ACCORDING to Yvonne Rubin's entertaining bible, dramatic dinner parties have nothing to do with sparkling crystal, silver cutlery and outside catering. All you need, she says, is some gold spray-paint, coloured paper, a handful of spring-onion flowers and heaps of imagination. While it sounds like something out of a Jane Austen novel, Yvonne Rubin's School of Creative Ideas is neither for debutantes nor bored housewives. The 'school', a sun-filled house just off Repulse Bay, is actually a 'centre of inspiration', a place where people learn that throwing a party has less to do with how much you spend on your champagne glasses than how you create the atmosphere. The quirkier and more original the surroundings, she says, the more enticing the event. In her two years in Hong Kong, Rubin has come to realise a few home-truths about how people entertain here. 'People seem frightened to do anything different. There is huge importance put on designer labels generally, so everything lacks individuality.' That is something she hopes to change. For if this New Zealander had her way, a crystal centrepiece would be replaced with a watermelon, a toilet roll and a cheap Chinese doll, the fancy dinner service exchanged for plastic plates and the store-bought pate de foie gras with mashed boiled eggs. 'When I was young and growing up in Sydney, I would spend half a day just dressing up a salad, trying to find interesting ways to present the most ordinary things,' she says. While art was always her forte, she opted for a degree in medical biochemistry, which she abandoned before starting work as a merchandiser in the perfume department of a large Sydney store. When she married record executive Stuart Rubin, she realised her artistic leanings would come in handy. 'He'd ring me at six in the evening to tell me he had six people coming for dinner. I used to panic before discovering that it could be handled.' With just a few hours' notice, Rubin would find herself entertaining the likes of John Farnham, Billy Connolly and the boys from Air Supply. 'They would get sick of eating in hotels so when they were asked home, they were overjoyed. That is when I started to learn about doing things imaginatively. These performers were so used to lavish entertaining anyway, so I knew the only way to impress them was to present things in a much more creative way.' As her confidence mounted, her imagination ran riot. Now, special occasions fuel her fervour for uniqueness: Rubin will buy a bread plait and garnish the top with poppy seeds sprinkled in the shape of stars - 'a perfect loaf for the Christmas table,' she enthuses. Out from the refrigerator comes a pate made of crushed boiled eggs, covered with caviar and festooned around the edges with fresh green herbs . . . another Christmas dish. 'I think flowers here are so expensive, so I rarely bother with those.' Instead, she fills a clear vase with cranberries and fresh chive flowers, gold-painted wooden skewers with more cranberries and metallic paper stars stuck on the ends. Or she places red and green apples into a tall glass container and adds leafy green stalks. And her favourite Christmas centrepiece - half a watermelon that forms a colourful base for a spray of wooden skewers pierced through cherry tomatoes, melon balls and more multi-coloured stars. Elegant and refined they are not, but the effect is extraordinary and fun. Rubin has just started giving lessons on how to achieve witty table decor without too much expense and hassle: two-hour morning sessions cost $250. You learn how to decorate the banquet with cans of bright spray-paint and rolls of toilet paper; or see how festive jars of coloured crystallised sugar look when dotted around the table; or how to present a bottle of wine in an original way instead of using wrapping paper and ribbon. Serviettes become paper games, blank paper is transformed into individual place-mats, red peppers are used as name-settings, big dishes of salads are layered according to colour. 'Everyone should be able to do little things to make their party different. I want to be able to make these courses appropriate for everyone. 'Even if someone wants to do something sophisticated and stylish, there are still ways to do it individually and for much less expense than imagined,' she says. 'And I find that people always come back to the simple things. Whenever I have a party and I put out a dish of expensive chocolates next to a big glass jar of jellybeans or other childhood sweets, the cheaper sweets are always the first to go. 'There should always be something about the table that remind the guests of home.'