
It’s all about bringing friends together to step into another world and create a wonderful memory that really never fades.
5. YOUR FAVORITE WINE RECOMMENDATION?
We actually don’t drink but I love to create interesting mocktails. Especially up here depending on the season there are lots of wonderful farmers growing organic and heirloom varieties. So I am constantly experimenting with the herbs of the season working with local ingredients. Mixing these with citrus or other fruits from our area.
One of my favorites is to make an infused simple syrup ~ one part water to one part sugar mixed with 5 different local mints or with thyme or rosemary. It is gorgeous and aromatic. So beautiful waters would be my wine for the table so to speak.
6. CAN YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU ATTENDED A DINNER PARTY WHERE SOMEONE SET THE TABLE WITH A PLACE CARD FOR YOU?
I think it is just part of the fabric of your existence. They were just always there. Especially with my husband being from the south it was like you were undressed if you didn’t have place cards. It was just the way things were done. The lovely part is the story that is passed down because of these traditions. I feel that modern life can really use a few more stories.
7. WHAT MIGHT BE THE NEXT PHASE IN YOUR EVOLUTION? WHAT DO YOU WANT MR. P’S TO BE KNOWN FOR?
Our ambition is to spread across the table. So if you think about anything you would want on your table be it cutlery, china, objects, tablecloths, linens we want to provide the wardrobe for your table.
We personally love collecting tablecloths and beautiful napkins, things that show the work of hands. We have Mom’s china from her wedding even her sorority china. The table is a story ~ how you create relationships between patterns, and colors and scale and size; having beautiful glasses that are not always the same can create an interesting rhythm to the way it looks. That is what we want to invite people to do to feel creativity in simple things like setting the table. We want to share from an authentic place. This is our life.
With raising a young child you start to worry about the environment. Our child has also forced us to look at nostalgia with new eyes. We both come from the fashion industry which is somewhat driven by a disposable attitude but we no longer want our end product to be a beautiful dress or a coat or shoes we want our end product to be joy. And what better way to create joy than a gathering of people?
Over the years entertaining we realized that beautiful candle lit evenings are the things you think about. And the funny thing is finding a place card or finding a small token of that evening or a photo to remember and relive that evening’s warm beautiful feelings and stories is really what matters. Our thing is all about setting the theatre of your table and adding to the joy of your life.
If you would like to visit them please pop over to https://mrpsplacecards.com/