As the founder of il Buco and il Buco Vita, Donna Lennard skillfully intertwines antiques and culinary excellence; her intuitive style extends to creating a festive holiday experience through her unique hosting and decorating approach.
Manhattan, New York – Tucked in the heart of NoHo lies a hidden gem that has fused the worlds of antiques and culinary artistry into one. il Buco, initially conceived as a rustic antique store in 1994, has evolved into one of the city’s most cherished restaurants. Donna Lennard, founder and visionary behind this transformation, shares her journey, design principles and holiday hosting tips with Homeworthy.
From Antique Treasures to Culinary Delights:
Donna’s venture into the world of antiques was serendipitous, and began once she met her Italian partner, Alberto Avalle, while working at Arqua Restaurant in Tribeca. Their shared love for primitive pieces, folk art, and intricate quilts led to the creation of an enchanting space where antique radios, farm tools, and exquisite finds from their travels adorned the shelves. With a wine and small bites license obtained on Alberto’s 40th birthday, il Buco emerged as a foodie destination, captivating patrons with its off-the-beaten-path charm.
“People came in slowly at first, attracted by the beautiful little oasis in NoHo, until we became the off the beaten path foodie destination we are today. I still do adore unearthing treasures and even everyday objects discovered in my travels.”
A Holiday Table: Embracing Simplicity
Donna’s philosophy on holiday tablescapes is elegantly simple—she believes in letting the season and the moment dictate the decor. “After all the holidays are for spending time with loved ones, I want to make sure the moment captures all the attention,” she details. Nature-inspired centerpieces, a blend of stemless and stemmed glassware, and a curated mix of handblown colored glassware create a textured, intimate ambiance. The result is a warm and romantic setting that invites joy and light, both figuratively and literally.
“I always let the season and the moment inspire me, pulling from nature for the centerpieces and layering pieces that speak to me – whether or not they scream holiday. I love to mix stemless and stemmed glassware, mixing and matching colors and sizes to create texture.”
Home for the Holidays: Embracing Warmth and Candlelight
When it comes to holiday home decor, Donna opts for a “less is more” approach. Neatness, candlelight, seasonal produce, and carefully placed artisan tableware from il Buco Vita set the tone for an inviting and warm atmosphere. “I’m not a big traditional holiday decor girl, but I love the produce of the season,” says Donna. Her holiday decorating tips include bowls of citrus and seasonal fruits, dried fruits and nuts and carefully placed greenery.
Holiday decorating tips she swears by? Think a sea of candles, a pinecone here or there, florals carefully placed in each room and a delicately scented candle or subtle incense to set the mood.
“The best parties – holiday or otherwise – are those that incorporate small details that make each guest feel especially welcome. That might mean setting the table using pieces gifted to me by those sharing the table with me, or incorporating seasonal items to set the tone. These thoughtful touches inspire me and are the perfect way to enjoy a meal shared with loved ones.”
Holiday Dinner Extravaganza
Donna’s holiday menu is a symphony of flavors, featuring imported cheeses, caviar with homemade brioche toasts, anchovy toasts, a salumi board with homemade mostardas, mixed chicories, scallops sautéed in brown butter, and roasted fluke or guinea hens. The menu reflects her commitment to quality ingredients and culinary craftsmanship.
Wishlist: Peace and Joy for All
Donna’s holiday wishlist speaks to her generous spirit—she desires peace and joy for all and envisions a three-week trip with her son after his first semester of college. Her go-to hostess gift, often a glass sculpture from her Vita line, is a personal and thoughtful gesture that enhances the shared experience of a meal, “otherwise, it’s olive oil all the way, maybe with a bottle of vinegar and salt to accompany it.”
A Journey of Inspiration: Globetrotting Adventures
Renowned for her love of travel, Donna’s bucket list includes Japan, a destination she is eager to explore with her son. From Corsica to Africa, India, and beyond, her travel adventures are a wellspring of inspiration for il Buco, Vita, and her own home. “I am always looking for inspiration when I travel – flavors, shapes, colors, textures – for the restaurants, Vita and my own home. I love the modern simplicity of the Japanese aesthetic and I am excited to discover more about that culture and craftsmanship with my favorite travel partner,” Donna explains.