A beautiful meal setting takes a little backdrop - East Valley Tribune: At Home

A beautiful meal setting takes a little backdrop

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Posted: Friday, June 15, 2007 12:42 pm | Updated: 5:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Q: When I set my table for nice dinners, I can’t seem to make them look as splashy as the tables I see in magazines. What am I doing wrong?

Q: When I set my table for nice dinners, I can’t seem to make them look as splashy as the tables I see in magazines. What am I doing wrong?

A: Perhaps you’re not using the right backdrop. Imagine, for a minute, going to a Broadway musical where the entire production was performed on an empty stage. Even though the acting, singing and dancing might be superlative, without the right backdrop and props, the production would suffer because it was missing crucial visual elements.

A well-set table is the same. You may have crafted an intricate centerpiece and pulled together place settings of fabulous dishes, but for each of these stars to truly shine, they need to be shown off on the right backdrop. Two key underpinnings that will take your table from fine to fantastic are chargers and table linens.

Chargers came into vogue in the Victorian age, when more was more and minimalism was a sin. Known by many names, like chop plates and under plates, chargers were an essential part of a table setting at formal dinner parties because they added a layer of elegance and opulence to the tabletop scene.

Slightly larger than a dinner plate but smaller than a platter, chargers are simply for decoration, not for food service. In fact, in some fine restaurants, the chargers are whisked away as soon as guests are seated.

Today, chargers are as hot as ever. You’ll find them on formal tables and casual dinners, even at picnics. They are essential for any well-dressed table, whether it’s ultra formal or comfortably casual, because these super discs elevate the look of the tabletop in a flash.

You’ll find chargers made from myriad materials, like silver, glass, plastic, leather, bamboo, china and wood. I like to push the envelope and use truly unusual things as chargers, like terra cotta plant dishes or moss cut into circles. How about a large sycamore leaf or a palm frond? Small vanity mirrors are sensational chargers, as are silver serving trays. But my favorite modified chargers right now are trays large enough to hold each guest’s place setting but small enough to fit comfortably at each guest’s seat.

Like chargers, table linens are the glue that pulls together a finely set table. Crisp white linens will always hold a special place in my heart, but I love the way folks are using big, bold patterns in their table linens today. At market, I saw lots of two-tone table linens in oversized damask patterns that were loaded with pop.

I’m also crazy about table linens dolled up with custom touches like monograms. I’ve long been a sucker for monograms because I think they add an air of elegance and personalization. Today, they are as hot as ever.

Many people are putting their mark on custom-made table linens or finding ready-made pieces that sport their last initial. Here’s another fun idea: Scout antique stores for an odd assortment of beautiful vintage linens, and have your monogram put on them. Or pull together a collection of linens that already have a monogram, even if it’s not yours.

When I walked into my friend Amy’s dining room for a dinner party, I squealed with delight to see how she had brought together these two must-have backdrops to create a to-die-for table. For table linens, she used a bold and trendy black-and-white damask patterned tablecloth made from linen and white napkins with her monogram embroidered in black.

Each place setting started with a black tray used as a charger. To finish off, she set each place with a tower of white dishes and a delightfully simple centerpiece of concrete urns filled with bright green plants.

Without the fabulous linens and charger trays, Amy’s table would still have been lovely. But by focusing her attention on these essential backdrops, making sure they were every bit as stunning as the centerpiece and table setting, she made the table into fine art.

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