AS FANS OF THE TV SERIES PORTLANDIA KNOW, the phrase "Put a bird on it" means adding an avian image to make something- especially a handcrafted item-more adorable. It could also serve as a motto of Los Angeles-based caterer Terri Wahl of Eagle Rock’s Auntie Em’s Kitchen Catering, an offshoot of her popular restaurant, Auntie Em’s Kitchen. Wahl is a pro at adding rustic chic and a bird or two (even some heritage chicken eggs from her own hens) to her seasonally minded tablescapes. Not surprisingly, brides embrace Wahl’s whimsical touches. Her DIY-style décor is also a hit with her corporate clients. Auntie Em frequently caters functions at the LA mayor’s official residence, as well as receptions, fundraisers and dinners on both the UCLA and USC campuses.
"My design philosophy is to use many of the same seasonal items found in my dishes as decorative items," explains Wahl. Her naturedriven centerpieces often use citrus halves as design elements, along with a cornucopia of fruit and vegetables. The (almost) edible displays can also include nuts, grape bunches and vintage jars filled with berries and topped by a flower. Although purposefully mismatched, what ties the tabletop design and settings together, says Wahl, is that every element relates to the menu.
For passed hors d’oeuvres, Wahl opts for wood cheese boards or planks rather than trays. On buffet tables, vintage items, from bird figurines and antique books to vases and platters, are featured prominently. "I don’t like large, stuffy bouquets," says Wahl, and her floral arrangements continue the eclectic bent with antique vases filled with flowers and branches, or fruit in the same color family.
Wahl has no problem finding abundant design inspiration via social media. "Pinterest," she says, "is my favorite in the whole wide world; it’s genius." She also shops flea markets and antique stores for smaller decorative items. Hand-stamped signage comes from art paper stock stamped with cute, decorative stamps from her local Paper Source store. Adding to the natural feel, she picks up branches and leaves in her wooded neighborhood, and sources florals from the LA Flower Market. "I define it as an eclectic vintage mix with natural seasonal finds and elements," she says of her look. "My style is not stiff or formal, but it’s fun to look at and imaginative." She knows it may not be for everyone, though. She laughs, then adds, "Not everyone wants a foraged bird’s nest at their event."