Tuesday, July 12, 2011

It's in the details

The devil is in the details, but these are the things that help make Paris so interesting. All you need to do is look up! Now, if I can only find a way to get this dolphin downspout off the Hotel Lausun, a 1657 hotel particulier on the Isle St. Louis, and into my carryon...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Table for two...

One of the things we love most about renting an apartment in Paris is being able to enjoy a "home" experience away from home. Though we only have a two-burner cooktop, it's perfect for steaming an artichoke. A good quality wine can be had for about the price of soda and you can find them at wine shops and super marches alike. All-in-all, the perfect paring!

That, followed by a fresh salad with a quick and easy vinaigrette, thank you Ina, (yes, with a raw yolk! And if you've never tried it, you owe it to yourself to do so! Just make sure your eggs are as fresh as you can get them!) and a gooey piece of chevre and a baguette makes for a wonderful supper for 2 for about 10 euros! 

Sunday, July 10, 2011


It's all true- a shopper's paradise! The Paris Flea Market is really an amalgam of many different markets and groups of dealers. Of all the markets, though, Marche Paul Bert is tops and with that does come top prices, too. Bargains are few and far between, but a treasure hunt is half the fun! I've found a source for beautiful sets of Christofle 19th and early 20th century flatware in their fitted cases- what a find!

Paris is a dog's city! They are welcomed everywhere. I loved watching this companion eagerly following it's owner in and out of the stalls!

The dealers are a tribe unto themselves, and come lunchtime, they sit together for a hot meal. Several of the cafes nearby prepare dishes, like the cassoulet in the clay dish, for the dealers so they don't have to leave their stalls. The ritual of the meal is truly an integral part of the culture! While circling around after lunch, these same dealers were engrossed in a very heated game of bridge at the same table. Working hard and playing hard!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

French Fast Food

After shopping the President Wilson market, we quickly ripped apart a baguette, tore a poor defenseless, very ripe camembert into pieces and added some ridiculously delicious smoked ham- an impromptu tabletop experience on the steps of the Palais de Chaillot. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Table Talk: Lap Dance

Everyone knows that when you sit down at the table, the napkin goes on the lap, but then what? And what about if you are at someone's house, do you wait to place your napkin, or do it right away? No one wants to feel like a rube at the table, so here is the "Napkin 411" (wake the children!!) :

In a restaurant:
As soon as you are seated, remove the napkin from your place setting, unfold it, and put it in your lap. Do not shake it open. At some very formal restaurants, the waiter may do this for the diners, but it is not inappropriate to place your own napkin in your lap, even when this is the case.
The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal. Don't clean the cutlery or wipe your face with the napkin. NEVER use it to wipe your nose!
If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold the napkin and place it to the left of your plate (placing it on the right side wouldn't be wrong, but for the sake of consistency, use teh left!). Do not refold your napkin or wad it up on the table either. Never place your napkin on your chair.

At the end of the meal, leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. It should not be crumpled or twisted; nor should it be folded. The napkin must also not be left on the chair (what is it about the chair?!).

At a private dinner party:
The meal begins when the host or hostess unfolds his or her napkin. This is your signal to do the same. Place your napkin on your lap, completely unfolded if it is a small luncheon napkin or in half, lengthwise, if it is a large dinner napkin. Do not shake it open.

The napkin rests on the lap till the end of the meal. 

The host will signal the end of the meal by placing his or her napkin on the table. Once the meal is over, you too should place your napkin neatly on the table to the left of your dinner plate. (Do not refold your napkin, but don't wad it up, either.) 

So, while this may not be the lap dance you had in mind, now you know everything there is to know about the use of napkins at the table- happy eating!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It takes a village...

Kudos to the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, and J. Wesley Tann for doing the right thing! The mayor and Mr. Tan have teamed together to sponsor and teach the basics of dining and social etiquette to the citizens of this "hard-scrapple" city. The story has been repeated on many online sites, and I couldn't think of a better, more uplifting message.

For Mr. Tann, "Good living is easy. All it just takes is practice." And he should know. Mr. Tann, 83,  was one of the first black fashion designers to open a shop on New York City's Fashion Avenue, and he designed clothing for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Leontyne Price, the famed black opera singer.

Tann's students include mothers, fathers and children all taking part in a city-sponsored program that Mayor Cory A. Booker hopes will take politeness and manners from "abstract concepts" to daily essentials. The city hopes that by improving the niceties shared among Newark's residents the quality of their lives and their futures will be markedly improved -- one fine meal and one properly executed place setting at a time.

