There are as many ways to build a better tablesetting as there are tables to be built on. Chances are you already have the table, but just in case you need some help with the creative process, we asked three experts to walk us through theirs—and here’s what they had to say.
Architect and designer Brian Bockman is known for his contemporary sensibility. Furnishings and appointments by Eero Saarinen and Knoll are among the iconic pieces displayed at Bockman Design, his well-edited Magazine Street showroom/studio. He regularly combines vintage with new and the purity of his look derives from a stable of constants: graphic silhouettes; strong, sophisticated color; and a refined use of materials—all of which were brought into play in the mid-century modern tablescape he designed for a casual dinner à deux.
Bockman took his cue for the scheme from a simple detail, the chocolate-brown embroidery of the monogrammed linen napkins. “The detailed embroidery design of the napkins made me think of natural horn,” says Bockman, who found the horn-handled serving bowl at Mignon Faget. However, green, is the predominant color of the setting, which includes banana leaves used as placemats, dishes by Swedish manufacturer Hoganas Keramik and printed menu cards from Scriptura—all in shades of emerald. Vintage pieces from Bockman’s own collection include glasses from the former Falstaff Brewery and a Blenko glass decanter from the ‘50s. Says Bockman, “much like pairing an appropriate wine to a dinner menu, thoughtful and creative attention to a table setting truly completes the overall dining experience.”
More details: The walnut top Knoll table and dishes are available through Bockman Design; the Georg Jensen flatware is from As You Like It; and the napkin rings are by Mignon Faget.
Terri Goldsmith’s taste for elegant French antiques is as evident in her Uptown home as it is in her Magazine Street antiques shop, Maison de Provence. So when asked to execute a traditional table top, Goldsmith didn’t have to look far for pieces rooted in the design precedents of the past, but still timeless enough to have fresh appeal today. The pale, blue-green Venetian plaster on her dining room walls (by Tony Gagliano of Tony’s Creative Painting) set the tone for the table’s gentle palette of blues, greens, gold and white. “Right now, I’m inspired by aqua and blue-green,” says Goldsmith. “I love these colors. They give tranquility to a home setting.”
In the center of a 19th-century Louis XVI style dining table, Goldsmith used a porcelain compote adorned with cherubs—one of a pair she found in France—and filled it with green roses from Ecuador, Queen Ann’s lace and hydrangeas. To give the centrally placed roses a snug, abundant form, she used the technique for creating nosegays, assembling the bouquet one flower at a time and tightly wrapping the stems with raffia. Then she tucked hydrangeas and Queen Ann’s lace around the roses and covered the base of the arrangement, visible through the reticulated portion of the compote, with moss. A piece of pastel-hued Limoges porcelain plump with small, purple artichokes and green grapes—adds another dimension to the centerpiece and tiny, glass votives holding the same feminine assortment of flowers used in the main display are placed atop the bread plates at each of the individual place settings. The large fluted stems, which echo the bobeches of the chandelier, are from Italy; the smaller stems are copies of a Medici pattern. Royal Doulton dessert plates found in Richmond, Va., are mixed with Lenox dinner plates, Gorham’s Strasbourg silver flatware, and Le Jacquard Francais placemats and napkins from New Orleans Custom Linens.
Nearby, a walnut buffet topped with dessert plates, which Goldsmith collects, and several pairs of antique stems, serves as a convenient dessert station. “I just search and hunt for things I love,” says Goldsmith, who’s honed her eye during the many trips she’s made to France over the last decade. “I’m very consistent in my choices.”
More details: The chairs are 19th century, caned Regence-style.
If it’s a bohemian look you want to create when hosting a dinner party, large or small, designer Penny Francis, owner of Eclectic Home, recommends throwing away the handbook. “When I think of bohemian, I think of free thinking, free living and non-conventional,” says Francis. Artsy, collected, and international are a few other bywords that fit here and the more they’re intertwined the better. Francis assembled her “Boho Chic” tablescape by choosing an iridescent mosaic charger first. It in turn suggested the direction for the table—luminous finishes, lots of bold color, a diversity of flowers and an assortment of vessels used in unexpected ways.
Francis made the setting cohesive through her use of materials. Every service piece and all but one of the small containers used to hold flowers in the center of the table (a glass, a candy dish and a votive holder) are glass. For the tablecloth, she used an overlay of sheer organza, which has an iridescent quality similar to that of the glass.
The Bohemian flavor comes from the way she loosely mixes dishes, finds alternate uses for pieces, and accents the table with exotic, Indian inspired touches; a turquoise glass vase bordered with silver is used as the focal point of the centerpiece and glass beads ornamented with silver and tassels add a luxe finish to each of the place settings. The tassels could also be used as napkin rings.
“I would advise people to look at their collections of plates, servers and glassware as individual accessories,” says Francis. “The charger from your more formal china can be paired with a less formal dinner and salad plate. Add the element of light with candles or lamps, as well as flowers or some other type of botanical that speaks to you. Experiment with your table just as you do when accessorizing your home.”
More details: Layers of light-conducting glass, a vivid mixture of zinnias, wild-flowers and sunflowers from Whole Foods Market combined with ethnic influences bring an exotic flair to Penny Francis’s bohemian table. •