The Perfectly Imperfect Home: Pretty Table Settings

The Perfectly Imperfect Home: Pretty Table Settings

You know what I like? Being bossed around. Be honest, you like it, too. This is my theory: Even self-possessed, grown-up people want to take direction, as long as it’s delivered with enough charm. A velvet-gloved iron fist (but mostly velvet!) is the genius behind Deborah Needleman’s new book, The Perfectly Imperfect Home; How to Decorate & Live Well. Full of illustrations by Toronto’s own Virginia Johnson, it’s a gem. But beyond the pretty watercolour illos is plenty of amusing tough love. A side bar quips: A Very Bossy Primer on Furniture Arranging. But Deborah also lives in the real world of kids and their back packs, of hectic mornings and ugly inherited furniture and all of it finds a home in this book. I loved that she suggests two styles of making a bed: Fancy and Fast.

Those who still lament the passing of the much-loved Domino Magazine, where Deborah was editor-in-chief, will appreciate the eclectic, style-with-humour design sense the book encourages. She’s now editor of WSJ (Wall Street Journal) Magazine and Canadian readers can get a fair bit of their excellent content online. With the holidays coming up we wanted to share some of the great ideas from the book on gorgeous table settings. I’ve always been inclined to go classic white with plates, table clothes, napkins, etc and so my table is always a bit…. well, a lot boring. This chapter has made me re-think my whole approach. And I’m more than okay with that.

Come back later in the week for our interview with Deborah. Then come back again on Friday for a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book. – C.M.

Pretty Table Settings

A beautiful table can make everyone around it feel sparkly and special, lifting spirits and enlivening the conversation. Setting a table is basic domestic ritual, and doing it for a party mixes creativity and a lovely sense of anticipation into the process. The decorator Charlotte Moss refers to table setting as “everyday decorating.” Whatever you do, please don’t reserve your best stuff for special occasions. Good things become more beloved the more they’re used. Your finest and fanciest pieces can be dressed down with simple linens or plain glasses to get them into regular circulation. Dragging your indoor finery outside once in a while makes a backyard picnic feel incredibly festive. Nonetheless, when in table-setting doubt, it is better to go underfancy than overfancy. If you pull out all your finest things at once, you’ll probably make yourself—and your guests—feel uptight. A rumpled cloth, simple plates, and big cotton napkins can be just as gorgeous as your wedding china, a damask cloth, and cut crystal.

Illustration by Virginia Johnson

style tip

Deciding on a mood you want your table to convey will seriously cut down on stressful pre-party table fussing. Give yourself a verbal cue, like “spring garden” or “winter cabin” or “jewel tones,” in order to keep all your table-setting elements blending harmoniously.

Wardrobe Essentials

This basic “wardrobe” of pieces allows you to whip up a table on a moment’s notice:

• A serving tray
• Two platters
• Two serving bowls
• Two serving spoons and forks
• A wooden salad bowl and servers
• Dinner plates
• Dessert plates
• Glasses for wine and for water
• Flatware
• A linen tablecloth
• Big white napkins (twenty-two inches)
• A pair of hurricane lanterns or candlesticks
• Votive holders
• A few small vases

This is How
Diversifying Your Settings

Create multiple table-setting options by collecting extra pieces in one color scheme. Say you choose red; you can use just a dash—such as ruby-red drinking glasses mixed with your basics—or go whole hog with ruby-red drinking glasses, rosy platters, claret-colored napkins, and a crimson-edged tablecloth.

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