My presentation following Gary’s was about setting a proper dinner table and then how to break the rules in imaginative ways. I took guests through the process of arranging formal and casual table settings, showed them how to use color and details, and gave examples and ideas on creative approaches to special occasions, seasons and holidays. I placed an emphasis on mixing it up and adding antique, vintage, one-of-a-kind objects to the table for variety and interest. The ensuing Q & A was followed by hands-on interaction with the ladies in arranging crystal, china, and flatware in more unexpected ways.
Here are some of the suggestions I gave to the ladies:
Use your fine china, crystal and silver, and not only for holidays.
If you want to make it more informal mix in color and vintage items. Add more humble natural materials, such as horn, bone and wood.
Bread & butter plates are a perfect way to add a splash of color to a place setting. Generally they are more ornate than the other plates. They don’t need to match, simply coordinate.
Mix clear crystal with color glasses. Different shapes, sizes and hues can make a formal table more interesting and approachable.
Finger bowls are a great way to add color, texture and shape. They can be any material as long as they hold water.
Small bowls make perfect salt cellars and can add a colorful and ornate touch to each place setting. Also, salt and paper shakers come in many unique designs, looking more like sculptural objects than utilitarian. Having a few sets on a long table avoid having to ask for either.
Vintage flatware can be an interesting addition. Antique fish sets, for example, are very decorative and can generally be found for a song compared to other utensils, as they are sadly under-appreciated.
Keep centerpieces low, so that guests can see one another across the table.
Centerpieces do not need to be made of flowers. All sorts of sculptural objects can set a different mood. Some may be found around the house.
Flowers do not necessarily need to be in the center. Small arrangements can be placed with each place setting. All sorts of small containers can serve as vases.
You can get a lot of boom for your buck from napkins. If the right color and pattern is not available you can simply have fabric made into inexpensive napkins by the neighborhood seamstress. Keep in mind to choose fabric that feels good on your lips. (Non-absorbant and polyester napkins are a big pet peeve of mine.)
Napkin rings can be made from all sorts of materials and objects. For example, for a ladies luncheon inexpensive pearls can be wrapped around a rolled or folded napkin, or vintage brooches could be used, which are then then given as gifts to the guests. Also gorgeous ribbons can provide an instant splash of color.