A grandmother’s china, sterling flatware and delicate glassware cozy up to pots and pans in Julia Knight’s dishwasher. Clearly, she doesn’t wait for the holidays or special occasions for her kitchen or dining tables to wear their Sunday best. “I feel like, what are you waiting for?” she says. “Why wouldn’t you use these beautiful things? It doesn’t take any more effort.”
As the name and creative force behind the Julia Knight Collection, which brings serveware, barware, home décor and jewelry to homes around the world, the Orono resident’s professional and personal philosophies operate in tandem—beauty should be an everyday accessory, even for the most ordinary events, like breakfast. “It used to drive my kids crazy,” she says. “I’d put chocolate chip pancakes on a cake stand.” Knight moved to Orono about 22 years ago for the lake, the great schools and her beautiful home. (Her daughter Alex is now a student at the University of Denver, and her son Max is a student at the University of Arizona.)
Knight’s work is inspired by an amalgamation of experiences. Careers behind a Bloomingdale’s cosmetics counter, in marketing with Revlon and Estée Lauder International, in executive posts with Thymes and Minnetonka Inc. (now the Village Company), and as founder and CEO of Growing Healthy, a frozen baby food company, all led her to develop her definition of how beauty and food converge to elevate entertaining.
Knight’s sojourns around the world guided her into other entrepreneurial areas. After traveling to Colorado, in 2001 Knight created Stampede, her brand that would eventually evolve into the Julia Knight Collection. Stampede featured Western- and Southwestern-influenced barware, home décor and gift items. India captured another area of the designer’s imagination, and she began creating sand-cast aluminum pieces, hand-painted with white enamel that was infused with crushed mother of pearl.
Perhaps the impetus for Knight’s love of entertaining came when she was an undergraduate studying in Paris. “I was really moved by the importance people placed on time spent at the table,” she says. A linen napkin or a special cup—found in even the most humble French homes—were used to mark everyday moments for families and friends who gathered to eat and drink together.
“People say they love to entertain, but they never do it,” she laments. Knight suggests putting more effort into the staging. “You don’t have food without the presentation,” she says. “Serving things in a beautiful way elevates the whole experience.”
For food and drinks, homemade isn’t the be-all and end-all. “[Store-bought] brownie bites on a cake stand with strawberries, sprinkled with powdered sugar, look homemade,” she says. For an entrée, grill some chicken breasts, sprinkle with artichokes and olives from a market’s olive bar and serve on a lovely platter. “If you use a little imagination, it can look amazing,” Knight says.
Coming off its 10th anniversary in 2015, the Julia Knight Collection started being sold internationally four years ago. “It’s been a really rapid expansion,” she says. Her products, which range from $20 to $500, are sold in more than 500 stores (including locally at Wayzata’s Five Swans) and in 40 countries. The brand is also featured in luxury hotels and resorts, palaces throughout the Middle East and luxury yachts on the Mediterranean.
The collection’s beauty, durability and usability is what attracts Five Swans’ customers, says manager Kim Zitzloff, adding that customers flock to the collection for hostess, thank-you and wedding gifts. Knight says newlyweds’ entertaining accoutrements should begin with a bowl, cake stand, dip bowl, serving utensils and a tray, which can be layered to serve other functions. “Those are the essentials,” she says. “You have to start with those.”
More and more, products’ origins also play a role. “People love to buy local,” Zitzloff says. “We carry just about everything she has.” Since the Julia Knight Collection warehouse is in the Twin Cities, Zitzloff adds, “If we don’t have it, we can get it.” Buyers tend to be repeat purchasers because Knight continues to make additions. “She’s always reinventing herself with new designs,” Zitzloff says.
This year, Knight is launching Bloom, a servingware collection in hand-painted ceramics, inspired by a series of trips to Portugal. And turning toward more contemporary influences, Knight is offering Eclipse, which is a more textural collection. “It’s a completely different silhouette than I’ve ever done,” she says.
While growing up, Knight’s daughter Alex offered her own suggestions. “Mom, can’t we be normal and use paper plates?” Knight remembers her daughter once asking. The now college-age Alex must have gleaned something from her mother’s penchant for setting a beautiful table. During a mother-daughter brunch hosted by Alex at the University of Denver, Knight took note of the table. “It looked beautiful,” she gushes. “It was amazing.” Who would expect anything less?
There’s no place like home on the most romantic night of the year. Julia Knight offers her ideas for transforming any table into a lovely space à deux, often using tableware items you already have. You can find all of the specfic items Knight mentions in the Julia Knight Collection’s Fall 2015 catalogue, if you’d like to flip along.
- “I like to keep the dinnerware white and the serveware and food in shades of white, pink and red,” Knight says.
- Serve raspberries sprinkled with confectioner’s sugar and drizzled in chocolate sauce in the pink ice heart bowl.
- The best things come in small packages. Knight suggests presenting “one perfect chocolate in a Florentine box. Or better yet, a bauble!”
- You can never have too much sweetness on Valentine’s Day,” she says. “I like to do an assortment of old-fashioned candies in an array of petite flower bowls.”
- “Elevate the presentation by serving shrimp cocktail or lobster medallions on a tiered caked stand,” Knight says.
- Be the queen of hearts. Use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to slice goat cheese and beets for a simple salad.
- Knight suggests ending the evening on a romantic note. Tuck messages or lines from poems on slips of paper under the dishes—they’ll be discovered once the table is cleared and it’s time for dessert.