Polly Onet

Polly Onet in her living room.
Polly Onet is a party planner, brisk, fun, knows what she is doing even in these subdued times when we mustn’t be seen to be partying, even if we want to. Are parties being kept secret these days?

So this is one hell of a week to be interviewing a party planner – is business affected?

Oh, it’s horrible.

But you must have rolled with other punches, although perhaps not as hard as this one.

I have. I’ve had these times before. I’m old enough to say I’ve had them before. I hate to have to say that but I am! Looking back, I know they were bad, but I don’t know if they were as drastic as this one. New York is not in a very good mood right now.
Polly welcomed us with a tray of sandwiches and iced tea.
A landscape given to Polly by a friend of the family hangs above decorative turquoise balls from Mecox Gardens. A white side table was adopted from a friend in Boston. The mercury glass lamps are from Restoration Hardware.
A view across the living room. James Lowther selected the color scheme in the living room.
Clockwise from above: A collection of blue and white export porcelain sit atop the kitchen cabinets; More storage space anyone?; Photos of family and friends line the kitchen counter.
So now the parties, the few that are being held, are much more low key, are they?

Definitely. I have a meeting today and the woman said initially that she wanted to have a ‘headliner’ but she said it’s not the right time, and it’s not a factor of money, it’s just not the right time.

I read somewhere that it’s become an unofficial thing not to hold a party on September 11th? Is that true?

Yeah, I don’t think a lot of people would ever give a celebration on that date now.

Can you talk us through a little bit of the process when someone calls up to say they need your services?

Well normally depending on what kind of a party it is, I have a specific outline for each kind of event I do. It’s just an outline and I’ll go meet them and walk them through the outline. I put notes on that outline – answers to the questions: Do you want it seated? Do you want a buffet? Is it a tent? That kind of thing.
Left: ‘Coffee Table’ books are stacked on a table purchased form Christine Bell in Palm Beach.

Below: Polly’s assistant, Emily, works in the apartment office.
Right: Two decorative mirrors hang almost side by side on the west wall of the living room. The gold tone mirror above the fireplace mantel was purchased at the Twenty-sixth Street flea market. The cachepots are from an antiques store in New Hope, Pa.

Below: A disco ball from Levy Lighting hangs from the living room ceiling.
‘Coffee Table’ books are stacked underneath a glass table by the window. Family photos rest atop the shelves of a glass and iron étagère in the living room corner.
Above: ‘Photos of Polly’s sister Sissy, at young age lean against a wall in the bedroom hall.

Left: Smoking permitted.

Below: A matchbox cover signed by friends sits next to a crystal paper weight atop a living room side table.
Everyone must want their party to be distinct, don’t they?

I’ve had a lot of clients who are really good at coming up with ideas for personalizing the party. We did a party recently where the client’s husband had worn these big glasses when he was little and she had sent out ‘Save the day’ messages with that picture. Then we carried on with that theme, with these huge glasses without lenses on everybody’s plates, and the picture was up on video screens … and what was the other thing? Oh she had this cute idea: there’s that donut place in East Hampton, Dresners …. Dreisers? And she had them give out donuts when everybody left, but we got them there, ordered them and so on. But then I did this big Russian wedding in December, and Olga, the mother of the bride was just coming up with these really wild ideas – I mean really wild! And they were really hard to implement. But we did. We got it all. But it was tough!

What were the ideas?

Well, they’re from Russia, so she had all these great ideas that had to do with entertainment, the bride and groom, the special dances they did, the way guests were announced like in an old court in Russia. We had all these fabulous belly dancers with chandeliers on their heads and candles …

Do you get paid for your time or the event?


Usually for the event.
Right and below: Views of the living room and office.
Peeking into a hallway closet. Blue and White export porcelain plates hang on the bathroom walls.
Left: Reflections from the mirrored disco ball scatter about the living room walls.

Below: A pair of chairs found at an antiques store on Dixie Highway flank the fireplace mantel in the living room. The Ikat pillows are from Todd Romano.
Right: Stacks of magazines and a group of engravings fill the Lucite office shelves.

Below: A photo of mentor, Philip Baloun (in costume), and Polly (right) with Sasha Lickle and Anderson Cooper lean against magazine stacks on office shelves.
Peeking into the office.
Do you go to all these parties? It’s my idea of hell.

Yeah, especially the big ones and especially if they’re on people’s properties. You have to. You just have to be there because you never know what’s going to happen.

What do you like about this job?

[laughs ruefully] You should have asked me that ten years ago. Um … skip that one. No, it’s creative and it’s organizational and I guess I’m a lot of both.

Do you like going to other people’s parties, ones that you haven’t organized? Are you able to relax?

I’m usually okay unless there’s something that really bothers me, like the lights are way bright and I know they should be dim, I might even say something.
Right: A view of Polly’s bedroom.

Below: Polly’s dressing table. The room was first designed by Raphael Aninat.
Left: Another view of Polly’s bedroom

Below: Bedtime reading.
Right: A bedside table is filled with photos of family and friends.

Below: A silver vanity set belonged to Polly’s Grandmother.
Right: Tote bags from LL Bean, now temporary storage bins.

Below: A corner TV at the ready for late night programs.
Why do people do that all the time at parties, have the lights much too bright?

Oh God, I don’t know! I just see so much bad … like I was at this house where they have a wonderful cook and I had to tell the cook, like ‘Don’t put the food on top of one another, piled on top.’ I just think it’s sort of gross. I even showed her my book and I said: You’re sort of like talking to an expert here – I’m giving you some good advice.’ And it was so funny, because, you know, the next time she did the dinner, she put it all on top of one another.

What are the other common mistakes that people make when throwing parties?


You know sometimes dinner just doesn’t come forever. I think people don’t want a long cocktail hour anymore. They just don’t. It’s a bit tiring and normally in the suburbs you’re driving – everybody’s got to be careful now.

If you were to give one tip for getting it right, what would that be?


Hire me!

• by Sian Ballen and Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch