Tonight Cathleen Seay welcomes her book club into her home, a place newly redesigned for easy social gatherings.
Cathleen and her husband Britt, both Greenville natives, have raised their two children in the classic 1960s brick ranch, just a stone’s throw from Sirrine Stadium. Frank Ulmer, proprietor of Ulmer Lumber, built two homes on three lots on Jones Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s; one as a bungalow for his sister and one which ultimately became the Seay family’s brick ranch.
Though it would have been simpler to find an open floor plan in another neighborhood, it wouldn’t be the place they call home. So on this evening, good friends-as-guests enjoy their first fête at the newly appointed home. They are welcomed by a front façade that feels decidedly less ranch and more influenced by cottage style with its warm cream paint and bronze casement windows. Those who circle around discover back steps that rise from a brick-trimmed stone courtyard strung with café lights.
“The plan that worked best was pretty much a mullet: all business up front and party in the back,” Cathleen says. That party style extends to a new open-concept kitchen, designed around a bright turquoise island used for meal (and pie) prep as well as impromptu entertaining.
“We were down to the studs in the heart of the house,” remembers Cathleen, but the redesign makes all the difference. Especially when entertaining. At the heart of the project, executed by Tindall Architecture Workshop, is a new, large central staircase, around which a little over 1,000 square feet was added (including a pair of bedrooms and a bath for the kids).
“At the end of the day you just want people to be happy to come over and then happy to stay,” says Cathleen. “We always thought this is why we should do it; we love to be home with our kids and their friends and our family and our friends. Now our home feels exactly the way we always wanted it.”
Easy as pie
Pie proves an ideal summer party food with options sweet or savory, fruit to cream (and every variation between).
For her guests, Cathleen offers at least three types of pie and counts on them to try them all. But there’s no need to offer a mountain of tableware; one plate per person will suffice. “It’s a pie social, our friends are happy to sample with a single plate and fork,” Cathleen offers.
Savory pies are quiche-like, bound together with egg custard. A tomato pie (the Southern staple) is ideal for summer’s bounty, laced with fresh tender herbs. Best of all, most types of pie do well warm or at room temperature, adding to the ease of outdoor entertaining. (But don’t forget to snag a cream pie from the fridge; chocolate silk, banana or chiffon will need to stay chilly until the appointed hour.)
Something handmade is thoughtful to serve, even if your hand wasn’t exactly involved. “A pie social needs really delicious, ridiculous options,” Cathleen says. Enlisting a friend who bakes, or turning to an expert like Greenville’s Desserterie, are excellent options; special order bakers are a growing trend in Greenville and other southern towns.
Rounding out the table includes adding some snacks to the mix: nuts, cheese straws, maybe some crudité. Offer both wine and water (or iced tea); sparkling wine adds a nice touch to warm, day-lit evenings, served in simple café cups with its light, bright bite.
Top off the evening by setting a festive mood with garland or pennants. Cathleen, working with her sister and local artist Jean Wilson Freeman, strings crinkled Reader’s Digest pages on an exterior wall, lending a vintage nod to the book club gathering. Cloth napkins, flickering candles and fresh flowers make a table feel special and, in lieu of cake stands, use items you have to create levels of varying height.
In Living Color:
Cathleen Seay with the help of her sister, artist Jean Wilson Freeman, chose beautiful paint colors for specific applications in the newly renovated spaces.
Cooled Blue (Sherwin Williams) makes the perfect turquoise kitchen island.
Narragansett Green (Benjamin Moore) is the navy-ish base color for the foyer mural.
Envy (Sherwin Williams) creates the fresh green pop on the upstairs vanity.
Open Concept Kitchen & Dining
The new kitchen is white on white on white: the cabinets, countertops and hand-pressed subway tile are all in shades of the milky hue. The dining room’s hard wood flooring continues into the kitchen and pairs well with salvage wood hanging fixtures (that Cathleen picked up two years before her renovation began). The dining room is hard to miss with its perfectly proportioned table and expansive openings on three sides. Shiplap siding connects the spaces, an option which added textural dimension to a back hall with no traditional furnishings.
Cathleen’s sister is renowned local muralist Jean Wilson Freeman, who was enlisted to emblazon the center halls with a playful take on a modern asterisk. More detailed work can be seen upon entering the home. A scaled down version of her ubiquitous umbrella flowers (a central feature on her 145 foot mural on the historic United Building) emblazon the foyer in shades of coral over an earthy navy.
RECIPES BY RACHEL BRADLEY OF DESSERTERIE
Don’t see yourself whipping up pies from scratch? Cater them in from Desserterie Greenville, a custom pie business by pastry chef Rachel Bradley. The mom of three boys continues to bake for custom orders offering seasonal pies and specialty desserts, including the three pies Cathleen Seay requested for the pie social. Rachel shared her recipes with atHome (but they tasted especially delicious straight from the Desserterie boxes).
Summer Berry Pie
3 cups mixed fresh berrie
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
zest of one lemon
heavy cream, as needed
sugar, to garnish
1 prepared piecrust
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Wash and prepare berries and then toss with sugar, corn starch, and lemon zest. Pour into prepared pie shell. Cut strips of piecrust to place in a lattice pattern over top. Brush top of pie with cream, and sprinkle with sugar.
Place pie on the top rack of oven. Put a cookie sheet on the rack below the pie to catch any bubble over. Bake for 45-55 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let cool for at least an hour.
Chocolate Cream Pie
2 tablespoons butter
12 chocolate sandwich cookies
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter, cut into hunks
2/3 cup sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
9 egg yolks, beaten
12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
11/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
9-inch pie plate
Grease a glass pie plate lightly and set it aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Crush chocolate cookies in food processor and place in a mixing bowl. Melt butter and pour over crushed cookies. Stir the mixture and press into the prepared pie pan. Bake for 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let it cool while mixing the filling.
Put milk and sugar in a three-quart pot over high heat. Bring it to an almost boil. Pour the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture in a thin stream, while whisking the egg mixture. When half of the milk has been poured over eggs, return the tempered egg mixture back to the pot. Turn the heat to medium and while still whisking slowly bring the mixture to boil. Continue to whisk at this temperature for three minutes. Remove the pot from burner. Add butter and stir until melted. Add chocolate and stir until melted. Once the chocolate is mixed and the pudding is smooth, pour directly into the prepared pie shell. Cover with plastic wrap pressing directly on to top of pie. Chill overnight.
Before serving whip cream with sugar and vanilla and garnish with chocolate. Serve cold.
Heirloom Tomato Pie
23/4 pounds assorted large tomatoes, divided
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
11/2 cups (6 ounces) freshly shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
½ cup fresh goat cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chive
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
11/2 tablespoons plain yellow cornmeal
1 prepared piecrust
Cut two pounds tomatoes into ¼ inch-thick slices, and remove seeds. Place tomatoes in a single layer on paper towels; sprinkle with one teaspoon of salt. Let stand for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir together cheddar cheese, a quarter of the goat cheese, mayo, eggs, chives, parsley, vinegar, pepper, and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl until combined.
Pat tomato slices dry with a paper towel. Sprinkle cornmeal over bottom of crust. Lightly spread ½ cup of cheese mixture onto crust; layer with half of the tomato slices in slightly overlapping rows. Repeat layers, using remaining tomato slices and cheese mixture. Cut remaining 3/4 pound of tomatoes into ¼ inch-thick slices and arrange on top. Sprinkle with remaining goat cheese.
Bake at 425 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes, shielding edges with foil during the last 20 minutes to prevent excessive browning. Let stand for one to two hours before serving.