Sunday, May 30, 2010

Friday on Sunday...

I look forward to Fridays for many reasons. One in particular is that one of my favorite webpages, New York Social Diary, has a "House" section on its site where they send out a photographer (Jeff Hirsch) and reporter (Sian Ballen) to profile designers and artists in their natural habitats, their homes. Of course, every other day it's great as well, as I find David Patrick Columbia's reflections on Gotham very entertaining. For those of us out in the provinces, there's more to NYC than the Housewives. The interviews are always fascinating, and the photographs are the very personal impressions of the photographer. This past week, the subject was the artist John Woodrow Kelley, and his home in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. While reading the interview and scrolling through the photos, I came across a shot of the kitchen seating area. There in all its glory is a charming bistro table and four mismatched chairs. I thought to myself: this is sublime... even if the extent of service would be a cup of coffee, this was such an inviting space. It got me thinking about what it means to commune around the table. This relatively simple gesture is one of the most ancient customs in which we as a species engage. It feeds our bodies, minds, spirits and time spent at table fortifies us for what may lie ahead. It isn't a real stretch to also think about the Friday night Shabbat dinner, or the ritual of the Mass and the setting of THAT table and the breaking of bread and sharing of wine together as a community. You don't have to be religious to appreciate the similarities. While I appreciate the grand and elegant and everything that goes with that, I understand that the same effect can be had in more simple settings, as well. I can remember one Christmas Eve, my partner Ken and I were at Midnight Mass at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and the former Dean of the cathedral, Alan Jones , said very simply "There is bread and there is wine. There is plenty for everyone. And all are invited." This has stayed with me for many years, and sums up what I strive to be about. Glitz is glamorous, but if that's all you have, then something is missing.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Yeah, but what about everyday..." Part deux

Can't let you NOT see the cup and saucer... after all this is what got me on this kick in the first place. I have to say they are perfect for serving Mexican hot chocolate for dessert during fall and winter...

"Yeah, but what about everyday?"

Well, maybe not EVERYDAY, but midweek perhaps, when you have a more informal gathering, and getting out ALL the good stuff would just about kill you- what do you do then? It has taken awhile, and I have, in the process, collected several sets of dishes (stay tuned, they will have their debut, too!), but my latest and greatest find is vintage Dansk Flamestone from the 60's designed by the great Jens Quistgaard (IHQ). Its beautiful matte brown glaze on the outside combined with the fluted rim and crisp, glossy white center is classic, and has the feel of something handmade. They say "company" with a small 'c', not the capital 'C' like formal china. My set is currently comprised if 8 large dinner plates, 8 salad/luncheon plates, and 7 cups and saucers all acquired on ebay in fits and starts. Collecting this way does take patience, but you may actually get lucky and find a "lot" of what you're looking for. If you are intent on the vintage, know that this is being made again by Dansk in Thailand, not Denmark, where the originals were made. Also, there is a smooth version as well as the fluted, so keep your eyes open!

The Tiffany glasses are back for a return engagement, as is the Tuttle flatware (sterling flatware actually STAYS polished the more you use it, so USE IT, but beware the dishwasher, unless you have a steam cycle!). The water glass is another find collected in small doses. It's Simon Pearce's classic hand blown beaker- beautiful, and more on him later, too! The napkins for this go-round were bought for us by friends in France and made by a Basque company, Euskal-Linge . We have several different colors, and no, they don't always get an ironing before using. If you take them out of the wash and give them a good snap and lay them flat to air dry, they look pretty darn good, and will do in pinch. I have to say, I do like a simple fold, and these days stripes for me are going horizontal. The mat is the classic Nito woven mat from Williams-Sonoma . These are the work horse of place mats, and never need ironing. So, high/low, vintage/new. Company's coming, don't panic!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Christmas in May

At rest, and play...
So here it is, for all the world to see, the table chairs and sideboard spoken about in my first post! The first picture is the dining room and tabletop at rest, without the beautiful Laurentian mirror designed by Los Angeles architects Jim Favaro and Steve Johnson. The second is the room at its Christmas Eve best, with the Laurentian mirror- what a difference a mirror makes! I've translated the classic 1964 table scape to suit me and my home today. The wreaths (on their 45th Christmas table) are sharing center stage with an arrangement of crisp, white carnations (done in the waste pot of my grandmother's silver tea service). The chocolate brown Sferra hemstitch linen cloth (at Nieman Marcus and a great value!) has replaced the rose colored one of my mother's, and the sterling flatware (Tuttle's Lamerie) is what my partner and I picked out for ourselves (the Gorham English Gadroon my sister is keeping for my niece). Christmas (ANY holiday, for that matter!) is the perfect time for recharging the energy inherent in family treasures. With the addition of each object, I can feel the room's whole energy hum with greater and greater vibration. I'm very pleased with the new additions (the Baccarat Don Perignon champagne flutes, Tiffany's crystal all purpose wine glasses- another tremendous value at $15 a pop!) that enhance the old: the 60 year old Tree of Life dishes and water goblets from my parents, their silver water pitcher, and of course the table, chairs and sideboard of my youth. And I think my mother is pleased as well...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Let's Get This Party Started!

Well, that was easy... now what?! I guess some background would be in order, and how fitting that this is written on Mother's Day, because my mother is a main character in my story. Like many people in this relatively new millennium, this blog started with the conversation, "So, what do you really want to do?".

So, what do I really want to do? I really want to provide a resource for those who, like me, wish to hold on to the last vestige of civilization: the formal dinning room. (But of course, dining tables and other tabletops are in every room of the house, so naturally I don't want to limit myself!) For this is the room where life events are toasted, where holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries are celebrated, and where family and friends can gather and share in the most primal and nurturing of rituals: the meal.

Where did this odd fetish for dining rooms and tables come from? From my childhood. There is a very early photograph of the dining room in the house I grew up in in Palos Verdes, Estates, California taken by my mother who was obviously (and rightly, I might add!) proud of the coming together of a table scape for Christmas, circa 1964. My family dining table ( a modern, teak surfboard of a table designed by Finn Juhl for Baker Furniture) was covered in a perfect shade of rose linen cloth, very plain, and set with my parents "good dishes" they selected as their wedding china (Theo. Haviland "Cambridge" in green and white, but we've always known it as "Tree of Life"). The water goblets were also from their wedding, as was the silver flatware (Gorham's English Gadroon. For some of you, I don't need to say that they were married in 1951. This was "THE" china and silver of their generation.) The napkins were "good plain white" family linen that my mother received from her aunt. As the centerpiece, there were two wreaths of nuts, pods, and pine cones collected by aunt from the hills near her San Francisco peninsula home and then crafted into these wreaths which were to hang on the front doors. But my mom, knowing better, placed these center stage with moss green beeswax pillar candles and clear glass hurricanes in their centers. So, in that photograph, the table is set and pristine, the walls of neutral grass cloth creating a rich texture for a room that, on such a celebration, could easily have veered off into any number of cliches from that era. As a matter of fact, I look at that room in that photograph today and it looks as fresh today as it was almost 50 years ago.

So, now that dining table is in MY dining room as is the set of chairs and sideboard that made up that perfect room (all Baker Furniture, but from different sets, not too "matchy matchy"). And in that sideboard, are the "Tree of Life" dishes that my mother (and I!) so loved. I also have the water goblets, and the "good plain white" family linen napkins, but that rose linen cloth has seen better days. An unfortunate spill of bleach and some other fading have rendered it a "memory", though I do still have that, too. And speaking of the wreaths, I have those, as well, and while the moss green has evolved into natural colored beeswax, they, every Christmas, find their way onto my holiday table.