Gracious Creative Mom on the Street: Polly Gellman

Preppy Creative Mom on the Street Polly Gellman cover photo

Whether she’s brightening up someone’s home space with her tablescapes or spending quality time with her family, Preppy Creative Mom on the Street Polly Gellman brings a welcoming and creative energy to everyone she meets.

Meet Polly

Polly is a Tidewater native that has been back in Norfolk for almost ten years. She and her husband, Jon, have two active daughters that are almost 5 and 3. Polly left being a second-grade teacher to stay at home to care for her children full time. She was a double major –  having studied art history and urban planning at the University of Virginia and later received her master’s in curriculum and instruction from there. After college, Polly moved to Manhattan to serve as the Executive Director of the Virginia Club of New York, where she planned events big and small for alumni in the city. She also worked in special events for an independent school in Norfolk. 

Gracious Creative Tablescape Beginings

When and why did you start designing and decorating tables? 

I come from a big fat Greek family. Food is our love language. My grandparents hosted lunch every Sunday at their home for their five children, their spouses (and ex-spouses), grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and friends. A Sunday lunch of 15- 20 people was typical, with holidays like Greek Easter up to 50. Basically, every Sunday was a small party. Entertaining came easily to me because I watched how effortlessly and generously my grandparents opened their home to friends and family each week. They truly embodied hospitality or “philoxenia,” a Greek word meaning “friend to the stranger.” 

As my grandparents got older, my mom would host our large extended Greek family for Thanksgiving and Easter. Planning the menu and tables for those events was the beginning of my designing days. For Thanksgiving, my mom and I would scour our favorite holiday cookbooks (Southern Living Christmas Cookbook editions) and email our menu ideas back and forth until we nailed down a signature cocktail, appetizers new and old, and the dinner menu.

For Greek Easter, I enjoyed accompanying my mom to the party rental company to pick out the tent, tables, linens, and chairs for the backyard fete and sketch out the layout to include the essential lamb spit and bar. 

Wedding Tablescapes

When I started planning my wedding in 2011, I scoured Pinterest for all the details, big and small, that would make our party feel both like us and feel welcoming to our guests. It was a true DIY effort. I designed the tables, my mom sewed the table runners, and my stepfather built the wooden flower boxes, silhouette cornhole set, and oar signage.

My mom’s best friends arranged the flowers, my grandmother and her best friend made hundreds of Greek pastries, and I stamped 200 doilies with the letter “G.” My mom helped hunt down 200 glass plates to make my tablescape dreams come true, along with footing the bill for the bamboo folding chairs that we knew we couldn’t live without.

Gracious Creative Tablescapes Growth

During the pandemic, I craved a creative outlet. My husband would pour some wine and paint (check out his beautiful oyster paintings @drjonpaints) but I enjoyed watching him more than I enjoyed painting with him. Holidays and birthdays rolled around where we would normally be gathering with our extended family.

Instead, it was just our parents and us (if we weren’t in quarantine). Planning a tablescape and a menu for these intimate occasions was cathartic. And the small number at our table allowed me to finally use our wedding china (Herend Queen Victoria) for more occasions than I otherwise would. 

We began entertaining more in our backyard during the warmer months, and I was excited to put to use the new tips I had gleaned from some virtual classes in calligraphy, floral arranging, and charcuterie board making that I had taken during the COVID months at home. I began making centerpieces using backyard blooms and charcuterie boards with ingredients sourced from our Shipt grocery delivery service.

Planning for these gatherings outside, like a book club dinner, a shrimp boil with friends, and a Halloween happy hour before trick or treating, truly gave me life in a time when we were all missing connecting with our friends and families. As friends began entertaining again, I started helping them with small parties in and outside of their homes.

Word of mouth and my small but mighty Instagram following has led me to some opportunities that I wouldn’t have expected – like speaking to local garden clubs and being asked to write this! I’m not sure exactly where this tablescape gig will lead me, but for now, I am finding such joy in helping others make memories with their loved ones.

Tablescapes Galore

What are your top 3 favorite tables you have decorated?

  1. The tables for our wedding! 
  2. The holiday tables of my friends for whom I helped (so many magnolia leaf place cards) and the holiday table schemes I created for our local garden clubs.
  3. A recent book club in my home. We read The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak. The novel takes place on the island of Cyprus, where all of my family is from and many of my family members still live. I was so excited to share my grandmother’s recipes in a meze, or Greek tapas-style meal, around our dining room table.

What is your favorite holiday to decorate for?

Easter. Greek Easter has always been my favorite holiday, and my two daughters have birthdays right around Easter

Where can people follow you on social media?

You can find me on Instagram @tablesbypolly.

Gracious Creative Style

Which three words best describe your style? 

Relaxed, preppy, travel-inspired. I have never been a trend follower or trendsetter in my clothing picks – I veer toward the classics. I would describe our home as comfortable grand millennial meets palm beach chic. Definitely traditionally inspired but throw in some block prints, bamboo, and chinoiserie with hand-me-down antiques. ALWAYS animal print as a neutral. 

