Get inspired to reinvent your gatherings with tips from top designers and influencers in this exciting new series. Explore all these compelling design ideas below, and create collections that speak to your style.
“Just like a well-designed home should reflect the people who live in it,
the table needs to reflect that also.”
“Just like a well-designed home should reflect the people who live in it, the table needs to reflect that also.”
- Linda Zoffer
For this edition of our Designers & Influencers series, we spoke with Linda Zoffer, Lead Designer at del ZIO Designs Interiors.
Q: Do you style your table by mixing and matching patterns?
A: Of course! My approach to designing a table is the same as my approach to designing a room: one wants layers of colors, patterns, textures and shapes brought to life through lighting.
Q: If so, how do you choose the patterns you use to mix and match?
A: I start with the color and the shape. I then assess the combinations: do the colors or patterns relate to each other? Do they create harmony or dissonance? Are there different shapes and sizes that I can bring together to add interest? I have several “sets” of china, both casual and formal; some were wedding gifts, and others I’ve added through the years. Since all of the sets have different “personalities,” they don’t really work mixed together; I’ve added serving pieces, bowls, small plates, bowls and chargers from other patterns to mix with each of these basics - thanks, Replacements! If I want to use a complete matching set, I will sometimes use one set for the dinner courses and then use a different set for the dessert course while changing out the patterns for any crystal, flatware and napkins needed with that course.
Q: Tell me more, Linda. Talk to me about how you think about designing your table.
A: Just like a well-designed home should reflect the people who live in it, the table needs to reflect that also. The table should relate to the colors, style, and pattern of the room around it. There can be contrast but it should not be jarring or disconcerting. Mix old and new. The table should feel comfortable and welcoming in the room.
I think about the people who will delight in the meal and remember… the real star of any table is the food! The tablescape settings ought to showcase the food and contribute to the conversation and conviviality of the group enjoying the occasion. This brings me to the centerpiece, and any other items on the table. I like to mix real and faux flowers, and also objets d’art. Enormous arrangements on dining tables really only work well for display purposes or photos. People need to see each other, so that chatting at the table isn’t impeded by a visual block.
When I start to create a table, I always begin by considering the occasion and the menu. This influences the china, flatware, and crystal pieces I choose. Usually, I’ll add a charger to give the table setting a heightened sense of importance; this adds interest even if it’s a casual setting. In addition, just as in designing a room, I like to look for opportunities to mix shapes on the table, such as a round bowl with a square plate or a round plate with a square charger. Once the dinnerware is chosen, I coordinate the linens. After that, I plan the centerpiece, candles, placemats, and other decorative items on the table.
For tablecloths and napkins my preference is for natural fibers - they are pleasant to the touch and clean up beautifully, even though they do require ironing. My casual table linens can often be more patterned and colorful. In contrast, a traditional, formal table has a starched white tablecloth (with a white-on-white pattern), and napkins to act as a base to showcase the table settings. I adore antique linens and use them regularly.
Of course, even the most formal occasion can be made even more festive with some intrepid ideas in linens and decoration. This past New Year’s Eve I designed and used a starched, custom white cotton organza tablecloth with a pattern of brightly colored, embroidered polka dots and starched coordinating dotted napkins. I twisted each napkin into the stemmed water goblets and placed a live red rose in the center of each. This was all placed over a floor-length lamé table skirt. I used Lenox Weatherly china, simple silver-colored chargers, Romance of the Sea sterling silver flatware by Wallace and Waterford’s Ashleigh crystal. In the center was a tall slender Art Nouveau sterling silver vase filled with tall blue Murano glass twists and sticks of colorful paillettes, giving the whole thing the look of fireworks. The high candleholders were antique Georgian sterling silver, which I found at Replacements several years ago along with the vase. I then scattered sequins on the table. To all of this I added some Swarovski crystal pieces. It was a very formal table, but it still had a wonderful air of extra excitement! And, yes, I broke a couple of my own table “rules,” but what fun it was.
Consider an interesting option for a dining room table. While a beautiful piece of furniture is always a joy to behold, a lot of interest can be added if the table is covered with a floor length table skirt for some occasions. Also, if the dining table is not in great condition or not your taste anymore, a table skirt is a great way to add more of your personality to the room. I mentioned “layers” in my answer to your first question - the skirt adds another layer to the table setting. The skirt can be changed with the season or the occasion. When having it made, be sure to plan for a deep inverted pleat that opens easily at each chair so guests can slide their chairs in without effort.
Q: Share with us your thoughts about winter table designs after the December holidays and New Year’s Eve.
A:Traditionally, the winter months have been a time to celebrate and be together. The weather is colder, and there are more hours of darkness, so we spend much more time indoors. Coziness is a word that comes to mind, and thoughts go to a drink, a wonderful meal, and toasting family and friends.
