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- Linda Zoffer

Q&A with 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:

  • Three Kings: In several European countries and Eastern Rite Christian faiths, January 6th (sometimes the 7th), is the day for gift-giving in celebration of the day the three Wise Men brought gifts to the infant Jesus. It demarks the end of the holiday season and the start of winter celebrations. In centuries past, it was often a time for bonfires, huge indoor celebrations, and balls. A dinner based around this festivity definitely needs a crown as the basis for the center of the table. If you can go “all out,” Versace-designed Christmas Plates by Rosenthal make a dramatic setting with their dazzling motifs, paired with Arte Italica Vetro Gold crystal bowls, cups, and plates. Add Grande Baroque sterling flatware by Wallace, and Waterford’s Clarendon Cobalt crystal stemware. Starched white linens provide the backdrop for this table fit for a King!
  • Super Bowl Sunday: While the event famous for chips, dip, and pizza may seem obvious to sports fans, think about presenting the food in a different way. Set up a buffet on a table that's designed around the teams’ colors and logos, and serve a variety of fare, including some foods which the guests won’t expect. Use casual china, such as Vietri’s Cucina Fresca (the smaller plates work best), and glasses. I've found guests to be appreciative of the extra thought that went into it all.
  • Valentine’s Day: We generally associate this day with romantic love, but a well-dressed table can bring together family and friends. It’s also a day to show our love for them, and to remind them of how important they are in our lives. Hearts, flowers, and chocolates can carry the theme here. It’s not really necessary to have a dinner exactly on Valentine’s Day, so plan a dinner for either the weekend before or after the actual date.
  • Carnavale: Originally conceived in Venice, Italy, Carnavale (or Carnival as many call it), is a feast immediately preceding the austerity of Lent. For centuries, it’s been a wonderful reason for parties, dances, huge celebrations, parading, and what is generally referred to as “merry-making.” For the table, think over-the-top festive –anything with gold works.

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.