A few days ago, I found myself, along with several other food bloggers at Melissa’s Produce warehouse to celebrate a newly-published book Nathan Turner’s American Style – Classic Design & Effortless Entertaining with its author. With enough time on my hands just in case I got lost, I maneuvered the streets of South Central LA with what I perceived as utmost skill and total cool. I arrived early

enough, and after saying Hello! to my friends and acquaintances, and shaking hands with folks I did not know, Robert Schueller, the spokesman for Melissa’s, led us inside through the winding corridor decorated with photographs of celebrities and posters recording significant events of the past.

If you have never been to Melissa’s test kitchen, you are in for a pleasant surprise. It’s spacious, filled with light, lined with bookshelves heaping with cookbooks, preserves, and condiments, with walls proudly displaying items from Julia Child’s kitchen that owners Joe and Shannon Hernandez collected over the years, and the center island that usually features the food.

This time when we entered, a single, long table was set for us, with fold-out chairs made of bleached wood flanking it. Roughly sewn burlap tablecloth and dark blue denim runner were the backdrop to a stunning, yet simple design, one of those that hit you mid-glance, urging you to ask yourself “Why didn’t I think of that?” From plain glass vases holding purple basil, mint, and a variety of green plants of different textures, to linen napkins rolled and tied together with a rosemary twig on top, to mason jars instead of glasses, to a three-tiered distressed tin centerpiece cradling an array of colorful vegetables –  the design was a comforting country, laid back and relaxed, but harmonious and aesthetic nonetheless.

I approached Nathan, his black-rimmed nerd glasses and casual clothing perfectly matched with the interior of the room. His warm smile and sparkle in his eyes put me at ease immediately. Our conversation was spontaneous, even though I was afraid at times that my questions tinted with accented English sounded like machine-gun fire. But even if they did, he responded in a calm, mellifluous voice, his smile never leaving his face.

Nathan is a fourth-generation Californian, a mix of English and German, raised in San Francisco and on the working cattle ranch (emphasis on working) his maternal grandfather established, which made him appreciate real food. He has a degree in business, but the fate led him down another path; he discovered his passion for design on one of his summer jobs, and never looked back. He moved to Los Angeles a decade ago and opened his first shop in a dilapidated bungalow in West Hollywood, pulling all his creative impulses to mask the architectural faults of the small building and make his own mark in one of the most competitive fields in California.

His idiosyncratic approach to design that encompasses his love of travel and obsession with food made him stand out and become one of the most prestigious designers in our city. “My approach to decorating and entertaining is all about finding new ways to live and celebrate with low effort and high style”. He embraces his native West Coast laid back and relaxed style, effortlessly blending interiors and exteriors, bringing inside the elements of the outside world that make California so special.

His book is divided into three sections: Going Coastal, City Living, and Going Country. Nathan takes us for a tour of his Malibu home, lets us take a glimpse at his mother’s house in Tahoe, and even allows us to peek into some of the celebrities’ homes he transformed into  veritable retreats and sanctuaries (who doesn’t want to see the inside of Ione Skye’s or Amanda Peet’s glamorous Spanish adobe?) He brings his simple motto “barefoot, fuss-free, but still high-style” everywhere he goes and makes you want to kick back and enjoy life in any of his casually, but stylishly adorned rooms, secure that the party will be a hit and the food perfectly matched to the occasion and season.

After he answered all the questions and signed all the books, we sat down to yet another delightful lunch prepared for us by Melissa’s

talented chefs Tom and Raquel. Every dish represented the seasonal bounty, from fresh fruit platter, to garden salad, jewel-like grilled corn and heirloom tomato salad, to Dutch Yellow potato salad spiced with Hatch chile vinaigrette, to unctuous strands of roasted spaghetti squash served with rich Bordelaise sauce, to beef and chicken lettuce wraps with flavorful aioli, to addicting and alluring Hatch chile Devil’s food cookies as piece de resistance. We quenched our thirst with lemonade and Arnold Palmers, of course.

Warned in advance, I refrained from asking any personal designing questions while the Q&A session continued once we all visited the center island two or three times, but Nathan was gracious enough to share with us his tips on decorating on the budget. He advised us to go outside and look for inspiration. “The Nature offers so much at such a low cost. Look in your yard, in your neighbor’s yard, or take a drive on PCH and grab whatever you fancy! Don’t be afraid to experiment and trust your instincts.”

As we were leaving, I shook Nathan’s hand and thanked him for inspiring me and allowing me to think, even for a minute, that I could pull it off as easily as he can. I will remember his advice and I will bury myself into his book for more inspiration in the days to come. (I am already scanning my neighbors’ yards for centerpieces).

Thank you, Nathan, and than you, Melissa’s, for this wonderful day!

“Nathan Turner is a renowned interior designer and entertaining expert. He owns an eponymous shop in Los Angeles – which merges his three passions of design, food, and travel and is a go-to-source for the country’s leading interior designers. He is featured on the Bravo’s Million Dollar Decorators and is the style expert at Pottery Barn. Nathan’s Parties, products, and designs have been featured in major national and regional publications.” (Abrams)

Nathan Turner’s American Style: Design and Effortless Entertaining                                                                                                                                       By Nathan Turner                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Abrams Books / October 2012                                                                                                                                                                                                               U.S. $40.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  ISBN 978-1-41970-439-0                                                                                                                                                                                                             Hardcover with jacket                                                                                                                                                                                                                                224 pages / 81/2″x101/2″                                                                                                                                                                                                                        150 color photographs