By Jill Brooke
Humble objects can be great storytellers and inspirations for table decor.
Such is the wisdom of the book, “At the Artisan’s Table” (Vendome) by designer and event producer Jane Schulak and David Stark. Friends for decades, they collaborated on an idea of pairing historical table wares from the world’s finest design museums – including the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris -with pieces reinterpreted by contemporary artisans.
What has endured in popularity for centuries? They include Aptware (marbled clay), blue-and-white Delft, chinoiserie, faux bois, plaster, splatterware, and trompe l’oeil. Each chapter features a museum object that serves as a “muse,” along with the work and studio of the artist who has updated the traditional craft—including ceramicist Roberto Lugo, plaster artist Stephen Antonson, and fifth-generation quilter Loretta Pettway Bennett.
That saying what is old can be new again resonates here in a charming delicious way. Artisans reinterpret classic pieces and then Schulak and Stark play together with table decor.
After all, David Stark is an acclaimed event producer and so skilled at finding the memorable “moment” or theme. Jane Schulak, who is the founder and creative director of non-profit Culture Lab Detroit, and also served on the boards of the University of Michigan School of Architecture and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, focuses on the micro vs. macro part of the collaborations. Rounding out the team was writer Kathleen Hackett and photographer Aaron Delesie.
Not only is the book a historical dive into table decor but it shows how tablecloths matched with friendly flowers – or even paper flowers – can create entertaining visuals. And of course, memories for your family and friends.
With holidays in our focus, here are some tips we asked to create your own magical table decor.
Experiment with votives and collect different candlesticks. Throughout the book are examples of colorful and classic candlestick options. It can be silver or funky. Votives are not necessarily expensive. But always invest in some special ones. Plus as Jane points out, “candlelight makes your skin look better.”
Jane will put 10 people tightly together for an 8-person table. It creates more intimacy and is better for conversations. Another tip is to have at least one food item passed around the table to build closeness and familiarity. It could be a cheese plate or bread. Sharing is what is the goal and getting closer to your friends or family.
Because you want the conversation to flow, don’t have flowers blocking people’s views. Although David often creates big lush statement-making-flower arrangements, put them on side tables or foyers. Be aware of scale. Another good idea is to have little vases lined up along a table. As Jane says, no one object should be the star. You can fill cups or vases with fruits, nuts, or delicate flowers to create the exchange of storytelling.
This could be a grandmother’s fine china mixed with a bold tablecloth. Or the antique goblet with earthy plates. Jane’s favorite is taking fine china and mixing it with baskets on a table.
Collect tablecloths because it’s one of many textures you can use to build layers of intrigue and interest. Remnants from fabric stores can also be used. Just keep the color scheme in sync. Just changing tablecloths can give a different feel.
There are countless ways to create table settings. Sometimes the napkin gets the focus, especially with these embroidered napkins from Jane’s mother. Experiment with ways to fold them or find fun napkin holders. Collect colorful napkins since they are more inexpensive than porcelain.
Paper flowers have become very trendy and offer surprises. Look at how this floral tablecloth is matched with papered leaves with red veins. Looks real, doesn’t it? The whole idea is to utilize interests and trends and not forget the beauty and resonance of the past too.
Last but not least, be a collector of beautiful objects. Especially vases for flowers. They can always be scattered on a table to tell your story. This book shows you many ways to be storytellers so use it as a launching pad for your own creativity.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD, floral editor for Aspire Design and Home magazine and contributor to Florists Review magazine.