When Elizabeth and Michael Damrich stepped over the threshold of the big yellow house on Government Street, she broke down and started crying. With their first baby on the way, the two Alabamians were hoping to move closer to family (his is in Mobile, hers in Athens, Alabama) and were touring cities across the South, looking for the place that felt like home. The 12-foot ceilings, enormous Ionic columns and eight fireplaces won Elizabeth over immediately, and her nesting instincts, which she describes as “very real,” told her this was the home in which she would start a family.
The It Girl
Elizabeth Damrich is the kind of girl you want to be, or at least be friends with. She is elegant, stylish, well-dressed and well-travelled. It’s obvious why she has almost 15,000 followers on Instagram, all of whom are captivated by her every move. Despite growing up in a small town, design has always been her greatest passion. With a father who loved architecture and a mother with a keen sense of style, Elizabeth and her sister would pore over Vogue magazines together and use photos of the runway shows like flashcards to memorize designer collections. “Living isolated in such a small town forced our creativity to thrive at a young age,” she explains. After graduating from the University of Alabama, a move to New York City seemed like the natural next step.
Instead of moving to the big city a single girl, as she envisioned, Elizabeth moved very much in love with a Mobilian she met in Tuscaloosa the last week of college. In the end, they enjoyed discovering that exuberant city together. While there, she followed her dream of working for a creative agency in the fashion and beauty space.
“Working on ad campaigns, taking meetings with brands like Harry Winston, Shopbop and Lancôme was a pinch-me moment for a small-town Alabama girl.” She fit right in with the sleek New York fashionistas, however, even being photographed herself outside the tents at Bryant Park during Fashion Week, a photo that was picked up by Vogue. She modestly says she was just in the right place at the right time, but her chic look certainly didn’t hurt.
After several years of the “New York grind and New York winters,” she explains, her Southern blood called her and Michael to warmer climates, and the couple spent several years enjoying the architecture and excitement of Charleston, South Carolina. “It had a restaurant culture that felt a little like New York, but in this historical, European-feeling Southern town,” she remembers. It was a compromise between New York and her small-town upbringing, in a sense.
The couple never envisioned leaving there, but she says, “It’s amazing how a new baby can transform your thinking.” When their first child was well on the way, they began the search that ultimately led them to Mobile and to the home known as the Rapier House.
The Rapier House
Built in the early 1880s by Elizabeth Goldthwaite, the Neoclassic Revival house received its name from the second owner, John Rapier. In 1909, the third owner, Thomas Boone, added the Greek Revival colonnade you see today.
“I felt a similar energy in Oakleigh as I did in Charleston, but it just hasn’t fully exploded in Mobile yet. We thought it would be cool to be a part of helping to build that — of bringing young families back Downtown.”
Elizabeth was also drawn to the Ionic columns of the Rapier House, which she points out are from the feminine order. “My dad taught us the column orders when I was just 3 years old.” When asked about her aesthetic for the home, which was once full of bold colors and red-toned floors, she says she prefers to “lean into the grand simplicity” of the home, capturing the bones and highlighting the architecture with a neutral palette. It is anything but ordinary inside, though. She plays with scale, fabrics, and the juxtaposition of antiques with modern, clean-lined furnishings.
Set the Table
Elizabeth and Michael’s 2-year-old daughter, Genevieve, asks her mom for pretty goldfish. Standing in the large butler’s pantry of the Rapier House, Elizabeth grabs a sterling silver punch cup from her shelf and fills it with snacks for the little girl with big brown eyes waiting patiently, arms outstretched. Elizabeth says she tries to embrace tiny moments in life that elevate the every day, and a big part of that is not saving her fancy things for a special occasion. “Today is special,” she says. Using her best silver goblets or lighting taper candles for a Tuesday night dinner gives Elizabeth great happiness and are part of what makes her life seem so romantic from the outside looking in. Every day, it seems like something wonderful is happening at the Rapier House.
“I became a big cook when I had children,” she continues. “I love beautiful food and a good dining experience, but with kids, you quickly realize you don’t always have the luxury. It’s up to you to create that special experience in your home.” The pandemic gave her the time to explore candlelit dinners in every room in her house, and on each porch as well — of which the Rapier House has several.
When looking for the right recipe for everything from a casual family dinner to a gathering of friends, Elizabeth says she leans on her copy of Alison Roman’s “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over.” She says the cookbook author talks you through the recipes like you’re talking to a friend. “I am vegetable-forward in my cooking and so is she, but she does it in a flavorful way.”
