Dear Stella

Dear Stella

Dear Stella,
I am not new to hosting dinner parties at home, but was hoping you could assist with some fresh insights in general and on table settings, specifically. I feel like I’ve seen it all before! Would be grateful for any advice!
With thanks
John B. (Somerset West)

Dear John (this, I have to say, is not my first ‘Dear John’ letter…)

Let me start by saying that table settings are no small thing. They set the scene on one of humankind’s most essential rituals: the gathering together, and the sharing of food. And, since 1697, the pouring of champagne.

My mother told me many things, most of which I have forgotten. But I do remember her saying that there are four essential ingredients to hosting the perfect party (besides a guest list second to none of course): a large stash of ice; an oversupply of said champagne on said ice; more chocolate than you can shake a slab of Lindt at; and a suitably considered music playlist (especially if you’ve given the string quartet a night off). With that in mind, let’s press on, John-John. After all, given how much at-home entertaining we’re doing these days, your question seems rather well-timed.

As knowledgeable as I am on the subject of soirees (just ask my neighbour Sindiswa about my recent Neighbourhood Watch luncheon, which ended with the two of us actually watching the neighbourhood through my telescope at about 2am; amazingly acrobatic couple at number 17), I have asked two very stylish hostesses-with-the-mostess(es) to weigh in on the subject.

The first is the talented tablescaper Jen Watkins from Host the Event. Jen specialises in ‘tablescapes in a box’, a hiring service that makes hosting dinners so easy (and stylish). Plus: no washing up! Jackpot. Jen reckons table settings are all about personality (so banish your white china and tablecloths – unless that is, of course, your personality). She’s all about elevating the dinner table with bold blooms in handmade vases, mix-and-match crockery and prints galore. A sensory feast before you’ve even served a dish! Here’s Jen’s go-to list of successful party hosting:

  1. Planning: Give yourself enough time to prep and hire in if needed (Jen would say that wouldn’t she?). Consider your audience as this will influence your theme. Note any dietary requirements, and prep as much in advance as you can to limit your time away from the table.
  2. Drinks: Have a welcome drink ready, and ensure there’s an interesting option for those that aren’t drinking alcohol. Yes, these people exist.
  3. Create an atmosphere: Jen suggests low lighting, candles and soft music should set the tone. Your music choice should complement the evening and be the backdrop – audible but not overpowering. This is not the moment to haul out some obscure, impressionist, free-form wooden-flute ensemble from Ohio. Or Celine Dion.
  4. Presentation: Humans eat with their eyes, my lovelies, so do spend time thinking not only about the table décor, but about how the food is plated. If it’s tapas style, for example, ensure there’s enough space for all the dishes on the table.
  5. Connection: As the host, allow yourself enough time to relax before your party. (I usually give myself a week at a spa.) Your energy will translate into the mood of the evening. It should be, for both guests and host, a blessing and not a stressing! Jen muses that most guests will remember how they felt at your event, before they can recall what was served.

I also had a little chinwag (or, in my case, a wattle wobble) with Heather Boting about your dilemma, John dearest. Heather is an interior designer and stylist, with a special talent for table décor. She has identified three stylish potential looks for your settings:

  1. Geometric/Art Deco

    This style can be shaped in many modern variations, depending on your personal tastes. Heather leans more towards classic Art Deco. It combines geometric patterns with a monochromatic palette, allowing for deft touches of glamour.

    Even the simple addition of a patterned side plate to your basic white setting will add an extra layer of interest. (Personally, I sometimes find my side plates more intriguing than the person I’m sitting next to. Must we talk about the latest iPhone’s retina-scanning prowess, our inability to travel to Croatia, and/or the legal status of Ms. Spears yet again? Yes, it seems we must.)

    Anyway, John, you can also add gold cutlery to this look for a sense of opulence (or black if you’re feeling dramatically minimalistic). Then, why not pop into a fabric store and make up your own napkins? Heather does this all the time and in this case she suggests a black, white and gold pattern. Offset them with a table-cloth in a plain colour: white or black. Lastly, add some cut crystal glassware and a pared-down flower arrangement or delicate, dried leaves. That’s putting the Deco into décor.
  1. Metallics

    Adding metallic touches to your table setting (and interiors for that matter) is a bold move. (Confessing to the assembled guests that you only have an iPhone 5S is bolder still.) I find that warm metals (including rose gold, copper and brass) can transform your dining table. In fact, if you squint your eyes and say ‘There’s been a rockfall in the mine’ you could almost be in an episode of ‘The Villagers’. (Millennials might have to look up this reference.)

    In terms of crockery, Heather would limit this to something simple like white with gold trim, or a textured white set. Combine this with luxury materials such as linen and marble, and then add seasonal blooms, or leafy tones, for a contrasting earthy feel.
  1. Texture and tones

    Now, this style works well for relaxed, everyday dining. These days, textured home accessories are found in all the best-dressed interiors. And, certainly, we’re spying an abundance of these products locally. When I say ‘we’, I mean other people; I’m usually just spying on my neighbours.

    Heather says textured dinnerware is best used in block colours, to let the raised quality of the surfaces shine. A simple tactile table cloth, chunky linen napkins and ribbed glassware all add to the table appeal. The vibe is relaxed, so you can opt for more traditional flatware choices.

All right, Little John… I think that should have given you some ideas. I do hope so, because all this typing has given me the kind of headache that can only be soothed by very expensive gin. Now, don’t forget to invite me to your next soiree. I promise to wear something with high heels and a plunging neckline, and will avoid all talk of Britney, iPhone apps, or Croatia. Toodle-pip. 

Yours, wearing a crown of gold-plated cutlery as a fascinator



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