For most, choosing dinnerware is a necessity for those setting up a first apartment or a nicety associated with getting married. Bridal registries allow the dream of the fancy, as well as everyday, with all the coordinating elements for stellar entertaining.
But so much about tabletop has changed, particularly in the last decade. And it’s not just that so many choices have made it dizzying to narrow down, but lifestyle shifts are influencing the way we set the table.
“There’s a casualization,” says DJ Carey, an editorial director for Connecticut Cottages and Living. “The latest research shows there is great interest in food and health. More people are enjoying preparing food at home. Kitchens, in general, are getting larger in square footage, often taking (space) from the dining room. These large open plans include areas to entertain.
“Table settings are more relaxed — a mix of everyday china with formal pieces, fun collectibles used as a centerpiece. Glassware follows suit with crystal wine glasses sitting comfortably alongside everyday water glasses. And shapes are being mixed — square plates stacked on circular. There is more whimsy, more fun — and it’s more comfortable and easy to create. Best yet, color is everywhere on the table.”
This is a shift that is pretty consistent with what is happening in home design. Matchy-matchy is not required; in fact, it’s pretty much frowned upon. Mixing it up and layering is cool, just as the hip do with their wardrobes. And even though white and off-white remain a safe and popular go-to, introducing a little color, texture and pattern is gaining momentum. These days, that might extend to glassware and flatware as well.
“The days of matching plates are gone,” says Carey, “and people are enjoying adding fun pieces to their tables. It’s an easy way to change the personality of any table setting.”
Like home furnishings, tabletop design is getting serious impetus from couture runways as well as global and textile influences. More fashion (and interior) designers have collections that reflect their style: Isaac Mizrahi (Gibson Overseas), Kate Spade and Donna Karan (Lenox), Missoni (Richard Ginori), Charlotte Moss and Kelly Wearstler (Pickard), the house of Versace (Rosenthal). Even iconic textile designs, such as the graphic black-and-white zebra on vibrant red that graced wallpaper from Scalamandre since 1930, have been translated to dishes.
What’s new in patterns covers a range of motifs that pretty much reflect those in other areas of home fashions. Florals, a mainstay of traditional, also have more modern interpretations that are stylized, more graphic and open. Animal prints and faux-bois patterns are presented in unexpected hues, such as Kelly Wearstler’s edgy Marquetry design with a fuchsia or periwinkle ground. Nature is, of course, another perennially popular theme, with birds, butterflies, leaves and other organic motifs a favorite depiction.
Pop-arty polka dots, retro looks or graffiti-like calligraphy, especially intriguing in metallic gold or silver, add to the modern edge.
But even solids are distinguished, not just because of the wide selection of hues afforded by improved glazes, but also because of texture and surface decoration, some of which also echo fabric trends. West Coast designer Laurie Gates, for example, introduced a collection called Tara. Available in a neutral glazed taupe or citron, it’s decorated with what looks like asymmetrically placed appliqued white lace.
Mottahedeh’s new Jars collection (sold through Barneys, www.barneys.com) excels in celebrating color in fashion-forward corals and limey greens, among others, through an engaging crackled glaze. Jars Ceramistes is a pottery crafted in the south of France.
Embossed plates also raise the decorative bar, especially in monochromatic expressions. Mateus’ ceramic ware, handcrafted in Portugal, features relief work such as lacey patterns or butterflies spilling over the edges of plates, which add dimension and appealing color that make the line a standout.
The desire for handmade looks is consistent with what is happening in tile design, as technology ramps up efforts to produce dimensional pieces that look as if they’ve been crafted and glazed by hand rather than machine. Improvements in ink-jet technology also have affected the production of plates — and color capabilities.
A shot of color is an easy add-on to the table, especially with wide-bordered chargers in a rainbow of hues from manufacturers including Villeroy & Boch, Mottahedeh and William Yeoward. “They’re a great way to add vibrancy and interest,” says Tara Seawright, a New York designer.
But color is not limited to dinnerware — flatware and glassware also are providing a lift. From resins in bright hues to wood handles, some of which are shapely as well, sculptural flatware adds still another dimension to the table.
The new diversity in flatware has inspired some to shake up conventions. Seawright loves doing the unorthodox — like teaming high-end, ornate Christofle silver with Lucite for a kick. This goes along with grabbing fun accessories from Target or Pier I and bringing them to a glam table. It’s the art of high-low, which some designers pull off brilliantly.
“It’s like the J. Crew equivalent,” says Seawright. “Mixing ornate costume jewelry with high heels, a T-shirt, sweater and jeans.”
And to dress up the table, there’s always a little bling. One manufacturer, Prouna, offers a beautiful selection of dinnerware that’s embellished with Swarovski crystals. Best of all, the pieces are dishwasher-safe. To coordinate, there’s a line of table linens decorated with crystals.
Flashes of gold and silver also can add a bit of glam, as singular accents or as part of the plate design. Besides banding on dishes, the metallic also can decorate the plate. Michael Wainwright’s use of metal has become a signature. A sculptor who also has made jewelry, Wainwright’s studio is in Barrington, Mass.
“I like the combination of hand-made things with the elegance of precious metals,” says Wainwright. “Gold and platinum are timeless, not like a color that goes out of fashion. And this is like jewelry for the table.”
One of Wainwright’s most popular collections, Palio, inspired by the annual ancient horse race in Siena, Italy, combines 24-karat gold, platinum and rose gold in concentric stripes around the plates. Just as in furnishings, designers are no longer sticking to one metal.
“There’s a mix of metals and all types of textures,” says DJ Carey, “and a big push to mix opposites — rough with smooth, high with low, shiny with flat and all metals. These combinations add more interest to the table. I love the trend of combining textures and finishes to give your table a sophisticated look — a great alternative to using color.”
Matte and glossy finishes come together to add interest, especially in neutral palettes — a look that’s on trend in Europe. Donna Karan’s collections for Lenox feature some of these looks.
Still, as sophisticated as we’ve become, there’s one small issue.
“Many people do not know how to set a proper table — they have never been taught,” says Carey. “Many families don’t sit down together, so how can we be surprised? Interior designers, event planners, caterers and tabletop shops are stepping in to educate the consumer.”
But Carey feels the push back to entertaining in the home bodes well — for the next generation. With more style and choices, some colorful and eye-catching tabletops are sure to blossom. Also, as tastes evolve, there’s an “aha” moment that you don’t have to be married to one style the rest of your life.
“Setting the table is about being creative,” says Carey. “It’s the ultimate gift you can give your guests.”
Even if the placement isn’t perfect.