With one or two stellar recipes from that tried-and-true tome, Elizabeth rounds out her entertaining with something simple and store-bought, like potato chips, but served in sterling silver Revere bowls. These simple but luxurious touches transform casual cocktails (or mocktails in Elizabeth’s case, as she is expecting baby number two) with the neighbors into something so much more fabulous.
Go-To Recipes from Elizabeth Damrich
Elizabeth makes this refreshing mocktail instead of favorite gimlet when she is expecting, and it is the perfect sip for hot summer evenings. It can be made by the pitcher for guests to easily help themselves.
1/4 teaspoon elderflower syrup
1 sprig fresh mint
juice from 1 lime
8 ounces sparkling water
slice of lime, for garnish
Combine syrup, mint and lime juice in the bottom of a glass and muddle to bring out the flavors and oils. Add ice, top with sparkling water and garnish with slice of lime. Makes 1
JUST A SPRITZ
Elizabeth loves a spritz all summer long. In keeping with her unfussy entertaining style, she says no recipe is required, just basic proportions: 1/3 sparkling wine or rose, 1/3 sweet-bitter liquor (such as Campari, Aperol or Lillet), and 1/3 sparkling water makes a delightfully effervescent drink that is easy on the alcohol so you can enjoy a few more!
For those not drinking, her non-alcoholic Rapier Spritz follows similar guidelines: something bubbly, something tart and something sweet to yield the perfect mocktail for steamy summer weather.
Yaya’s Crab Claws
Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, Suzanne Damrich, passed down this easy, make-ahead crab claw recipe. It is high on Mediterranean flavors and goes down easy with a refreshing cocktail.
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 small package dry Italian salad dressing mix (0.7 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/4 cup dried parsley flakes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon vermouth
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 pound crab claws, cooked and shelled
Whisk olive oil and vinegar into salad dressing mix. Add remaining marinade ingredients and stir to combine. Gently fold crab claws into marinade. Transfer to a large plastic container with lid and refrigerate several hours or overnight, turning several times to allow marinade to coat well. Serves 6
Spicy Tomato-Marinated Feta
From “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” by Alison Roman
1/2 cup olive oil, plus more as needed
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 small (or 1 medium) ripe tomatoes (4 to 6 ounces total), coarsely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons harissa paste or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar
8 ounces feta cheese, sliced into 1/4-inch slabs or 1/2-inch cubes
1. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, swirling the skillet occasionally, until garlic is tender and nearly golden brown, 2 – 3 minutes.
2. Add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they’ve broken down into a thick, chunky sauce, 5 – 8 minutes.
3. Add harissa and continue to cook until the sauce is a bit more paste-like, another 3 – 5 minutes. Remove from heat, then add vinegar and season with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil until it becomes savory and spoonable.
4. Place feta in a serving dish or bowl and pour the tomato mixture over. Let sit at least 10 minutes, or up to a week in advance, refrigerated. Drizzle with more olive oil before serving. Serves 8
Chef note: Feta can be marinated up to 1 week ahead, tightly wrapped and refrigerated. You can also substitute goat cheese, ricotta salata or queso fresco for the feta.
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
3/4 ounce rosemary syrup
fresh rosemary and slice of lime, for garnish
1. Chill a stemmed cocktail glass in the freezer.
2. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice. Cover and shake for about 20 seconds, until very cold.
3. Pour into chilled glass and garnish with a sprig of rosemary and a slice of fresh lime. Serve immediately. Makes 1
Rosemary Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
2. Strain syrup into a jar, removing rosemary pieces, and refrigerate until ready to use. Will keep for up to two weeks. For use in about 8 cocktails
1 pound watermelon
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons lime juice
water, as needed
1. Remove rind from watermelon and cut into small chunks, removing seeds.
2. Put in a blender with sugar and lime juice and process until smooth, adding water as needed to help the mixture liquify.
3. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze. Makes 6 – 8
Elizabeth Damrich on Easy Entertaining
Elizabeth Damrich loves to cook from “Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over” by Alison Roman. “I am vegetable-forward and so is she, but she does it in a flavorful way. The recipes are creative and the photography and styling are so appealing.”
Elizabeth likes that Alison is down-to-earth about entertaining, describing it as unpretentious but made exciting by lots of vegetables and fresh herbs. One of Alison’s best entertaining tips: If you run out of room in the fridge, ice down the sink in your powder room and chill your wine in there!