When it comes to holiday celebrations, John Roby Penn IV likes to showcase his personal and familial history through treasured heirlooms, black-tie attire, and old-world cuisine. Originally from Fort Worth, Texas, Roby recalls a childhood of formal dinners held amid generations-old antiques and artifacts. He and his wife, Xiomi, who grew up with more casual gatherings, recently merged their Christmas memories to orchestrate a dinner party that encapsulated both of their personalities.
“The world is more casual and rough these days, but that does not mean our house has to be,” says Roby, 39. “My mother always liked having open houses at Christmas for people who had nowhere else to go. I do the same and love bringing out our heritage via home furnishings and traditional pieces to share with others.”
“Christmas is about celebrating our blessings and gathering people around us,” adds Xiomi, 43. “As we grow older, we like to show our appreciation for friends and family by entertaining them here in our home, where we can talk and enjoy each other’s company.”
Tradition—and oil—are in Roby’s blood. His grandfather, John Roby Penn Jr., served as president of Standard Oil of New Jersey and then, in 1919, became president of Texas Pacific Coal and Oil, which was sold to Seagram & Sons in 1964. Roby’s father, the late John Roby Penn III, oversaw that purchase as managing director and then enjoyed a life of ranching in Texas and sport fishing in South Florida and the Bahamas.
Roby, who has a BA in history and political science from Texas Christian University, relocated to Washington, D.C., to act as co-chairman of George W. Bush’s 2005 inauguration and pursue other political opportunities. He now works as national relationship manager for Smart Source, a marketing and printing company. Xiomi, an art historian with a master’s degree and PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, is a curatorial collections specialist for a private art collection. They married in Palm Beach in 2018 and now reside in a circa-1925 home in West Palm Beach’s Flamingo Park
For this yuletide party, Roby and Xiomi displayed their manners and social genius by producing a friendly yet formal evening that spoke to their past, present, and future. The couple decided to play up their ancestry—Xiomi is Scottish and Roby is English—with a traditional Christmas dinner, complete with a goose and all the trimmings. Their well-appointed living room resembled a refined Scottish country lodge, and they incorporated an array of family finery into the meal’s presentation. As the finishing touch, they requested that attendees come dressed to suit the classic theme.
“We asked our guests to dress in black tie and cocktail attire because I learned this formality practice from my late father, a man I never saw in a T-shirt,” explains Roby. “My mom said I came out of the womb wearing a blazer and tie. Our family tradition is continuous, and I am so used to formal living that it is part of my life. I love the design and look of our heirlooms and enjoy displaying them for Christmas parties.”
Visitors entered through an original double-oak front door adorned with burlap ribbons and were greeted with the aroma of holiday delights. A crackling fire illuminated the festive scene featuring monogrammed stockings, scattered nutcracker statues, and a tree decked out in cherished ornaments, pearls, and tartan ribbons. As they settled in, guests admired the pecky cypress ceiling, stained glass windows, and silk curtains, as well as a 1940s chandelier that once hung in the foyer of The Breakers.
“Their Christmas decor is spectacular because it is understated and subtly ties into the interior of the house,” says Kate Waterhouse, vice president of the Southeast for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers in West Palm Beach. “There is not a bit of clutter.”
Roby and Xiomi divided their holiday hosting duties by the other’s strengths. Roby likes decorating (he had two significant Christmas trees in his Texas home), setting the table with his family heirlooms, and entertaining with his vivacious personality. Xiomi is more regimented and detail-oriented—traits acquired from years conducting research at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A native of Washington, D.C., she fondly remembers admiring different states’ Christmas trees on the National Mall alongside her late father, who was a senior art historian at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. This memory inspires her passion for curating her husband’s holiday furnishings and tabletop selections, as well as arranging the poinsettias, white roses, and hydrangeas. She also has a knack for making their guests feel comfortable with her infectious laugh and calm reserve.
“She is the yin to his yang,” Waterhouse says of the couple.
