Back to Occasions done differently

Occasions done differently


One of my most treasured memories is sitting on Richmond Hill with my dear co-founders, eating a picnic of Monster Munch in the bright winter sunshine and laughing so much we had tears of joy rolling down our faces. I don’t know about you but those are the moments in amongst all the rushing around and daily getting-on-with-it that just give me life. They reset everything somehow, don’t they? And remind us that as long as we’re together, everything’s going to be ok. Plus research from the University of Oxford found that the more often people eat with others, the more likely they are to feel happy and satisfied with their lives¹. Especially when it’s with women as wonderful as these I expect.

Table flat lay for Valentine's Day

Yet how often do we actually get to do that? How often do we take time out to really sit down and show our friends that kind of love, without the kids and phones and God knows what else interfering? To treat those who might really need it? Or just be together? That’s why I hosted an extra special ‘I love you’ themed brunch for some of my dearest girlfriends recently; the kind who’ve seen me through my best and worst times, and would bust me out of prison if ever I needed it and be the Thelma to my Louise (you can find extra special gifts for them here fyi).

Like many during Lockdown, not being able to see my friends (and true support network) in person was one of the parts I found most challenging. Some might still be nervous to do it now but isn’t it good to start to flex that muscle? For me, life’s about sharing; whether that’s stories, experiences, food or something else. And personally, I love nothing more than marking mini moments by putting on a spread we can all enjoy together…and with a twist.

Tablescape for Valentine's day

Tablecloth and napkins by Summerill & Bishop, Love plates by Daylesford

Now yes, I created a very fancy table for this particular brunch and faffed about over every last detail as that’s my job (and my heavenly happy place, too). But it could just as easily have been on a park bench with biscuits and Oranginas, no make-up on and my wild Wilma hair as Frank likes to call it, sitting together watching the pigeons fly. It doesn’t matter. The point is we’ve made the time to be together and gathered. And remember, there’s one aim to all of this and that’s to thank them, spread smiles and have fun — so basically anything goes. If you do want to make it extra special this year though, here are some thoughts starters to spark your imagination…

Personally, I love nothing more than marking mini moments by putting on a spread we can all enjoy.

Start with colour

Now I’m no snob here (in fact, I don’t know half the proper terms which is why I find the Colour Makes People Happy paint shop so brilliant as it’s packed full of personality and even creates art out of funny paint names — see my Small Business Directory ‘High Streets & Markets’ section for details). However if you haven’t noticed, I am near-obsessed with how colour stimulates us and can evoke emotion (orange, for example, sparks optimism, creativity and warmth, which is perfect for this occasion). So if you feel like doing some tablescaping, thinking about your palette and the feeling it gives, is a good place to start. I’ve added some beautiful paper flowers by Holly & Co’s February artist in residence, Bertie Valentine.

Hydrangea made of paper hearts

Paper heart hydrangea by Bertie Valentine

Put those you love at the heart of it

What are the unexpected touches that would make your guests feel super special? What would take them out of their daily lives for a moment and into somewhere new? What’s their love language? I’ve used little handwritten notes of thanks as table settings for my lot (these are by the wonderful Bread & Jam) and told each person what they make me so grateful for. What other touches could you think of to add?

Table setting that says 'a gazillion thank yous from Holly'

Love notes by Bread & Jam

Repurpose what you’ve got

Reuse, repurpose, recycle. I’m a big one for really ‘juicing the lemon’ and getting as much use out of them as possible. I love how it gives your creative brain a chance to work its magic and find different, wonderful ways to use things like candle holders or vases, for example. Why squirrel things away in the loft when seasons change or because they’re ‘only for best’. If we have an average of just 29,000 days on the planet, let’s frigging well make the most of them! And that goes for ‘saving things for a special occasion’ too. Surely every day is a special occasion; a gift we’ve been given? We’re all of us soon gone. So light those fancy candles. Drink the good stuff. Otherwise, what on earth is it all for?!

Reuse, repurpose, recycle. I’m a big one for really ‘sweating your assets’ and getting as much use out of them as possible.

On the food front, order in

Despite becoming rather handy with my new soup maker machine, cooking isn’t really my forte. So instead, I prefer to put on a spread full of wonderful treats, expertly made (and displayed) by the very best small businesses. This time, I’ve gone with my ‘love’ theme — so cakes filled with hidden hearts by Caketivate, bread with a very special message by Hobbs House Bakery (fifth generation bakers no less, so they definitely know a thing or two about baking a decent loaf), and I’ve even shaped my own fruit for the healthier ones among us. Display-wise I needed something to do this all justice so opted for beautiful, chunky china platters by Marigold & Lettice, used Summerill and Bishop napkins (that I might even frame afterwards, they’re so gorgeous) and tablecloth, and even decorated my cake with lovebirds by Jo at Bo Beaus.

Bread with 'loved' stamped on it

Sourdough Loaf by Hobbs House Bakery

Decorative cake plate with bird on it

Cake plate by Marigold & Lettice and Tiny Birds by Bow Beaus

Hidden heart cake by Caketivate

So whether you choose to do a big brunch at home, or just have crisps with your nearest and dearest in a park somewhere, I’m encouraging you to gather your loved ones up and tell them with all your heart how much they mean to you. When are they free? And while you’re at it, pop these in your diary every three months or so, so you remember to do them regularly because anything that makes us all feel this warm and lovely, shouldn’t only be for Valentine’s.

Holly with Valentines scape

If you need more inspiration or want to discover some wonderful small business finds, try my Valentine’s gift guides for the little ones, husbands and friends. What are your thoughts on hosting an ‘I love you’ brunch? Do let me know in the comments below.


  1. University of Oxford report on social eating


  1. Rachel Fearnley says

    Thank you for this Holly, a great inspirational read for a Monday morning. It is so important to connect with people, especially those who give such support and encouragement – let’s face it we all need that! Your post offers such a positive approach, thank you for that. I particularly like your suggestion to think about the unexpected touches when planning the get together, again this is so important.

    1. Niamh Collins says

      Dearest Rachel, we're so thrilled to hear that you were inspired by Holly's article. Connecting with people is so important, and it's lovely to add special touches that make these wonderful occasions even more memorable. We wish you all the success with your 'I love you' brunch! Let us know how it goes! Small business love, Team Holly & Co Xx

Write a comment

Share this article

Back to Occasions done differently