Fashion designer is the go-to guy for luxurious coats wrought from mink and sable and glorious handbags made of alligator and other exotic skins. But when the trendsetter isn't crafting looks for the catwalk, he and Michael Cominotto—his partner and men's style director for the Dennis Basso label—are all about good friends, hearty food, and easy entertaining under the weekend sun. After all, when you have 4,000 square feet of outdoor space tailored for convivial meals—notably a columned poolhouse built around a towering brick fireplace—why not enjoy it as much as possible?
"We love to be outside," says the genial silver-haired Basso, whose escape from Manhattan is his and Cominotto's two-acre property in the historic Long Island village of Water Mill. "We ask people of different ages and outlooks to join us, and we encourage them to bring their houseguests. We especially like lunch, which is served late enough for everyone to finish playing tennis and golf before they have to arrive." Thoughtful gestures like that ensure the energetic couple's star-studded fan base—among them fellow fashion designer , scented-candle entrepreneur and glamorous gal-about-town Marjorie Gubelmann, and writer-hostess —eagerly await his invitations.
The simple but sophisticated setting is a major attraction too. Measuring 50 feet long by 20 feet wide, the one-story poolhouse is where much of the action takes place, amid frothy Kentia palms, lush ferns, and succulent jade plants. Interior designer conceived it as a plein-air living room, so the pavilion-like structure offers ample comforts—beckoning sofas with navy canvas upholstery, white-painted wood armchairs sporting smart blue-and-white-striped cushions, and a generously proportioned cocktail table for candles, drinks, and snacks. At one end of the breezy space is a fully stocked bar illuminated by a pair of oversize ginger-jar lamps. At the opposite end, high-backed wicker chairs are gathered around three pedestal tables for dining. Country-style flower arrangements interspersed with classic blue-and-white ceramics, from delft vases to Chinese Export figurines, decorate the tables. As curious guests soon learn, every piece has a story. "Remembering where we found each one—in Aspen, Europe, or the Far East— makes them all special," Basso says.
Though the first course and dessert are always served formally, the main course is set out on a built-in buffet that accommodates a multitude of trays. Wines and spirits are kept light—ice-cold rosé is among the house favorites—and are chosen by Cominotto from whatever new vineyard has captured his fancy. Since the men are of Italian descent, the culinary specialties of the house tend to reflect that heritage. "We like to imagine ourselves in Capri or Sardinia when we're here," Basso adds. Panne rustica is accompanied with olive oil, rosemary, and coarse salt. Off the grill come baby lamb chops and thick rib-eye steaks, always medium-rare, sliced, and served alongside an arugula-and-Parmesan salad dressed with a light lemon-oil vinaigrette. Other platters are piled high with linguine alle vongole or chicken breasts marinated in garlic, olive oil, lemon, and mint. There is also often a wealth of prosciutto with ripe wedges of melon or gazpacho in chilled individual soup tureens.
Whatever the menu, everything runs like clockwork. Guests arrive at 1:15 p.m., cocktails are served, and everyone is seated by 1:45. CDs from the South of France create a sultry ambience as conversations kick in. Although no one is at risk for sunburn in the poolhouse, Basso provides visors and bottles of sunscreen, just in case. No wonder visitors usually stick around after the dishes have been cleared and spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the pool. "When we say dress casually and bring a swimsuit, we mean it!" Basso says.
Tips for entertaining from an A-list host
• I like to use place cards for dinners, and they're great when you have a crowd. To keep conversation lively, seat each guest between someone they know and someone they should know.
• Mix and match glasses for a personal look, whether they're by Baccarat or Williams-Sonoma. It's the size and shape that matter, not the source.
• If you're married or partnered, work as a team. I make the table visually appealing; Michael sees to all the things I don't think of, such as chilling wine and taking charge of the grill.
• Establish a culinary theme. We run our kitchen based on our Italian backgrounds, which means serving classic dishes like antipasti, linguine alle vongole, and grilled vegetables.