By Christiana Roussel
Creativity and entrepreneurship have deep roots in the family where Alexandra Stone Flowers and her sister Fallon grew up. Their parents, Deborah and Russell Stone, raised their girls to trust their instincts, follow their dreams, love deeply and share their talents. For Alex, that has meant joining forces with her mother in the family business of Stone Hollow Farmstead. At their Harpersville farm, they raise goats, chickens, ducks, the occasional turkey, flowers and a multitude of crops. The majority of these fruits, vegetables and herbs find their way into weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA, see sidebar) boxes that customers pick up each Tuesday from the SHF Farmstead location at Pepper Place. What isn’t enjoyed immediately is either pickled or preserved to savored later. Additionally, many of the herbs are included in botanical skincare products, under the Botanikō skincare line.
All of this natural beauty and creativity come through Alex in her passion for pretty things and entertaining, in ways that guests—both in one of their two storefront locations and at her Vestavia Hills home—feel welcomed, relaxed and cared for. Her role at SHF and Botanikō allows her to channel and share these gifts. Her purview runs the gamut, from buying home goods for the stores, developing branding and marketing strategies to visually styling each location to best showcase what they bring to market.
Just as the farm serves as inspiration and laboratory for their comestibles and cosmeceutical products, the home she shares with her husband, Christian, is where Alex practices the art of entertaining. “Having grown up in a family of entrepreneurs, weeknight dinners were anything but traditional,” she says. “It was on regular weekend trips to the beach where my family would gather, slowing down enough to make our time together really special.”
Deborah has long been known as terrific cook, updating and perfecting recipes that have been passed down for generations. Russell is an avid fisherman and would routinely bring in seafood from days spent out on the water. The table is where the gifts of the kitchen and the sea would come together, later afternoon rolling into evenings spent telling stories and connecting with one another. Alex recalls those tablescapes fondly, “At the beach, we would gather massive shells from which we would serve appetizers and then use palm leaves and seagrass to line and decorate the table.” From an early age, Alex knew to use all of our senses when she ate. “I always loved making things look, smell, and feel beautiful. As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation for details has only grown.”
When entertaining at home, Alex follows a few simple rules. For setting the table, “I love layering texture and adding life to something. I incorporate both in almost all design moments in my life, using a lot of linen and flowers everywhere.” She has found a true life partner in Christian who, when not practicing law, enjoys spending time outside with Alex, riding horses at the farm and entertaining friends and family. As for her decorating style, she laughs, saying “While Christian also has an appreciation for design and cooking, he teases me that everything in our life is furry, woven or ruffled.” These textures underpin her aesthetic but at a deeper level that allows guests to also relax into the unstuffy style: “I always want my guests to feel like if they spill a glass of red wine, it is not the end of the world. That is why I like linen so much. It feels a little lived in and comfortable.”
While it is always fun to buy new things, it is just as enjoyable to incorporate vintage or found treasures into a welcoming tablescape. Alex shares this affection for antiques with her mother. “My mom and I joke that we have always been ‘journey people’ – we live for the adventures that come with travel and exploring new places and spaces. I grew up doing show jumping dressage, and we would be on the road a lot. We would turn a four-hour drive into an all-day trip, stopping at all the antique stores on the way to our destination.” Collecting pretty and useful things was just one activity they did together. “Mom and I have collected so many vessels and serving pieces that I love. Almost every single one comes with a fun story about how we found it and why it is special to us. Those are great conversation starters at a dinner party!”
ALEX’S RULES FOR SETTING THE PERFECT TABLE
- The first rule of entertaining is always to have fun. As host or hostess, your attitude sets the mood for the event. When you are relaxed and ready to have a good time, your guests will immediately feel that and follow suit.
- Lively conversation is key to any good gathering. Once you’ve assembled your guest list, think about your seating arrangements and don’t be afraid to mix things up a bit! Alex likes to think in terms of conversational-triangles so that there is more engagement between guests. This is as important with old friends as it is with folks just getting to know one another.
- When adding florals or greenery, or even candles, to the table, ensure that your guests can still make eye contact with one another across the table with ease. No one wants to peer around the hydrangea blooms to engage in conversation.
- Limit using scented candles to areas without food–like the entry way or powder room. Red Currant smells divine in the living room, but next to a platter of poached fish, it can be off-putting and distract from all the thoughtful preparation.
- Stock up on entertaining pieces and food items. The Farmstand at Pepper Place carries a wide-variety of entertaining pieces and home goods designed for easy and elegant entertaining–from cheeseboards to salt cellars, chargers to serving bowls. And if you are the guest needing a hostess gift, there is lots to choose from too. “Our marinated goat cheeses, pickled asparagus or bloody Mary mixes are go-to’s that everyone enjoys,” Alex says.
Alex’s Tips to Create the Perfect Floral Arrangement
- Choose a vessel that you can fill easily. It does not have to be massive to stand out!
- Select a focal flower – this is your show stopper. Depending upon the size of your arrangement, this variety can be repeated throughout, using more than one stem. SHF grows a large variety of dahlias. and when they are in bloom, you can guarantee, these are the show stoppers in every arrangement.
- Add supporting cast members (also known as filler), even greenery you forage from your own backyard. Cast iron leaves or elaeagnus branches are easy choices. Fresh herbs also make good filler in arrangements where their scent is complementary to the chosen flowers.
- Sometimes less is more. This is especially true if your vessel is the focal point. An antique silver bud vase needs nothing more than a single stem to be special.
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED AGRICULTURE (CSA)
Alex and her mother Deborah are extremely proud of Stone Hollow Farmstead and their culinary endeavors. They have an informed appreciation for the work their fellow farmers do. Their seasonal CSA boxes connect these farmers with valued customers, week in and week out. CSA customers purchase a “share” of a farm for a 10-week period and then collect a box of peak-season produce each Tuesday from the Stone’s Farmstand location at Pepper Place. Summer boxes might include heirloom tomatoes, Shunkyo radishes, garlic scapes, herb bundles, fresh flowers, eggs, shiitake mushrooms, yogurt, pickled blueberries, rose petal-laced goat cheese, challah from baker Corey Hinkel or hand-turned gemelli pasta from Baking Bandits. Recipes and serving suggestions arrive each week on the group’s private Facebook page where Alex says, “It is fun to see our customers engage with one another, sharing what they’ve made with each week’s ingredients. We have some pretty creative and talented cooks out there!” Visit stonehollowfarmstead.com/csa to learn more and to sign up for a season.