Last week I had dinner with Deb Tallent, a good friend and interior designer who I worked with at William Hamilton and Associates. She told me about a client that she recently helped with a problem. And she realized it really is a problem: What should you do with the table when you’re not eating, dining or entertaining? Everyone thinks about how to decorate their table for “company coming” but they tend to overlook the daily décor. The dining room is often a focal point in the house, and it should look beautiful for the people who live there, not just for the people who visit.
Here is how our conservation went:
M: We all know a dozen ways to set the table for company, but what about day-to-day when you are trying to keep your table looking fresh, fun, and not staged?
D: Although I am a traditionalist at heart and love fresh flowers in a beautiful cachepot (blue and white is my favorite) with a pair of silver Georgian candlesticks, I say, "mix it up" and be creative. There’s no rule that says something has to sit underneath the chandelier with a candlestick on either side.
A collection of glass candlesticks or long-necked bud vases is always beautiful arranged in between other objects going down the table. I also tell my clients to pull out whimsical pieces that may be hidden behind cabinet doors — ceramic birds, cabbages, marble fruits, rabbits, whatever they have. It shows their personality.
M: You are right, I like those kinds of things, too — but I don’t like the same stuff all the time. What else can we tell clients to do?
D: What about groupings of complimentary items from a collection? For a clean and modern look, I love a scattering of white or cream-colored ceramics of varied shapes and sizes. For antiques lovers, tole urns are a great choice. You can also use several hurricanes instead of candlesticks, or wire baskets filled with only moss. Interesting pieces of colorful pottery would be great as well, mixed with iron candlesticks. For clients who like contemporary, I suggest metal pieces such as copper or pewter.
M: How about setting the table even when you’re not preparing for a dinner party? I think I might use serving pieces such as the platters or the soup tureen, but never would I keep the table “set” all the time? Would you?
D: I am not a fan of keeping the table set day-to-day, but use the serving pieces by all means. If you’re going down that path, I think you should be selective. A beautiful soup tureen with a matching tray or beautiful silver or china bowls would be lovely. Just don’t overdo it.
M: I almost think the trick to decorating your dining table is to stop thinking about it as a dining table. It’s the biggest uninterrupted horizontal space in your house, and that makes it a perfect stage for whatever you are feeling at the time. It’s the perfect place to think about the season and the time of yearand not have to worry about people being able to see over the flowers.
D: I love a tall center floral arrangement in the center of a dining table if no one is sitting around it. But most of the items I’ve mentioned, from hurricanes and candlesticks to low bowls, can work for everyday décor and for dinner — as long as you keep them scaled to the proportions of your table. If you do use a large dried flower arrangement for everyday just be sure you switch it out for low fresh flowers for the party.
M: Give me your best thought on out-of-the ordinary ideas?
D: If you have a sunny dining room, potted plants are perfect. They require much less maintenance and give color and beauty. Seasonal decorations are fun, especially if you have younger children or grandchildren, but I would caution to not get too carried away. Tablecloths are classic good design and never go out of style, but that comes down to personal preference. I love stacks of books and they are probably my favorite accessory. I have seen dining rooms that double as a library and I love that look.
Temporary tabletop decoration may not be everyone’s idea of great dinner conversation, but Deb and I love to talk “shop” when we get together, and it is always great to get a second opinion. I’ll let you know what we talk about the next time we get together.
What’s on your table when it’s not surrounded by dinner guests? Tell us in comments!