What are your favorite places to shop?

I loathe online shopping, mostly because I’m terrible at making returns. I really prefer to try on clothes in a store. My wardrobe reflects that with the majority from JCrew, TJMaxx, Lilly Pulitzer, and Target and then pieces I’ve picked up in local boutiques or on trips. Most days, you’ll find me volunteering in my daughters’ preschool carpool line in tennis clothes or yoga pants. My girls and I love to wear matching pajamas.

Our favorites for mommy and me loungewear are Shrimp and Grits Kids, Roberta Roller Rabbit, and The Beaufort Bonnet Company. We love soft pima! Honestly, I love to shop for my girls more than myself. They insist on matching whenever possible, so I’m soaking up this fleeting time. For tableware, I love Julia Amory, Amanda Lindroth, Home Goods, Anthropologie, Target, and estate sales.

Who’s your favorite style icon?

The classics – Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly

What’s your best style advice?

Wear what makes you feel you. For me, I’d rather wear dresses and cover-ups all summer long than pull on the first pair of shorts. I have NEVER owned a pair of jean shorts because I don’t feel comfortable in them. (I do miss my jean overalls from college though.) I have this black jumpsuit that makes me feel fierce every time I wear it.

What article of clothing/accessory would you not want to live without?

Tortoiseshell sunglasses (love Goodr for staying on while chasing two active kiddos), pearl earrings, my Barbour jacket. This past year, I couldn’t live without my Victoria Dunn palm round earrings. I don’t wear much jewelry, but I love accessorizing with fun earrings.

Which trend would you want to see make a comeback?

Side ponytails for us side part girls.

What should NEVER make a comeback?

Rolled up Soffe shorts.

What fashion/style did you love at the time but now cringe when you see old photos?

Tube tops.

What’s your best style secret?

Under-eye concealer

Stilettos or flats?

Flats always – unless it’s with my black jumpsuit.

Gracious Creative Family

What’s your favorite way to spend time with your family?

We love to be out on the water, whether it’s boating, paddle boarding, or shell collecting.

What’s been your best family vacation?

With COVID, we haven’t taken a family vacation with our youngest. But with our oldest, we had the best trips to Park City, Utah, and Stowe, Vermont. My husband and I love to travel and were lucky to do a lot of traveling before our girls were born. We can’t wait to take them to some of our favorite places including Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, St. John, and Africa.

Best parenting advice:

Prioritize your sleep. Find your village. Popsicles or glowsticks in the bath turn around the worst of days.

Parenting true confession:

While I was away on a girls’ trip, my husband bribed the girls with chocolate chips for an easy and splash-free bathtime. He fed them the chocolate chips in the bathtub one at a time, like dog treats. I was seething that I didn’t come up with it first and that he had ruined bathtime for me forever.

What’s your go-to family dinner?

Whatever Caroline Chambers (@carochambers) is telling us to make from her What to Cook When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking weekly newsletter. 

What’s your favorite family restaurant?

We didn’t eat out a lot with the girls during the pandemic, but when we did, we frequented Taste or the Norfolk Yacht Club. Le Grand is one of our favorite restaurants in Tidewater. Pre-COVID, we took the girls often. We’d go right when they opened at 5 pm and bolt a portable high chair to the counter and watch Chef Steve and his crew cook. Thank goodness we’ve been enjoying their famous burgers as takeout.

Gracious Creative Life

What’s your favorite show to binge-watch?

I still watch Grey’s Anatomy! My husband and I enjoyed binging Ozark, Billions, The Affair, Homeland, Succession, and The Americans together. I would love to rewatch Brothers and Sisters, Scandal, and The Good Wife.

If you could pick anyone to star as you in a movie based on your life, who would it be?

Katie Holmes

What’s your favorite beach read?

I’d like to reread some of my favorites from Joan Didion, like Play It As It Lays.

What song would you dance to when nobody’s watching? 

To Be With You by Mr. Big, Don’t Stop Me Now or Somebody to Love by Queen, and Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver.

If you could go shopping with anyone from history, living or deceased, who would it be?

Jackie Kennedy, Reese Witherspoon, tastemaker Gen Sohr, India Hicks

What’s at the top of your travel bucket list?

Another African safari, the Amalfi coast, Morocco

What’s your favorite way to unwind at the end of a long day?

The days are VERY long at our house with two night-owl preschoolers. When I finally get them down, I enjoy a long hot shower and drinking cups and cups of hot mint tea (I’m terrible at drinking water during the day). On Thursday nights, I try to scoot out before bedtime and play tennis with some girlfriends. A glass or two of wine after our court time is the best way to end the day.

Gracious Creative Lifestyle

We love how Polly pours a personality full of creativity, worldly knowledge, and grace into her tablescapes and life. We are inspired by her gracious, creative style and how she handles motherhood with love and dimension.

Be sure to check out her Instagram, And for more fun and fabulous moms, be sure to read on at FamilyApp’s Mom on the Street!

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