Tired is the idea that setting a proper table requires everything to coordinate or that matching sets of 8 or 12 are necessary. While remembering a few key things such as allowing adequate space for each guest and using unscented candles, it’s time to throw caution to the wind, step out of the box and have fun. The vibe of this creative spirit will duly translate to the whole room and the guests who come to dinner will enjoy it.
Tired is the idea that setting a proper table requires everything to coordinate or that matching sets of 8 or 12 are necessary. While remembering a few key things such as allowing adequate space for each guest and using unscented candles, it’s time to throw caution to the wind, step out of the box and have fun. The vibe of this creative spirit will duly translate to the whole room and the guests who come to dinner to enjoy it.
“There are no rules anymore and what few are left can be broken,” said tabletop designer Kim Seybert, who uses a background in fashion design to pioneer high fashion for the table. Seybert shifts the perception that decorative accessories should be conventional or used only for special occasions. She suggested the best trick for capturing this trend is to, “keep one thing on the table consistent. If you are using mismatched china then keep your placemats, napkins and rings matched.”
If interior design is functional art, then a table setting is an interactive collage. Nowhere else in the home can you showcase a unique arrangement of decoratively crafted, ornate or valuable items that will be appreciated up close and enjoyed both visually and tactilely by an intimate, admiring audience. Seybert also suggested “playing around with the table in advance so you know if it works.” There is absolutely no end to what can be used, but choosing an approach that works with the décor of the home and style of the dining table and chairs is essential, as is one that suits the host or hostess and the group that comes to dinner.
The options are endless, but the main genres to set a cohesively mismatched table are: Vintage, modern, color and/or theme. By embracing one of these four styles it is also understood there is an overlap that may occur between them. For example, a modern table setting may also make an incredible statement with color; or a theme table might be created using vintage items. Allow one to dominate and the other to become the sub-theme. The most important thing is to let a unique and personal statement emerge.
Charming and rich with visual detail, the vintage style borrows from different eras ranging from 1950s Americana to 19th and 20th century antique periods, or even medieval times. This genre appeals to those who have collections to flaunt as well as those ready to delve in and gain the know-how to scout authentic vintage shops. But the look can also be achieved with new reproductions of china, dishware, glassware and flatware, which are all widely available.
Mid-century diner style can be easily captured with vintage plates such as diner white, Colorware or green Jadeite, complemented by Duralex glasses. The domestic china patterns of this time were simple and graphic.
The more antiquated side of the vintage style might call for a raid on grandmother’s china cabinet. European china companies were known for specific patterns. For instance, Haviland produced china with soft floral displays while Wedgwood often featured portraits or Greek classical scenes. Comb antique shops and tag sales or browse websites such as Etsy and One Kings Lane to collect random vintage patterns but stick to the same genre and color family. The layers of mismatched plates—dinner, salad and bread—will take on the quasi-coordinated look of a set.
For those who registered for a set of china when they married or whose family pattern has been passed down to them, there are creative ways to freshen up the plateware. “Formal looking china can be easily updated by using a more casual placemat or by throwing in a new hot color on your accessories,” said Seybert. “Or try a whimsical napkin ring made of Lucite or wood,” set atop antique plates to relax the formality of the table.
A reverse approach is also workable where simple modern plates can be given interest and dimension with layers of antique linens from lace and damask to embroidery. Think French flea market when it comes to flatware with handles made of mother-of-pearl, horn or tortoise, or better yet combine all three. The world of vintage glassware requires an education all its own to identify what is what, from milk glass to cranberry glass to carnival glass, making the “mix and match” approach a ready side-step. Delicate Depression glass comes in translucent pastel colors and all its many lacey patterns. Highly ornate items such as platters with ruffled or gold-dipped edges, a stunning silver candelabra or a grand cut-crystal vase filled with bloomed roses are another way to add drama to the mix.
Going in this direction means setting the table with clean, simple lines. Even the food should be presented in a neat and minimalist way.
Furniture style does not necessarily have to be modern, mixing styles is what defines eclectic design. Start by letting the hard table surface play a part in the tablescape and add a simple, tailored runner or a placemat that is striking in color or pattern. A monochromatic color scheme lends itself to the simplicity desired in modern style, as does the use of stark neutrals, white, gray and brown. Powerful colors or a bold, graphic pattern such as zebra stripes or a large-scale paisley or ikat print can be used on dishes, charger plates or place mats. A combination of a print and a solid in an updated color is fresh and energizing. But go with either cool colors or a strong, hot hue as opposed to an in-between, lukewarm tones.
A modern table setting is where interesting plate shapes belong. Plates, bowls, serving platters and all other dishware should be essentially devoid of fine detail. Metallic elements are crucial in achieving a modern style. Cool metals such as stainless steel, polished or brushed nickel and chrome as well as polished brass feel more modern than warmer antique brass or oil-rubbed bronze finishes. In addition to a modern flatware choice, incorporate metal finishes on napkin rings, serving pieces and candleholders. Low candle votives, stemless glassware and the use of sleek trays accessorize modern style. “The napkins should be rolled and very clean-lined on the table, and the flowers very structural,” said Seybert. Conversely, the use of an organic accent, such as a free-form olive wood board or a centerpiece comprised of polished stones or a branch of driftwood serves to juxtapose something natural and textural into the modern mix.
“It is the simplest way to add drama,” said Seybert of color, her signature design feature. A monochromatic or contrasting scheme will pull a table setting of any style together. But so will the confidence to totally mix it up as another look, provided the hues aren’t clashing. Choose colors that work within the environment of the home but turn up the volume to make it exciting and impactful. Or throw a white party with the elegance of a white-on-white scheme, which can include cream, gray or the very palest tint of color, inviting the sparkle of glass and polished metals.
The use of color works hand-in-hand with other table setting styles. To make a statement, allow one main color to dominate while interjecting the style of the table setting in a lighter manner—eclectic design is not about achieving perfect balance within a scheme. Tableware designers usually work with palettes of certain colors each season, making it virtually effortless to find many different items in the same family. But searching for varied pieces, old and new, in a range of tones gives a table a more “collected” look.
A monochromatic scheme is singularly striking, but vary the shades of that color, taking an analogous approach, and try adding black, white, ivory or gray. For example, a red table setting might use a predominantly red patterned tablecloth, cream-colored plates, pink water glasses, burgundy napkins and a centerpiece with red and purple flowers. The design still resonates red but the different tones and hints of other colors give it depth and keep it interesting.
A contrasting scheme made up of complementary colors refreshes the opposing hues and adds intensity. Choose two hues that are roughly opposite on the color wheel, such as purple and yellow or gold. Instead of balancing the two colors equally, choose one of the hues to dominate and the other as the accent. The color of the linens packs the most punch. If the tablecloth and napkins are purple, incorporate a plate pattern with a white ground and a purple and yellow design, purple votive candles in gold metal holders and amber-tinted glassware. The purple will predominate but become enlivened by the bits of yellow and gold.
Whatever the mix of styles, never feel overwhelmed. Embrace the limitless possibilities, experiment with what is already in the home then bring in what’s needed to pull it all together. First and foremost is to have fun making the effort and the effect will be enjoyed by all.
Seybert’s collections are carried at Lagoon Linens in Cedarhurst and are available around the world at major department stores like Neiman Marcus, Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman.
The Fishs Eddy store in NYC (or online) is a wonderful source for authentic or reproduction mid-century table items.
If a new, upscale set of china is in the cards, shop the collections at Park Avenue Gifts in Huntington.