In designing a table, it is important to look for reasons to celebrate. Design the table around a theme, just as if it were one of the big holidays. Is it a birthday, anniversary, reunion, pre- or post-ballet dinner, or just a fun get-together? There’s always a reason to bring people to the table.
Here are several overlooked occasions during the winter months which provide a great excuse for food and entertaining at a beautifully themed table:
The winter provides an ideal time to bring people together to celebrate home and hearth. Do things close to your heart; let the items for your table evolve over time. A beautifully thought-out tabletop and menu is a gift to ourselves and those around us.
“My philosophy is simple: use what you love!”
- Phyllis Hoffman DePiano
For this edition, we spoke with Phyllis Hoffman DePiano, CEO of Hoffman Media, which publishes Southern Lady, TeaTime, Victoria, and other notable magazines and books.
Q: Do you style your table by mixing and matching patterns?
A: Yes I love it! Mixing and matching is a way of bringing all your favorites to the table in many combinations! Many of us have dishes we have inherited or purchased through the years, and we love them all. So mixing and matching gives me the opportunity to use them all every holiday season.
Q: How do you choose the patterns you use to mix and match?
A: I have done this several ways. The easiest way is to serve each course on a different pattern; that always brings about great conversation. First I start with my dinner plate selection. Then if I have salad plates that have the same colors, I will use them. I have blue and white dishes that have a holiday theme, and I mix them with my “regular” blue and white china. I like to use plates with graduated sizes so they all show at one time!
My Christmas dishes are traditional reds and greens. I have solid red china that I use as a base, and I add my patterned dishes on top of that. I collected the Fitz and Floyd Holly Wreath when I was in college, and I still love it today; it mixes with solids and plaids nicely. Generally, if the colors match then mix away. I find having solid red glasses and odd bowls can really add to the fun.
Q: How you think about designing your table?
A: If your dinner is casual, then your linens can reflect that! I select my main plates first, and then I decide on my linens. From there the centerpiece can really pull everything together. Chargers add a nice look as well. For more formal dinners, gold is always good. The gold bands on plates work well with any gold charger. If you don’t have Christmas china, then purchasing holiday salad plates that match is good.
More casual settings lend themselves to simple dishes with holiday centerpieces. My philosophy is simple: use what you love! If you are the lucky recipient of family heirlooms, you can always update by adding holiday patterns that match. I have about five sets of holiday dishes and china. I start using them in November and I use one pattern until spring. Juliska’s Country Estate Winter Holiday scenes work perfectly for me through the winter months. My big bowl stays out year round - it just makes me happy.
I have always wanted to build a table around each place having a different place setting of china… in fact, I think I will do that this year!
“I feel the same way about dinnerware patterns as I do artwork: buy what you fall in love with. Striking an emotion is especially important when sharing a meal with family and friends.”
- Krissa Rossbund
For this edition, we spoke with Krissa Rossbund, Senior Style Editor of Traditional Home magazine.
A: I think the best tables are created when you give yourself permission for freedom, and that means mixing different patterns. Using the table as a runway, if you will, results in a "fashion show" that's as visually delicious and decadent as the food that will be served. As nice as it is to have dinnerware that is Christmas-specific, I prefer patterns that can be used throughout the year. The bottom line is: when I fall in love with a pattern, I want to use it often!
Q: How do you choose the patterns you use to mix and match?
A: There are some key patterns that I think work well during the holidays because of their versatile nature. Although it’s trendy to veer off the traditional red and green palette for Christmas, I still prefer a table that incorporates one of those colors - but never both. Emerald Vine by Mottadeheh has a delicate green and gold motif that reminds me of boxwood (the popular greenery used for holiday wreaths and topiaries). Also, this pattern mixes gorgeously with shimmery gold plates. Gold plates are extremely versatile, and can quickly make an appearance on your Valentine’s Day table - but definitely invest in more than just two! I like to buy gold chargers and smaller gold plates that can be used for salad or dessert to surprise your guests with a restaurant-like presentation. Plates like these are available every year, so buy and add to your entertaining arsenal next year if you need or want more.
Royal Crown Derby's Derby Panel is one of my absolute favorite patterns. Ever. In fact, for years I’ve been trying to figure out if I like red Derby Panel or green Derby Panel more, and I’ve had no luck picking a winner! A table using green Derby Panel makes for a “fresh” Christmas experience that begs for white flowers, Christmas greens, and silver candlesticks with white taper candles dancing down the table’s center. Red Derby Panel deserves a richer, deeper presentation. My answer to that? Mix it with black! That’s right. Red Derby Panel creates an unexpected Christmas table when paired with Black Aves, another one of Royal Crown Derby’s iconic patterns. Anchor that team with Mottahedeh's Black Lace service plate, and you're set. In this case, bunches of red flowers mix well together. Don’t be shy - go ahead and marry roses with peonies, and add some red berries for texture.
