By Diane Goldsmith
Knight Ridder Newspapers
PHILADELPHIA - Once you get past the conventional expressions of love for Valentine's Day - the dozen red roses, the box of chocolates, the flowery card - it's amazing what you can come up with.
Why not make your sweetheart swoon by scattering rose petals on a settee you've moved close to the fireplace? Or declare your love in an exquisite little plaque hanging from a ribbon that you've draped over a bedpost?
Or how about toasting the object of your affection by dropping the seeds of a pomegranate, which some associate with passion (or at least fertility), into sparkling white wine or champagne to produce a crimson-tinged love potion?
These are just some of the ideas offered by a pair of Philadelphia area tastemakers noted for their creativity: John Wind is a jewelry and home-accessories designer; Katharine Grace Patty, an event stylist. Their thoughts on touching another's heart and connecting on this big day for love should help spark ideas of your own.
At his Maximal Art studio in Manayunk, Pa., where expression of sentiment in the Victorian era through the 1920s inspires the firm's creations today, Wind was showing off little plaques that were like greeting cards for the home.
"Live! Laugh! Love!" one read gaily. "Queen of Hearts," sang out another.
There were also small, heart-shaped photo frames outlined in Austrian crystals, and little keepsake boxes, in which you could place a special message or a lock of hair.
At TableArt in Ardmore, Pa., Patty was plotting a romantic dinner for two, starting with a tantalizing invitation delivered at breakfast. She'd borrowed the Ardmore home of friends Eileen and Scott Myers to stage a scenario that involved the pomegranate potion and the settee, on which she had draped a white faux-fur rug before scattering the petals.
She envisioned a CD playing music the couple adored (one partner had burned the selections onto a disc) as they nibbled away at yummy takeout and reminisced over an old photo album.
"Of course, not everyone has a partner," Patty pointed out, so a small dinner party to celebrate family and friends or a children's Valentine's party are other great ways to hail the day.
To convey the warmth of friends, she created a vibrant table covered in a carpet of rose petals, simple white candles, and exuberant bouquets of pink, red and burgundy blooms set in a glass pedestal and tumblers. Place settings consisted of colorful plates set on silver chargers adorned with brass bunnies.
"Dinner should be served family-style, and it's nicer if your guests help you put things out," said Patty. She suggested foods that foster interaction, such as fondue. Meat, shrimp or vegetables could be skewered over a tabletop grill.
Comfort food and takeout are also fine.
Any time saved cooking, though, should go toward coming up with little touches that will make guests feel special, such as handmade invitations. She also likes placing finger bowls filled with water and fragrant petals, such as a hyacinth's, at each setting so guests can clean their fingers - a bit of Old World graciousness.
Again, she mentioned creating a CD of your favorite songs, but interspersed with dance music so guests could get up and boogie between courses. Later in the evening, they could play games such as Twister, Trivial Pursuit or Pictionary - anything but watch TV.
A party favor to "ooh" over would cap the evening, and Patty had found just the thing in cute little takeout boxes (which she filled with chocolates) covered with hearts from a paper-goods and party store nearby. But plenty of other ideas are out there for the looking.
Depending on how much you want to spend, romantic photo frames can make wonderful place-card holders that guests can take home as favors.
"The person could even put in a photo of the event," said Wind. "It's another way for them to connect in a sentimental way."
Wind, who attended art school in London and spent many hours in the Victoria and Albert Museum there, draws inspiration from postcards, etchings, autograph albums, and more from about the middle of the 19th century through the first part of the 20th.
He pulled out a stack of vintage calling cards to show one with a little banner on it, not unlike the shape of some plaques that his company produces.
"Each of these is a little collage," he said of the way he builds on an element, such as intriguing script, with flowers, and just the right background to achieve the desired effect. The finished images are then photographed and reproduced, and inlaid by workers who may also accent them with jewels.
This year's look is lighter, brighter and more lighthearted than last year's, Wind noted, as is apparent in the fetching new 4-by-6-inch "My funny valentine" frame with a little heart, faux pearls, and Austrian crystals atop it. Inside the heart, a cupid glances over his shoulder at a string of hearts.
Inside the frame, a young woman from a bygone era smiles with delight at a valentine she's just opened. The image came from a 1920s French postcard.
"Some people like our photos so much that they don't take them out," said Maximal Art president Robbin Cook. "They keep them in like a little artwork."
The whole "handmade aesthetic," Wind said, "is something customers respond to."
In orchestrating an experience, though, it can take some thought to find just the right balance between the personal touch and the store-bought.
A big budget-buster this time of year is flowers, said Patty, "but you don't have to spend $75 on a dozen roses." The petals you're going to scatter can come from last week's bouquet from the supermarket, and best of all, "they've been touched by you."
Nor do you have to use quite the profusion of flowers she did for the table, which included cherry-pink amaryllis, both burgundy and red roses, and pink hyacinths. The flowers you select can be more affordable, too.
"Substitute tulips or ranunculus," Patty urged, "and just use nosegay roses here and there."
Still, she seemed preoccupied, unable to get those rose petals out of her mind.
She led a visitor to the stairway upstairs to demonstrate yet another idea for the dinner for two.
There, candles surrounded by petals were posted on each step, lighting the way.
Maximal Art's small heart-shaped frames are $29; keepsake boxes $39; plaques $39 with ribbons, $49 with bead chains. The "My funny valentine" 4-by-6-inch frame is $79, available at www.maximalart.com. A keepsake heart box with faux pearls is also available online.
For TableArt's event styling, visit www.tableart.net. Katharine Grace Patty does not have a set consulting fee because each event is customized, and scale and logistics differ, but prices start at $50 an hour. At this late date, she is not available to do Valentine's events.
Pomegranates, also known as Chinese apples, can usually be found in farmer's markets, such as Philadelphia's Reading Terminal. If you can't find any, try using grenadine, the syrup made from pomegranates. But be careful with both fruit and syrup: The color in the juice may stain.
© 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.