The class will heighten awareness and appreciation of basic manners and dining skills in daily life by teaching handshakes, public behavior, and basic telephone skills. Students will be served a three-course meal prepared by award-winning Chef LeRoy Baldwin and served by wait staff to simulate dining in an up-scale restaurant complete with a formal table setting: tablecloths, china, flatware, and glassware. The students will learn table-setting, use of utensils, use of a napkin, European and American dining styles, dining posture, and appearance. 

Catherine J. Lenix-Hooker, manager of the city's department of recreation and cultural affairs, said that this program is important "so that they (the participants) are able to have the kinds of social skills that make them very productive and at ease in different kinds of social situations."

Youth from Newark often bear the heavy burden of being poor or working class, she said, or the bad reputation that can hang over even this city's most promising young people. Thus the importance of "learning the language of the silver."

"Our youth need to know how to conduct themselves in a public setting -- some of the dos and don'ts," Lenix-Hooker said. "If everything else is equal, it will help them break through these barriers."

All it takes is a resource and you, too, can teach yourself and/or your children the basics. A great website for just that is whatscookingamerica.net's Menu and Dining Etiquette Guide. It's a quick reference to double-check some of the finer points of eating at the table. But there are tons of these, just do a little searching. All it takes is a willingness to step in and expect more from yourself and your children around the table. 

One piece of advice: Don't correct out at a restaurant or any other public place. Save this for the safe environment of the home. You can always talk about whatever happened later, and it preserves the sometimes fragile dignity of young people. 

Manners, politeness, and niceties should never be a weapon used to make people feel superior to others. They are merely a way to honor those around you. Pay it forward. It will come back to ten-fold. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All in a day's work

11 arrangements, 4 hours, 1 tired back. Floral props for product shots and photographs for the new webpage in development. Keep a look out!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tabletop and the Single Guy

A single guy looking to entertain... Sure, he knows how to have his buddies over and watch TV, and no one is expecting the annual Super Bowl party to turn into high tea at Buckingham Palace, but sometimes he may want a bit more. Maybe for someone special, or maybe because he's just tired of beer and delivered pizzas whenever his friends come over.

I've had several friends ask about what the single guy is supposed to do. They want to have their friends over and entertain at home, and they'd like it to be a bit more than a college keg party. But they also don't want it to be fussy. They've checked online and that's what they've found: fussy.  Dinner party do's and don'ts from party planners supposedly aiming at these guys with menu planning and three day prep-schedules. But this isn't realistic, and it would probably be a bit of a disaster if undertaken.

If cooking isn't your thing, than try cocktails. Having people over after work for some drinks is a great way to entertain. It's casual, there are no great food expectations, and the rules are pretty open-ended.  There are tons of resources online for mixing drinks, but the best (and most fun) thing to do is to hang out at the best bar in town and watch. Bars can get pretty busy, but sit at the bar. A good mixologist usually is happy to talk cocktails with their customers. Ask questions, watch and learn. Not that you want to become a bartender, but it will help you understand how to mix a drink. If you end up finding a cocktail that you really like, zero in on that and watch how they make it. For a great time with friends, all you need is one really good mixed drink to serve, and it might as well be one that you like!

Now, some tips:

1. The one thing that I have learned is top-shelf liquor really does make a difference. Use what the bar uses in the drink you want to serve- after all copying is the sincerest form of flattery. Sometimes, there is more than one ingredient with alcohol, and yes they are equally important. You may not think it matters about Cointreau or St. Germain (liqueurs that are trending now in many drinks), but it does. The subtle flavors in the drink that you like didn't come from a generic bottles of hooch.

2. Anther key is fresh juices as mixers and the proper garnish, whether herb, fruit, or both. You can perfect a great margarita, but if you use a bottled sweet-and-sour mix, you're going to kill that expensive tequila. That is one thing that you can do a few nights before- buy a bag of produce and juice it. If you don't have an electric juicer, you can always get a wooden reamer or just use a fork. Room temperature fruit juices better than cold fruit, and you'll want to roll the fruit with your palm on the counter to start releasing the juices before cutting it in half (remember, you'll also want to strain off the pulp). Keep a couple of clean glass bottles around to store the juice in in the refrigerator. If the bartender you've been watching slaps a sprig of mint for your favorite drink in his hand before putting it in your glass, it is to release the oils that hit your nose first, and then flavors your drink. If it's in the drink you're serving, have a bunch of the herb in a glass with water ready to go.

3. And speaking of sweet: simple syrup is probably the easiest thing to make yourself, and it's key ingredient in a lot of cocktails. Google how to do it. Of course, you can always buy it in the liquor section of some markets, but ounce for ounce, it is more expensive than the gas you put in your car, and after all, it's just sugar and water. If you have a plastic squirt bottle, it keeps it handy in the fridge.

4. If the cocktail you love can be made in advance, make it in a quantity. I tend to favor this. If there is something that may go flat in the drink, like a mixer, I'll leave that out and have it handy for people top-off their own.  Of course it is hospitable to hand a guest at least their first drink and then let them loose on their own. I use a large glass covered jar I found at Target which was meant for storing flour, but with a ladle, it makes an inexpensive punch bowl. It holds a lot more than a pitcher or cocktail shaker, and only cost me about $8.00! Or, you could set up a serve-yourself bar with all the ingredients handy and a large card telling how to make the drink. There is something cool about the interactive aspect of this. And what can happen is guests start experimenting with the ingredients and making new discoveries. They key is having it all laid out. Either the jar/punchbowl or bottles with the mixer(s) and garnish(es) in bowls or cups, glasses, and a quantity of ice handy nearby (a cooler works if you don't have an ice bucket, but if you don't have an ice bucket- go to the hardware store and buy a galvanized pail. Clean it out and tie a bar towel around it. These also make great, inexpensive wine coolers, too! Or clean out your sink and use that!). I also have a small scoop, but you can use a small cup, as well, for scooping the ice- and if you have something handy, people will use it.

5. If you can, use real glassware- this doesn't have to be expensive, but it can separate the men from the boys... If there is a crowd and you'll never need 50 glasses again, they are easy and inexpensive to rent. Also, along with glasses, have small paper cocktail napkins. They are at every market, and again, will help raise the bar for you. If color or pattern choices are overwhelming, choose white- you'll never be wrong!

For food, all you need are some bowls of nuts- think what they had at the bar you were at. Some bowls of good chips also work, and there are a ton of interesting chips on market! But remember, you're not feeding the masses! This should be the easiest part of the gathering for you, so don't sweat this. Try doing this with some friends before you head out to dinner or the movies. Frequent test runs will help you with your game.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Effortless Elegance

Come on, with a magazine cover with title like that? If I can be elegant with little or no effort, I'm in! Well, that's the job of magazine editors- to persuade you to buy their magazines. And that is what Dara Caponigro, Editor-in-Chief of Veranda did. Don't get me wrong, the May/June issue is great, but there is a heck of a lot of effort happening on these pages. The cover photograph is beautifully styled- the hot pink geraniums tucked in a green pagoda centerpiece matching the color of the font in an otherwise colorless room is pretty great! But when you read the editorial (yes, I read the articles!) you learn that the 19th century house was sawn down the middle and moved about 65 miles to its present location in Georgia. Effortless? I think not. So I looked very closely at what may be the effortless take-aways, and was surprised at what I found. As my focus is the table, they are mostly regarding the table with some extras thrown in for good measure!

1. Branches. You can't open a shelter magazine without seeing them. They can provide sculpture and architectural interest to any room. Now the owner of the home on the cover, Furlow Gatewood, is part of John Rosselli's team and helps supply the New York "design baron" with antiques scouted from every local show in the South. And as such, he uses great antique blue and white Chinese vessels for his branches, but a simple cylinder can have an equally elegant look- or try hunting for large chemistry flasks on line. These can add even a bit more interest than a plain cylinder. Flowering, or not, branches can bring life into a room and keep your trees outside looking neat and trim, too.

2.Fruit bowls. Or should I say, giant clam shell as fruit bowl? It may take some effort to locate, especially if you're looking for a faux shell, and they aren't cheap, but once you have one, all it takes is a trip to the market and a bunch of bananas and grapes and there you go! Gatewood has his on a fabric draped table surrounded by old wicker chairs, but even without this flourish, these vessels can up the ante of "fruit bowl". In a different editorial, the fruit bowl returns in a more sophisticated way. This time it is a large porcelain bowl, but the material of the bowl is secondary to the fact that whoever filled it left some of the stems and leaves on the fruit! That simple touch of green makes the whole thing pop! Even if the lemons or oranges didn't come from your tree, tuck a few stems of leaves from one of your own trees (preferably some that "look" like they could be from the tree that grew the fruit) in your bowl along with your fruit. It will instantly elevate the statement.

3. And speaking of fruit... India Hicks, the daughter of legendary interior designer David Hicks, and one of Diana, Princess of Wales' bridesmaids, in a spread about her family home in the Bahamas, places whole pineapples on porcelain plates, crowns up,  down her table. Add some candlelight, and you have a very elegant, effortless table setting!

4. A single hydrangea stem in a narrow bud vase. I talked about these, before... I love them, but they can be tricky especially in dry climates (um yeah, "hydra"refers to water!). But they can also look beautiful, even one bloom at a time. Of course, in the editorial, these come from Gatewood's allee of hydrangeas in great terra-cotta pots that line the drive to his house, but if you don't have access to home-grown flowers, they can easily be picked up single stems at the grocery store. It may take a few times to get the height of the stem just right, which is a bit of effort, I know. Just try not to go higher than twice the height of the vase, or it gets a bit tippy. Oh, and leave a few leaves on near the neck of the vase, too! The stem in vase looks great on a chest of drawers, side table, or bed side table.

5. More stems are more. In another editorial, on a dining table is a grouping of small cups and vases filled with a few stems of garden flowers. These are then corralled on a silver tray. Presto! A centerpiece that didn't take great effort to pull off! Of course, you need the collection of vases or cups and if you don't have a silver tray, a lacquered tray or box would do the trick. Again, once you have the equipment, all it takes is a trip to the market and a few bunches of flowers that you deconstruct and place in the smaller containers and then group on a tray and you're done!

It may take a closer look, but there are tips to be had everywhere!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Deep breath...

I try not to be surprised anymore by what I see, especially on television, but something has been stuck in my craw for awhile now, and I simply have to get it off my chest. It involves The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills- yes, those wack-a-doo creatures who collectively represent the 90210 (although I DO have a little thing for Lisa VanderPump, who is fabulous!).

I know, I know- just don't watch, but like the proverbial train wreck, I just have to look. I was in the middle of one of my slack-jaw marathons, and all of a sudden, Adrienne Maloof (and by the way, what IS she selling on her website?) is being maternal- out of the blue! She is busy making a PBJ for one of her children while bickering with her husband (I love the multi-tasking of these ladies!). Clearly, she isn't too versed in the "how to" of this process, but at least she IS doing it herself. After destroying the poor bread (yes, people actually still buy WonderBread!?) slathering on the sweetened, processed peanut butter (and apparently, people are still buying this, too!) and hacking it in half, she tosses it on a paper plate... A PAPER PLATE! Now, when I was a kid, paper plates meant picnics at the beach, but Adrienne and her husband weren't at the beach, they were in their kitchen in the midst of their 12,000+ square foot home on a perch high in the hills of Beverly Park- the uber-exclusive community of of uber-large mansions.

Now, I get lots of things, and convenience and practicality are two of them, but really. What is the message being sent via the vehicle for this sandwich? That it's not really worth being on a plate? That the person receiving the sandwich isn't worth using a plate? That they might not be responsible using "breakable things"? Even if this sandwich were to be eaten outside, there are many other choices that could have been made- and not because she has the resources to make a different choice, because I honestly believe it has nothing to do with the cost of what goes on the table.

Buy some plates- plain glass from an import store, some old stoneware from a consignment shop- heck even plastic has come a long way- but it shows that you are going to be around for a minute, as my mom would say, "stay awhile!" It also shows that whoever you are serving is worth using something that won't be thrown away. If it's about washing, then teach your kids how to load a dishwasher or wash a dish by hand- it's actually good for them.

So, here's to "The Real Plates of Every Home in Every City"- and our landfills say, "Thank you!"

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spring has sprung!

It's a quick, but beautiful season here- marked by the heady scent of white citrus blossoms. Trees and lawns are re-greening, but it is all the fruit trees blooming that grabs your attention! How perfect that the first shipment from France arrives! These linens are spectacular- master fabric from the great European linen houses combined with true artistry in the embroidery. In this pattern is a full complement of pieces: place mats, cocktail napkins, dinner napkins, runners, and of course, table cloths in various sizes. also available are custom sizes for those hard to fit tables! Fresh and inviting- perfect for spring and summer entertaining! For more information regarding these, feel free to drop me a line, and please stay tuned for the launch of my website foryourtabletop.com

Monday, March 7, 2011

Shopping with GMT

Burt Bacharach wrote: "A chair is still a chair..." and, since picking out a dining table is only half the battle,  now there are chairs to consider! Not an easy task, but through the proliferation of catalogs and online resources, it doesn't have to be a chore. One of my favorite starting points for looking for anything is 1stdibs.com, the premiere online resource for vintage and not-so-vintage furniture, art, and accessories from dealers around the country and in Europe.  The important thing about a dining chair is the quality of the "sit", but after parking it in too many chairs to count, my eyes can now tell what is comfortable, at least for me. After a quick browse, these sets rose to the surface. Oh, and never worry about "matching" your existing or newly purchased table. If that ever was a trend, it is long gone!

These four elegant French fruitwood chairs from the 1920's have an upholstered cushion in a rich, dark chocolate brown leather and hand-caned backs. According to the dealer, these chairs are extremely comfortable to sit on and even more so to look at with their clean and simple lines. They would also work perfectly at a card or game table. I love the traditional, yet clean, very contemporary style these antique chairs offer. They would mix beautifully with a pair of upholstered arm chairs for a complete set. The price for the four runs $1890.00, but could easily last a lifetime!
This set of four Swedish chairs from the 1940's is another great find. In excellent condition, these chairs are completely restored with golden elm exposed legs, hardwood inner frames, and eight-way hand-tied seat springs. They are newly upholstered in new chocolate brown diamond-quilted velvet and trimmed with hand-placed antique brass finish nail head tacks, which I think is such a great touch. These are in another bracket at $2850.00, but because they are restored, they are ready to go around a well-deserved table!
And now for something completely different! These four very fresh and striking Mies Brno chairs are upholstered in a moss green velvet. The bright shiny one piece cantilevered tubular chrome steel artfully forms the base, legs, arms and back with the upholstered seat and back seemingly afloat. A 1929-30 design by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the Tugendhat home in Brno, Czechoslovakia, the chair is a modern icon. These four were produced by Thonet in the 1970's, and are just stunning... at $2950.00 for the set, they should be, but again the quality and integrity of the chair is truly timeless. This would definitely be the "10% cool" in your dining room!

In the mood for a little Loius?? I'm a fan of the XVI, myself- straighter lines, yet still very French. These four are not from the Ancien Regime, but are in the "style of" and stamped Jansen, the venerable French furniture house, and are from the 1940's. I love the fine reeded legs which support the leather seat, the solid cane back rest, and the wonderfully worn pickle finish. The price per chair is $800.00. While I'd love to see the Mies chairs, above, around a more traditional table, these would look smashing around a modern or contemporary design. I loves me a mix of styles!

There is nothing better than a good "window shop"!
Till next time,

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The soul of the home...

Everyone says that the kitchen is the heart of the home, and that may be, but the soul of the home has got to be the dining table. This piece of furniture is the stage for your celebrations, holidays, and gatherings of family and friends. It also stands witness to the toasting of accomplishments achieved, promises to come, and the coming together at the end of the day to share a meal. The dining table can be the keystone for a family and can last a lifetime and beyond (now that's green!).

One of the last essays by Dominique Browning, the last editor-in-chief of the late, great House and Garden, was about just this: buying quality. Quality lasts. It never goes out of style, and furniture of high quality bought today will become your family heirlooms of tomorrow. Thomas Pheasant's 'Classic Oval Dining Table' for Baker Furniture is just that.

What a great foundation for a family, however you define that for yourself. Shown in a rich sable finish, this table can tread the fine line between traditional and contemporary. I love the shape of legs ending in the brass caps, the apron that runs the perimeter and the fact that it comes with three extensions to accommodate almost any size gathering. This table perfectly fits with designer David Netto's winning formula of 90% classical/10% cool, which is probably one of the most simple and yet comprehensive mantras to remember when furnishing a home.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I know, everyone's a critic...

Maybe it's my mood, the alignment of the planets, my grumpy pants being too tight- you name it, but this has had me twitching since I received my issue of HB: Dylan Lauren (of "Dylan's Candy Bar!" fame and the daughter of Ralph) had the spotlight in the mag's 'Tablescape' section, and this is what she chose to do with it:
 Now I realize that Dylan's Candy Bar is a NYC must-stop-shop for kids of all ages, and "candy bars" have become part of the entertaining landscape popping up at bar mitzvahs and weddings everywhere, but I don't get this... Others have raved (I've googled, and clearly I'm in the minority), but this leaves me cold. "Tables just want to have fun!" and "Candy makes you feel like a kid!" are the memorable quotes from Ms. Lauren. But there is no context for this, and all I'm left with is the feeling that I want to brush my teeth... It could have been very clever and colorful, and the candy used in unique, beautiful ways, but I don't think this editorial represents any of this. An opportunity lost... Fingers crossed for next month!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Of roses and lemons...

The last of the lemons have been harvested, and I can think of no better way to use them fresh off the tree than on the table (at least until they can be juiced!). A bowl of fruit can be really inspiring when setting the table. And while I had no idea what flowers the wholesaler had in stock, I did know that my onyx bowl was filled with a bumper crop of bright yellow beauties. I went in just before the big deliveries came in (like April 15 for accountants, February 14 is all hands on deck for floral employees) to see what was available and found a few pleasant surprises. The first was a pink rose I had never seen before, Bellevue, and it is a stunner. It's a beautiful deep pink with a tinge of light green on the ends. I asked about this variety, and no one seemed to know anything about how it opened or its longevity, but I took a chance. Also found was a great stand-by rose, especially for spring and summer, Green Tea. It has a fresh green color and the blooms will open up beautifully in arrangements.

As I knew I wanted to keep the colors of the roses and lemons separate, I used tall water glasses made from recycled wine bottles as vases for the roses. These are made by a local craftsman here in town who literally goes to restaurants and collects their used bottles and turns them into glasses. Talk about "recycle and reuse"... The sad thing is that the city doesn't recycle from restaurants, so it really is a service that is being done. I really do love these as glasses and use the shorter ones as water glasses (as seen in the photograph) and now the taller ones for vases (look again!). The look of the arrangements is a riff on the standard julep cup arrangement, but these glasses sit a bit higher on the table (hence the flowers do, too!) and they hold a dozen roses each, so you get a really great, full look.

I conditioned the roses as I do (come to a class and learn!), filled the glasses cum vases snuggly, added my signature collar of galax leaves and then did an asymmetrical composition down the center of the table. Usually, my table doesn't require that much when I set it, but when I add one of the two leaves, it just is a really long expansive void. I also used my mother's sterling candle holders with my favorite beeswax tapers, our sterling flatware, woven mats from Williams Sonoma, Tiffany wine glasses, vintage Dansk plates and new French porcelain bowls from Apilco and linen napkins from Muriel Grateau, and voila: a table set high/low- vintage/new for a fun, festive evening!

There is something about fruit on the table that looks so right to me, I don't ever get tired of it. In a pinch, you can always get something colorful from the market, so it makes sense to have a few bowls or other containers ready to fill. This onyx bowl is a beauty filled or empty, which makes it doubly versatile. A good trick, especially with citrus, is to add some greenery. If you can't get fruit on the stem or from your own trees, find a similar looking cluster of leaves from your yard (or neighborhood!) it makes the fresh fruit look that much fresher! Also, taking a little time arranging the fruit (stems in) makes the arrangement look more polished.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"I believe in linen"

At the Paris show, this was the tag-line of really good line of linen for the table, and I whole heartedly agree "I believe in linen!" On a personal side trip during our stay, we managed to step into Muriel Grateau's shop on the rue de Beaune in the St. Germain.

Now, I'd never know this exquisite little shop existed, if not for Ina Garten (boy, do I miss her column in House Beautiful...) and her Barefoot in Paris cookbook. In the appendix, she shares her personal "best of Paris", and us being who we are, we ripped it out of our copy and made our way in Paris through Ina's eyes. This was several years ago, and after a few visits to Mme Grateau's, a year and a half ago, we finally bit the bullet and bought a set of napkins.

Now, this may seem like a no brainer, but literally, there are one hundred shades of napkins arranged in a full light spectrum on a low counter in the front of the store- white to black with every shade of color in between. It's a display, needless to say, that really catches the eye! People spend hours and often call on Mme Grateau herself to help with the final selection. On our first go-round, we decided on a shade of brown that blended with our mid-century Finn Juhl teak dining table. They are a beautiful color. This trip, we had brought a fabric sample with us to get the shade of green we wanted just right, and we added a set of olive colored napkins to go with the brown and the vintage Dansk flamestone dishes that I've collected over the years, which have a fluted edge of matte dark brown surrounding a off-white, round glazed center.

All made their joint debut this past Saturday, and they didn't disappoint! With the table leaf in, two extra chairs pulled from other rooms (my grandnother's painted Hitchcock chairs), lemon trees harvested for the center bowl, roses arranged, and the table set for eight mixing the Dansk with my Apilco white porcelain pasta bowls, we set out to have an enjoyable evening with great food, drink, and friends.  More about the flowers and rest of table setting later, but the point of this post is that, when I went to launder the napkins, I found grease stains... Had I not noticed these before (they were in the brown napkins)? How was I going to clean them (I couldn't very well ignore them, on the brown cloth they all but screamed at me!)? Now with white linen, I never have a problem. I simply soak overnight in Biz (OxyClean is good, too) and then launder. But dark colored linen?!

Google to the rescue. On the internet, we found an answer forum where someone shared that soaking the spots with Dawn dish soap, leaving overnight, and then laundering would not only rid the napkins of the offending grease stains, but not harm the colored napkins. It worked. I'm officially a believer and will never be far from a bottle of Dawn. I believe in linen- and now I believe in Dawn!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

90% classical 10% cool

Home again... It was a whirlwind trip to Paris and Maison et Objet, but well worth it. We met lovely people and saw really beautiful things for the table and home. For Your Tabletop, my new website, made some smart purchases, which I am very excited about, but like a child anticipating an unopened gift, we now wait for them to arrive here in the states. Waiting for me at home, however, was the March issue of Veranda! I really enjoy reading the editor's page of magazines because it informs me how the issue was put together. Was there a theme, a point of view seen in the various editorials in the issue...? This page lets the reader in on the thought process of the editor and instructs the reader not unlike an audio guide at a museum instructs a visitor.

Veranda's editor Dara Caponigro's page did just this! She even went so far as to bold in blue capital letters the magazine's thesis statement for the month: "BEING AUTHENTIC IS BEING YOUR OWN AUTHOR", which she attributed to Meg Touborg, of Rose Tarlow Melrose House. Let me run with this thought: Authors create stories, and this is how I see the concept of  'home'. It is the manifestation of a person/family's story- their history, if you will- and hopefully, as with history, it is well-told!

As authors of our own stories, we can constantly create new, more compelling story lines. Hopefully these stories will have hospitality and generosity, especially around the table, as a theme, and if your story currently doesn't - as the author, you can change this! Remember, it doesn't have to be fancy, just authentically you.

This authenticity was shown throughout the issue as each designer and architect worked their magic to help the respective homeowners tell their stories. The piece that stood out for me, however, was the editorial on a historic Tennessee home, Boxwood (need I say more?), realized by architect Gil Schafer and interior designer David Netto: classicism and irreverence perfectly combined, or as Netto said of the project, "Boxwood is about ninety percent classical and ten percent cool". And, based on the photographs, I'd say that was a winning combination!

When telling your story in your own home, it's tough to carry off "100% cool"- it can come across as gimmicky. But ten percent is doable, you just have to decide what that means for you. That ten percent is what makes a home eclectic, as opposed to eccentric, which nobody wants! Schafer's quote on his website says it all, "Creating places that enhance the enjoyment of life." So, here's to creating places that tell our history- our story- and in the process enhance our lives.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Maison et Objet: Day 2

If it's Saturday, it must be Belgium! One of the things I love when I come to this show is seeing all the great Belgian companies that are represented. There is something about how they put things together- the colors and textures are out of this world. One in particular caught my eye- they use exclusively reclaimed old teak and create great pieces and combine them with their woven rattan chairs. Restoration Hardware has aped this look, but its pure Belgian design at its best!

Another great Belgian company uses recycled glass in the most amazing colors to create glass vases candles and other containers. They are substantial and have a nice heft to them, and the range of colors is breathtaking! Will work on photos of these... Carrying on for you!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Maison et Objet

We were up at the crack of dawn this morning and off to the Parc Exposition just outside Paris. The train was literally a United Nations sardine can of buyers, reps, and others coming out for the show. As usual, when we arrived, it was the model of efficiency and very well organized and we collected our badges and dropped off our coats and off we went to Hall 3!

The first booth that caught my eye was a fantastic glassware company that had the most beautiful handmade glassware made from recycled glass.  It was delicate, but not fragile, and a wonderful handmade feel . The line runs the gamut from wine and water glasses and carafes to tumblers of different sizes, bowls and hurricanes for candles and tealights. Beautiful and responsible!

It was then a long snake up and down all the aisles seeing all the new and fabulous things. Another exciting find was a company that manufactures wood handled flatware that is dishwasher safe. The line comes in stainless steel or silver plate and in a variety of woods such as olive, ebony, rose and boxwood. 
For those wanting a little more je ne sais quoi in their flatware, fear not! Also uncovered was a venerable French company that makes hand forged flatware the old fashioned way! This, however is NOT safe for the dishwasher, but amazing to feel in your hand- truly something that you will have forever! No pictures to show, but the heft in the hand is impressive, and completely customizable meaning you can have each place setting finished with different wood (and there are six: ebony, olive, snake, boxwood, cocobolo, and tulipwood).

Also found was my favorite linen manufacturer. This is the REAL deal: beautifully weighted, heavy linen completely hand embroidered. The whole line is breathtaking and the embroidery is something to behold.  Here is just a sample of their latest, a pattern called Magnolia on beautiful drab colored linen. 

The last stop was at a favorite artist remembered from our trip two years ago who creates amazing dinnerware. She calls herself a "clay embroideress" and each piece is a unique piece of art for the table. The red clay pieces, which are glazed white, had bits of lace laid into the clay before firing, and have a freeform edge. I bought a complete place setting (dinner plate, lunch plate, salad plate and bowl) which I use as serving pieces and I think they are spectacular! The lovely thing was that she had remembered my name after two years without a pause. That was incredible!  

Phew, more tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Think Pink!

Alright, I'm not the first or the most famous to quip, "Think pink!" That would go to the incomparable Kay Thompson in Funny Face, Stanley Donen's 1957 musical film starring Audrey ("I believe in pink") Hepburn and Fred Astaire. When I saw that Pantone, the color folk, announced its color of the year for 2011, Pantone 18-2120 (that would be 'Honeysuckle', for you and me), I honestly thought I heard Ms. Thompson's throaty vocals from the great beyond, "Think pink, if you want that quel-que chose..."

The Pantone people tell us: "Courageous. Confident. Vital. A brave new color, for a brave new world. Let the bold spirit of Honeysuckle infuse you, lift you and carry you through the year. It’s a color for every day – with nothing “everyday” about it." And they may be right!