I have a couple of favorite white patterns as well. For casual entertaining, Vietri’s Encanto is sturdy and durable, and I love that the white is a true, bright white (whites vary so much on dinnerware). Plus, this collection offers a variety of coordinating patterns, which I also love. My favorite formal white pattern right now is Robert Haviland's Colette Gold. The scalloped edges are feminine, but not too sweet; it's super sophisticated. Last year, on a Christmas table that could double as a Hanukkah table, I mixed white patterns with vintage, pressed glass plates from Replacements! They were the prettiest shade of icy blue, and that blue-and-white table was wintery, festive, and beautiful.
And don’t forget that the holiday season gets a dazzling kick from metallics - having reflective, light-refracting materials makes people feel glamorous and special. Add both silver and gold accessories to create a table that’s not only suitable for the holidays, but can be used all winter... and even into the spring with the right styling (think Mother’s Day). Mom will be impressed!
Q: Talk to me a little more about your thought process when designing your table.
A: As someone who adores tablescapes and loves to entertain, I am always thinking about building my collection of tabletop and entertaining wares. Once you have a decent collection built, the fun is "shopping the collection" - like a fashionista who shops her closet every day. I feel the same way about dinnerware patterns as I do artwork: buy what you fall in love with. Striking an emotion is especially important when sharing a meal with family and friends.
“The care we take in our tabletop designs... is one of the
greatest gifts we can bestow on friends and family.”
“The care we take in our tabletop designs... is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on friends and family.”
- Kathryn Greeley
For this edition, we spoke with Kathryn Greeley, author of The Collected Tabletop and owner of Kathryn Greeley Designs.
A: My design philosophy for both interiors and tabletops has long included collections. A mix of collections for tabletop design can soften the hard edges of our busy lives and add beauty and quality to everyday dining as well as special occasions.
Mixing antique collections with contemporary tabletop pieces adds drama and a sense of the unexpected. The juxtaposition of the grand with the ordinary and humble, and the intermingling of a variety of colors, adds interest to tabletop design. Most all of my tabletop designs, especially for holiday designs, mix at least two to three china patterns, as well as two to three stemware patterns.
A: I choose patterns that I love, including new, old, traditional, and transitional, in colors that mix compatibly with the color palette of my home. I like a mix of patterns: floral patterns, plaids, design motifs, all often mixed with solid-color patterns. My goal for tabletop design is a pleasing mix of scale, color, pattern, and texture.
As an avid gardener and one who enjoys floral design, I select flowers and plants that complement but do not overwhelm the mix of tabletop patterns. Flowers and plants are always present in my mind when I add patterns to my tabletop designs! Collecting patterns that you love and bring you joy are key. When I look upon my tabletop designs, each element evokes memories and promotes traditions.
Q: Tell me more - talk to me about how you think about designing your table.
A: I always want to start with a beautifully designed table, whether it's a lovely antique or a new handcrafted design. To that I add a well-loved and cared-for tablecloth, and interesting placemats for creative chargers. The tablecloth may be one that I find in an antique or linen shop or one custom-made from a fabric selected in my design library.
From there I begin my mix of patterns, colors, and textures in china, stemware, and flatware. Again, I always consider both flowers and lighting when designing my tabletops. My preference of course is the mix of old and new. This process is really no different than the way I approach the design of a room or a home.
Many years ago, I purchased my first Christmas china pattern - Holly Ribbons by Royal Worcester. Rather than getting every single piece in this pattern, I decided to start another pattern that had a different feel, but would be compatible with Holly Ribbons. This pattern was Spode’s Christmas Rose. I liked the mix of the bright “crispness” of Holly Ribbons with the more subtle layering of design in Christmas Rose. Through the years, several stemware patterns such as Thistle (that I of course found at Replacements!) have "spoken to me." I have added several stemware patterns to my holiday table designs, along with my beloved Buttercup by Gorham and several others I inherited from my mother.
When I began working on The Collected Tabletop, I commissioned Kenny Pieper to make twelve unique martini glasses for an event in the book. I have had numerous clients interested in buying these exquisite pieces, but I finally decided that I must keep them and add them to my holiday tabletop designs! They are not used for martini glasses, but for different appetizers, such as shrimp or lobster cocktail, or for a sorbet between courses.
By adhering to a color palette for your tabletop design, you are able to add collections as you find them. Recently I added yet another pattern to my holiday table from Replacements - Tartan from Royal Doulton. I particularly liked the way it layered with my existing patterns. I think that tabletop designs evolve much like rooms evolve; we find things that speak to who we are, our personal style, and how we live. The care we take in our tabletop designs - and entertaining at these tables - is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on friends and family!
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