Sipping, chatting

Patrick Sutton, left, and friend Christopher Jensen chat during Sutton's 50th birthday party. (CHIAKI KAWAJIRI, BALTIMORE SUN / October 20, 2012)

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For his 50th birthday, Patrick Sutton got down — but not dirty — on the farm.

The Baltimore interior designer is known for his elegant, understated and carefully curated spaces. To celebrate his milestone birthday, he and his girlfriend, Tracy Kwiatkowski, kept the elegance but added a few rough edges.

That approach — mixing high-end style with less refined elements — is a popular one among Baltimore's party planning elite.

Sutton's "Rustic Renaissance" birthday festivities took place outside, overlooking the rolling hills of Sagamore Farm, the Reisterstown horse farm owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank (and decorated by Sutton).

"I wanted to impose something opulent on this rustic setting," explains Sutton. With the help of Kwiatkowski and caterer/friend Jerry Edwards of Chef's Expressions, Sutton combined sophisticated elements with down-home details to create a party that was lovely, fun and memorable.

The menu, designed by Edwards, played off the season and the setting, mixing high-end ingredients, such as Champagne and oysters on the half shell, with casual details, including post-dinner s'mores by the outdoor fire.

The dress code, Fancy Farm, encouraged cowboy boots and plaid; the catering staff was decked out in denim and gingham.

True to Sutton's style, even small details encapsulated the event's elegant-meets-rustic vibe — right down to the tablecloth.

"Of course the setting was perfect," explains Edwards. "Patrick wanted everything to look rich, yet casual. On the table, he had this beautiful violet pintuck linen and on top, he put plain old burlap. That laid the foundation for rustic elegance — contrasting looks that work together so beautifully."

Caterer and restaurateur Sascha Wolhandler, of Sascha's, likes menus that inject comfort food into dressy settings. "I love having chic food on the main buffet and passing little hamburgers and hot dogs on serving trays. That's always fun," she says.

Sky Blue Events owner Jennifer Grove agrees that everyday food adds an element of fun to upscale events.

At Pints & Pinstripes, an event benefiting "The Wire" star Sonja Sohn's Baltimore-based charity, ReWired for Change, Sky Blue and Chef Beej Flamholz served well-executed, but low key food, like white truffle popcorn in individual paper boxes.

"Food presentation is very important," says Grove. "At the event, everything was in a unique vessel, like popcorn boxes. You can get very creative."

For his party, Sutton raided the Chef's Expression warehouse for worn-out serving pieces. "He found a bunch of old silver we've used," says Edwards. "We used that, plus old wooden planks and boards, for the table. The food was made with sophistication. It was very elegant, and it glistened on these wooden planks that were probably 150 years old."

During the fall and winter holidays, Wolhandler hunts for rustic décor right in the backyard.

"Get a big vase," she advises, "and go outside and get wonderful branches of multicolored leaves. Create a dramatic arrangement going all the way to the ceiling. Add pumpkins, gourds and squashes for a wonderful centerpiece."

When hosting parties in their own homes, Wolhandler's clients sometimes get creative, mixing high and low out of necessity: "One woman I know wanted to host a sit-down dinner for 50 people. She has a beautiful house but didn't have room inside, so she used her garage. She placed plants in the corners — and for once, her husband cleaned out the garage!"

At Sutton's birthday party, the acclaimed band Bob Perilla and Big Hillbilly Bluegrass provided the entertainment. The guests agreed that the music was wonderful — and just right for the horse farm setting.

At home, setting the mood via soundtrack is as easy as creating an iPod playlist.