Tabling the Discussion

The 2006 aqua edition of “Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook” puts a fine point on setting the table: Linens should be pressed to avoid creases, tablecloths should match table shape, and tableware patterns can be mixed and matched (but don’t marry the fancy with the casual).

While those rules still generally apply, the current boom in the tabletop market allows for a lot more room to play with colors, textures and fabrics, and presents new ways to transform the dining room at a relatively low cost and commitment.

From Bare Legs to Ball Gowns

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DIFFA STACY GARCIA. Photograph courtesy of Timothy Bell.

Just as hemlines go up and down, so do tablecloth lengths. Then, there’s the bare leg – the table topped with place mats, like the new cotton canvas mats made by Brooklyn-based Fort Makers, which features hand-painted and printed textiles designed by artist Naomi Clark and sold online and in stores.

While Martha Stewart mandates that a cloth that pools at the floor creates the most dramatic look (perhaps for the evening), the Tory Burch website shows its Jardin tablecloth, strewn with blue sweet pea flowers, skimming the floor by day like a beautiful ball gown. Like other fashion designers, Burch is currently big into tabletops. Her website features two of her loves after years of collecting: Dodie Thayer for Tory Burch Lettuce Ware (a Palm Beach classic from the 1960s) and blue and white spongeware, inspired by Burch’s 19th century ceramic finds.

To be natural and eco-friendly without having to invest in and discard of pricey arrangements, check out Flowerbox Wall Gardens. The idea, which originated in France, involves preserved green gardens that make a fresh backdrop for your entertaining. You can order a wall garden or a small pod or cube for the tabletop. “They don’t need to be watered and live for five years or even more,” says Serkan Yapilar, the company’s CEO.

DIY Charm

It’s trendy to thrift for vintage. Last year, Jean Rose and her three daughters from Montclair, NJ hosted a “Georgia Peach” themed bridal shower for the oldest sister, Georgia. The mother of the bride hunted down every last Champagne flute – from plain glass to fine etched crystal – at the nearest Goodwill store. The slender glasses were arranged on a table draped with peach linen, and filled with a fizzy peach nectar and Champagne cocktail. It was a memorable tableau.

This year, bride Alison Flodin, from Long Island, enlisted her sister and brother, who love thrifting, to find vintage dessert plates and cheery-colored cotton napkins for her outdoor wedding at a cabin in the Catskills. In lieu of a tiered wedding cake, she’s serving country pies arranged on stacks of vintage books.

Bring in a Pro

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The Giving Tables LAURIE CACCAVO for the China Closet. Photograph courtesy of Danny Sanchez Photographer.

Last year, Laurie Caccavo opened the doors to The China Closet, her business located in a cottage in Monmouth County. She rents high-end dinnerware to clients in the Rumson, Fair Haven, Little Silver and Red Bank areas.

Caccavo delivers the dinnerware to the client’s home, office or venue and arranges it all on the dining room table, covering it with a pristine white cloth to protect it until the dinner party starts and then picking up the whole kit and caboodle the morning after, heading back home to wash the dishes.

“My business allows the customer to get excited about creating something no one else has on their table, and at the end of the day, they aren’t washing it, storing it and seeing the same thing twice,” tells the designer.

Caccavo’s extensive inventory includes Mottahedeh, Gien, Villeroy & Boch, Simon Pearce, Waterford and many more that are shipped nationally and internationally. She also stocks every color of Fiestaware in her casual room. Clients have also asked her to incorporate their grandmother’s sterling or their wedding china – they may not have enough place settings or just want to kick their table up a notch. “I continue to build my inventory since there are so many beautiful lines to choose from,” she explains. “I have about 25 lines, and I’m headed for more.”

What trends does Caccavo see in the tabletop market now? “I’m the trend,” she admits. “People love being able to make a private appointment and collaborate with me while blending patterns, styles and textures. That’s what I’m all about. Just imagine going into a china shop and playing with dozens of choices until it’s a perfect one-of-a-kind creation.”

On the big day, she shares, “It’s just me in my apron, pearls and a pair of kitten heels setting the table. My execution is a little bit short of using a ruler to measure and make sure everything is perfect.” Her customer base ranges from “the young Wall Street wife to women in their 70s with patterns from forever ago.” The price range per event generally runs from $300 to $3,000. She works by appointment only, consulting with clients on budget and theme, and is already booked for Thanksgiving and Christmas events this year.

Passing the Plates for a Good Cause

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Table setting designed by Laurie Caccavo for The China Closet. Mateus “Grey Organic” mug, Gien “Filets Taupe” cup and saucer, Gien “Tulipes” large bowl, Arte Italica “Volterra” custard cup, Lenox “Silver Applique” bread plate, B by Brandie “Grande Vanderbilt” salad plate, Terrafirma Ceramics “Mosaic” dinner plate, Sabre “Natura” spoon. Photograph by Lauren Hagerstrom.

Most of us – designers, homeowners, shoppers, trend-watchers – never tire of seeing new spins on table settings. That’s why shopping giants like Pottery Barn and Williams-Sonoma devote so much space to tabletop, both in store and online.

At the annual Architectural Digest Home Design Show in March, the same ticket granted access to both the AD show and DIFFA’s Dining by Design. DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS) drew a record crowd of about 40,000 guests who flowed through to see the opulent designs at Pier 92. The five-day event showcased over 50 installations, featuring tableware from Hermès, Michael C. Fina and Spin Ceramics, among others. The event raised over $800,000 to help fight HIV/AIDS.

“We were thrilled at the outpouring of support and creativity at Dining by Design,” shares Johanna Osburn, executive director of DIFFA. “Our sponsors and guests represent every area of design, from world-renowned architects and cutting-edge manufacturers to leaders in home decor and fashion, and most importantly, they come together to help our work in the fight against HIV/AIDS, to fund grants for treatment, prevention and other critical services.”

For five days in June, Town & Country Kitchen and Bath of Red Bank, NJ opened its showroom to host The Giving Tables, a fundraising event benefiting Red Bank’s Lunch Break, which provides hot meals, clothing and services to those in need. Local designers presented tablescapes under the theme of “Seasons by the Sea.”

Whether prepping for an intimate supper or a large buffet, set the scene just the way you want it. “A big part of the fun in hosting an event is layering the table for a presentation that pleases guests, while having someone else do all the work,” says Caccavo of The China Closet. “We do it all for the love of a pretty table.”

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