Violinist Marina Lenau of the Palm Beach Symphony performed holiday music from a perch set up near Roby’s collection of antique books, a composition of Christmas candy jars, a silver Champagne bucket, and the couple’s two parakeets, who enjoyed the evening from inside a tartan ribbon–topped cage. The Penns’ dog, a Havanese named Papacito, was also in attendance.
As they sipped the signature poinsettia Champagne cocktail and sampled appetizers of blinis with Black Sea caviar, guests engaged in spirited conversation about the holidays, upcoming parties, travel, and work, all the while offering compliments to the couple.
“Roby and Xiomi are the most gracious hosts I know,” says Elizabeth “Bitsy” Marshman, special events manager at The Colony in Palm Beach. “They’re old souls with traditions, yet people who know how to have fun. Plus, they want us to feel like we are in our own homes.”
Xiomi joined in to praise her husband’s entertaining skills and family traditions. “I am constantly learning from him,” she says. “Roby knows history and geography, and I like art and culture. We love to merge these things into our home. And for parties, we do like formality yet enjoy doing most everything ourselves.”
Roby and Xiomi also share a passion for philanthropy. They met some of their guests through regular participation in charities and frequently serve on committees and as chairs for numerous events. They support the EW Foundation’s child literacy programs, Achilles International’s sports rehab initiatives for people with disabilities, the Palm Beach Symphony, and American Friends of British Art, for which Xiomi is a board member.
Xiomi’s energy and knowledge of art are tremendous,” says Michael Ridgdill, founder and president of American Friends of British Art. “And both of them are such relaxed hosts who make guests like me feel relaxed, while their Christmas decor illustrates how tradition can be sexy.”Passing the tree’s twinkling tapers, the couple led the way to the magnificently set dinner table, made in the 1960s of Italian wood with a hand-carved base. Always the Texas gentleman, Roby escorted the female guests to their respective chairs upholstered in brown twill. Atop their English Spode china Roby inherited from his grandmother awaited a printed dinner menu emblazoned with the Penn family crest, which prominently features an elephant as a reference to a long-gone ancestor who was the Royal Governor of the British East India Company. Surrounding the English silver centerpiece was a set of 1902 J.E. Caldwell & Co. silver dessert plates, a Penn family gift from Mildred Hedrick Fender, the daughter of architect Wyatt C. Hedrick and granddaughter of Ross Shaw Sterling, the thirty-first governor of Texas and cofounder of Humble Oil (now ExxonMobil). There was also an assortment of small Lalique angels, white roses, and elephant collectibles.
“For the personal touch, Xiomi cooked because she remembers the wonderful Christmas dinners with her family and friends when both of her parents prepared the meal,” Roby says of the food.
To begin, Xiomi prepared a salmon mousse terrine—with help from Roby’s mother. “We made it together,” says Xiomi, with a laugh. “I learned from her.”
Then, she served her favorite potato and leek soup, followed by a smoked Dakota goose with port-cranberry sauce and English roasted vegetables. Roby carved the bird with a set of engraved-silver and ivory-handled knives circa 1870 from James Deakin & Sons of Sheffield, England, another family heirloom from Mildred Hedrick Fender. The meal was paired with Domaine L. Chatelain Petite Chablis 2017 and Domaine Grand Veneur Côtes du Rhône 2016, and ended with a Christmas pudding flambéed with rum. “They do everything the right way,” says Homer Marshman III, a financial analyst with Comcast. “They honored every classic Christmas tradition with a Texas twist.”
After dinner, capped with McLaren Vale Serafino tawny port, the room overflowed with hospitality and good cheer. As happy guests were preparing to depart, Roby handed out gifts of silver picture frames from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and fine Churchill cigars.
“Having a Christmas party here is a genuine moment for us,” says Xiomi. “With our friends who bring different traditions to our home, we can come together and see the joy and good that the holiday season brings out in all of us.” «