Thursday, January 22, 2009
Tablescapes: An Interview With Author Kimberly Schlegel Whitman
Of all the books about tablescapes, my absolute favorite is Tablescapes: Setting the Table With Style by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman, published by Gibbs-Smith. Not only is the book filled pages of beautiful tablesettings, Kimberly explains such things as "Why Do We Set the Table?" and "How to be a Great Guest." The settings include tablescapes for 100 guest, baby showers, family dinners, suppers on the lawn and the beach, and holiday tablescapes.
Scattered throughout the book are tips about napkins, etiquette, and creative seating arrangements. And the tablesettings range from formal to casual, with whimsical touches on every page.
The author, Kimberly Whitman, is known around the world for the elegant style that she brings to any event.
In her beautifully written introduction, Kimberly sums up the reasons that tablescapes continue to fascinate us, and why they are so much more than an arrangement of china and flatware:
"Setting the table can be a family activity that enriches our daily lives. The time and care put into setting a table for family or guests is an expression of love."
Come away with me, and let's take a peek at the book. First, let's look at the "Love Bird Engagement Dinner"
"When love is in the air," Kimberly wrote, "those around always want to celebrate."
This was a sit-down dinner for 80. The theme was drawn from the tablecloth fabric--pastel blue birds. Since the bride collected antique bird figurines, Kimberly knew she'd found a theme. Tiny nests with speckled eggs were used as place card holders, and antique birdcages formed the centerpiece, along with blue-and-cream floral arrangements--and smaller vases held red roses. Round, rattan chargers enhanced the natural theme.
Kimberly loves blue-and-white china, so when she was planning "Baby Shower in Blue and Pink," she started with a Porthault tablecloth. Since the luncheon was in Kimberly's dining room, she set the table with her blue-and-white china, layering the patterns. Asian jars were filled with roses and arranged into clusters. The china pattern is "Tobacco Leaf," by Mottehedah. The blue charger is also made by Mottehedah.
In one of the boxed tidbits, Kimberly tells the history of silver eggcups.
A bouquet of hydrangeas graced the table in The "Harvest Feast" dinner. Antique pewter chargers peeked around the Gien Rambouillet china. Kimberly said, "The china depicted endangered animal species." The theme came together beautifully, adding organic materials. What I loved best was the artful mix of antique silver chalices, which feature hunting dogs, along with modern splashes. A side table holds a bowl of clementines and a cheese-and-fruit plate.
Now let's talk to Kimberly.
Gollum: First, tell us a little about yourself...did you make tablescapes as a child? Or was this a talent that developed later?
Kimberly: I was always a creative little kid but I think that my interest in setting the table started when I had my first apartment. I had just moved to New York City and my mother took me shopping to get some things for my closet sized kitchen. It was so tiny that one could not open the microwave door and the refrigerator door at the same time! I had to be very selective about what I kept so I picked charming china pieces in several different earth tone colors. Even though I was usually eating alone there, I would still set up a little spot at the table. My mother's major piece of advice was to always have flowers in the apartment. In the city, this was especially important because, in addition to providing a little bit of charm, it was a reminder that we should always stop to appreciate nature and all of the beauty that God created for our enjoyment.
Gollum: When you start to create a tablescape, do you begin with a theme or colors?
Kimberly: Either one works! Sometimes I find my inspiration in the plate or flower that I want to use. Other times it is in a theme that just seems perfect for that specific meal. Inspiration is everywhere!
Gollum: Speaking of colors...what if your dining room has an assertive color (mine is terracotta)? One of my fellow bloggers wanted to know if dishes needed to match the room--especially if they are displayed in a cabinet. What's your philosophy?
Kimberly: I think it is nice to have something that matches but a set that is complementary is nice too. I really like to switch things up obviously so I have always been careful to decorate my dining room in something quite neutral. On the other hand, as I write in the book, you don't always need to set the table in the dining room. You could set a table in your library, by a fire in your living room, outside under a big tree, or anywhere else that strikes your fancy.
Gollum: What about storage? I have been collecting dishes and crystal for decades, and I am getting ready to place them in the basement library. But what if space is limited--where to store all of those tablescaping items?
Kimberly: You are so lucky to have a great place to store your collections. It can be the biggest problem for people like us who have a passion for collecting! I have a closet that was intended for use as part of our laundry room but it happens to be quite close to the dining room so I store my china there. When I didn't have the luxury of a storage closet, I would put my china in big white plastic containers from the Container Store. I used my digital camera to take photos of the items in the box along with a label that had the box's number on it. I would then place the label on the outside of the box and store the photo both on my computer and in a photo album. When ever I needed a certain set of china or crystal, I would send my husband out to our very organized garage to retrieve it for me!
Gollum: Do you have any shopping suggestions for amateur tablescapers?
Kimberly: After you have amassed all of the basics that you need, keep your eyes out for show-stoppers. Every table needs something that will delight the eye's of the diners and create conversation. They should also think outside of the box! I have used anything from Christmas tree garland to pieces of drift wood on my tables before.
Gollum: Which tablescape (from the book) did you enjoy the most? Which was the most challenging?
Kimberly: I enjoyed the table on the beach at our summer house in Canada the most. The weather was perfect and I love spending relaxing days with my family and friends there. That is when the most wonderful memories are created. They were all a little bit challenging because I was pregnant when we were taking the photographs for the book. My belly got in the way more than once and I wasn't able to life anything heavy! I had to have a lot of helping hands around!
Gollum: Do you have any suggestions for building a tablescape--a basic tablescape? Which items are "must haves"?
Kimberly: One must really think through every step of the meal. For example, I often choose my menu around the china I want to use! I have one set that has a crescent salad plate to be placed on the side of the plate for the main course. That has an impact on the menu! I also have a set that has a beautiful plate designed for artichokes. This is another example of the china guiding the menu! I typically have the most fun selecting the place cards and monogrammed napkins. I love the little details.
Tablescapes is Kimberly's fourth book. I can't wait to check out her other books: The Pleasure of Your Company: Entertaining in High Style; Dog Parties; and The Wedding Workbook: a Time-Saving Guide for the Busy Bride. Kimberly's work has graced the pages of Vogue, Town and Country, Elle, Vanity Fair, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Real Simple, and Four Seasons.
If you’d like to read more about tablescaping, check out Kimberly’s fabulous BLOG Kimberly Schlegel Whitman blogspot
This book is available at Gibbs-Smith Publishers
and all fine bookstores:
Booksense Indy Store Finder
Photo credit: Scott Womack Photography 2008
Permission from publisher granted to quote (c) text by Kimberly Schlegel Whitman
Author photo (c) Bode Helm 2008