My obsession with carnations has already been detailed at length but here, it's seen in a whole new way. These were so fresh, in the photograph, they are just beginning to open. The color is alive, happy, and perfect for the New Year! The technique here is the same as with the Christmas reds, but with shades of pink instead. The container, which is a beautifully etched large green candle holder, is also a happy addition. It comes from Rob Valenzuela's Phoenix gift shop, Stupid Cupid, and I thought it would be a perfect foil for the arrangement. It's beautiful with flowers and beautiful without, with a flickering candle in it to illuminate the room.

The sample is in the shop, so if you're in town, stop by. This technique will be the subject of a special class to held at Stupid Cupid in February. Please call to inquire, and "Think pink!"

Friday, January 7, 2011

Come to the table

I heard  a speaker today say that an average adult can only retain 10 to 12 memories from childhood that can easily be retrieved without the trigger of a photograph or other icon. 10 to 12.

If we take this statistic as fact, what memories are we creating for our children? Hopefully one of them will be 'family meals'. Opening up the latest (seriously, they come bi-weekly!) Williams Sonoma catalog last night, there was a quote on page 4  from Alan Tangren, the pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. He said, "I treasure the memories of family meals when I was growing up, where I learned about sharing good food, the events of the day, and caring for people I loved." The copy on the facing page says, "sharing a home-cooked meal is a celebration of food, family, and friends... it's a gift of time together. Sharing, talking, eating. Time to relax, reconnect, and nourish. Come to the table." Come to the table. It almost sounds like a religious calling.

The photos that accompany this introduction (again, this is just a shopping catalog, but it's reading like the best parenting manual available!) focus on the Bryan and Michael Voltaggio , of Top Chef fame, and their families. Included are some of their recipes and their their "best of" items from Williams Sonoma. Tucked between these items to buy and pictures of the fraternal chefs, however, is a quote from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University:

"The dining table is where the majority of teens talk to their parents about  what's  going on in their lives."

If there is no eating together at the table, then you may be losing out on this vital link into your child's life. I think I may have heard all the excuses for not eating together, but none of them sound compelling when weighed against this statistic. The ideal would be for a young family to structure family meals early on and with firm ground rules (one being "not an option"). I know, I know... "We have soccer, tennis, tutor, dance, scouts, homework..." But I honestly feel this is about priorities. These activities may be all good, but what's in the best interest of your family? Tough questions and things to think about and, again, all this coming from a catalog...

The brothers Voltaggio have the last word:
Bryan: "Parents get to be heroes for their kids every day in the kitchen."
Michael: "Dust off the dinner table and bring your family together through food."

10 to 12 memories... This could be one of them that you can give your children, and that is a powerful gift!

Come to the table.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Shelter magazines always seem to profile clean, crisp, minimalist homes (and there's nothing wrong with these... 'no judging' is a New Year's resolution!) in their January issues- maybe because of the extravaganzas featured in their holiday issues, they feel that their viewers' eyes need a rest? In the January/February 2011 issue of Veranda, there was a pleasant surprise! Writer Stephen Orr and photographer Max Kim-Bee visited with Hutton Wilkinson, Tony Duquette's business partner and protege, at Dawnridge, the famed Duquette property in Beverly Hills built lovingly by Tony and his wife, Elizabeth.

Wilkinson bought the property to save it from the wrecking ball (gone are many of Los Angeles' great homes and landmarks!) and with the home came these lush tropical gardens spread over the acre property, "dramatic spots for plein air dining". In the editorial, Wilkinson has set many different tables tucked into very secluded corners of the gardens with his trademark panache. For all his exuberance, he does follow his own set of rules, one being "No white napkins allowed!" With all the beautiful china, flatware, and dishes inherited from the Duquettes, Wilkinson mixes in his own pieces and creates one fantastically created table after another. Though eschewing white napkins, Wilkinson does combine corals, reds, greens, blues, and of course, gold- lots and lots of gold! "If it wasn't already gold, Tony had it gold plated!" Wilkinson is quoted.

But the interest comes not only in the mix of color, but in the mix of high and low. Duquette was a scavenger, and as such looked at form and shape, not just rare and expensive. Another entertaining credo of the Duquette/Wilkinson brand is that floral centerpieces are rarely used. Instead, figurines, shells, obelisks, and decorative objects take center stage.

Besides the beautiful visuals and the rare glimpse into the private world and mind of a "visionary", the take away is last quote at the end of the article, "I live in old movies. They teach us how to sit and act at the table, and they do so in those beautifully decorated rooms! People don't entertain like they used to, but everyone should remember that it doesn't have to be complicated. Just order wonderful takeout, dress up a little and set a marvelous table..." Touche, Hutton, and Happy New Year! Here's to a year of entertaining! Enjoy the photographs...