De­signer shares un­usual ideas on set­ting a pretty ta­ble

The Sacramento Bee - - Home & Garden - Wash­ing­ton Post

Sandy Chilewich, a New York-based de­signer known for her iconic place­mats, first be­came fas­ci­nated with tex­tiles when she co­founded hois­ery com­pany Hue in 1978. To­day, her Chilewich range con­tin­ues to evolve into new prod­ucts and sev­eral of her de­signs are in the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of the Cooper He­witt, Smith­so­nian De­sign Mu­seum. Chilewich joined staff writer Jura Kon­cius last week on the Wash­ing­ton Post’s Home Front on­line chat. Here is an edited ex­cerpt. Q: What are the ba­sic com­po­nents of a prop­erly set ta­ble?

A: One com­po­nent I’d sug­gest you re­think is the typ­i­cal flo­ral ar­range­ment at the cen­ter of the ta­ble. Fruits or nuts or flow­ers can work as the purely dec­o­ra­tive part of your ta­ble set­ting. It’s more beau­ti­ful and a lot less ex­pen­sive to break up your flow­ers and put them in small ves­sels around your ta­ble. Dur­ing the hol­i­days, a beau­ti­ful con­tainer with a com­po­si­tion of fruit (whether fresh or dried) and nuts can eas­ily take the place of flow­ers. Q: How does one think about mix­ing and match­ing without ev­ery­thing look­ing clut­tered?

A: You can be co­he­sive with tonal color com­bi­na­tions. Shades of blue, for ex­am­ple. You can be co­he­sive in bring­ing out the color of your plates by adding a vase with flow­ers in that same color some­where on your ta­ble.

Set­ting your ta­ble is an op­por­tu­nity to be creative and ex­per­i­men­tal. There are some peo­ple that are matchy-matchy in the way that they dress, but most peo­ple to­day are much more ex­per­i­men­tal. I think we need to treat things on the ta­ble more like you would an ac­ces­sory (such as a scarf or a neck­lace) when you’re get­ting dressed. Think of it as a per­sonal choice, rather than wor­ry­ing about “rules” to fol­low. Q: Do you think cloth nap­kins are nec­es­sary for en­ter­tain­ing? Are table­cloths more ap­pro­pri­ate for hol­i­day meals if you are us­ing fine china ver­sus a Chilewich ta­ble run­ner?

A: Table­cloths used to de­fine “fine din­ing,” and this is a con­cept that I thought was ripe for shak­ing up. I don’t think they are nec­es­sary for en­ter­tain­ing.

As for cloth nap­kins, I like them and use them all the time, of­ten with nap­kin rings. Q: What does the ta­ble set­ting in your home typ­i­cally look like? Do you have a go-to set or do you mix-and-match?

A: I look at the ta­ble as a can­vas and a foun­da­tion for ev­ery­thing that goes on top, so the tex­tiles that I use are very im­por­tant, and I’m con­stantly chang­ing them.

For me, it’s about sur­pris­ing peo­ple. It can be any­thing, from a col­lec­tion of per­fume bot­tles to con­tain­ers around the house. Also, don’t ever just use salt and pep­per shak­ers. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to put condi­ments in un­con­ven­tional re­cep­ta­cles. Any op­por­tu­nity to mix tex­tures and col­ors and ma­te­ri­als is an op­por­tu­nity to de­light and sur­prise. Q: I fa­vor a mod­ern aes­thetic, and my only place set­tings are white square plates. How can I keep the mod­ern look but also have a fes­tive and invit­ing ta­ble for Thanks­giv­ing?

A: A sim­ple white square is a great start­ing point. For ex­am­ple, if you like the ge­om­e­try of your plates, you can counter that and bring out the beauty of that square by putting it with small round or rect­an­gu­lar con­tain­ers. Play off the shape you’re us­ing. Don’t let it con­strain you - think of ways to en­hance and com­ple­ment it. Q: I am con­sid­er­ing sup­ple­ment­ing my din­ing ta­ble with a plas­tic fold­ing ta­ble to ac­com­mo­date guests at Thanks­giv­ing. Any tips for dress­ing it up and pulling the ta­bles to­gether visu­ally?

A: table­cloths to make the foun­da­tion more uni­form – for ex­am­ple, a tra­di­tional white table­cloth on both sur­faces, and then on top of that, you could be ex­per­i­men­tal, lay­er­ing place­mats and ta­ble run­ners. Q: I want to use dif­fer­ent col­ored place­mats on my ta­ble, but I’m not sure how I could com­bine them.

A: Tonal com­bi­na­tions are al­ways a good way to go. Or neu­trals com­bined with any color al­ways work, as long as the neu­tral is pre­dom­i­nant.

I also love cre­at­ing di­men­sion on your ta­ble. Try over­lap­ping dif­fer­ent sizes and shapes, or place­mats and run­ners. Q: What is the most memorable or your fa­vorite ta­ble set­ting you have de­signed?

A: I set a ta­ble for my hus­band’s 60th birth­day party. It was in the pri­vate room of a restau­rant, so there were real lim­i­ta­tions. All I had to work with was one gi­ant ta­ble with tons of white table­cloths lay­ered over it.

I brought things in from home, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of can­de­labras and our Dahlia place­mats (these are lace-like, and the open sur­face looks great on a white table­cloth). I also put flow­ers around the ta­ble in tiny ves­sels. (I al­ways go to places where I can pick in­di­vid­ual stems and make my own strangely pretty com­bi­na­tions. You end up spend­ing so much less money, and you have some­thing that’s truly unique) I put more flow­ers on dec­o­ra­tive plates, with just a touch of wa­ter, and placed them around the ta­ble. It was a very spe­cial night.

ME­GAN SE­NIOR Wash­ing­ton Post

Sandy Chilewich is the founder and creative direc­tor of Chilewich.

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