By Anita Rafael
Photography by Tim Peters
Every host and hostess knows what the grand dames of Old World etiquette call “The Rules” when it comes to setting the table for a special meal. Avoid using overly fragrant flowers. Never make the centerpieces so tall that the guests cannot see each other. Use only unscented candles, exclusively white or ivory. Everything must be perfectly identical and precisely symmetrical. There are so many dos and don’ts for the dinner table!
But, what if setting the table was like composing a symphony in which the melody was memories from your childhood? Or like embroidering a tapestry using nothing but lights, shimmers, and reflections? A beautiful table for a special meal takes some planning, some tiny spark of imagination, and in every one of us there is enough creative spirit to do tablescapes like these. These three vignettes will inspire you, each one bringing joy and meaning to every guest.
It is Christmas Eve. Who is invited for cake and eggnog?
A long, lush garland stretches down the center of the table. It is woven of pine boughs, eucalyptus leaves, asparagus fern, and pepperberry branches. Hidden among the greenery are small toys, old and new, and vintage holiday ornaments. The place settings are antique transferware, and at each one, hand-felted ornaments—a sheep or a Saint Nicolas—awaits the guests. Later this evening, the lambs and Santas will go home with each guest as a memento of this gathering, creating memories to cherish every time the ornament is hung on their own Christmas tree in years to come.
In a room warmed by the fire in the brick hearth, and enhanced by the charm of a rustic, wooden table encircled by old Windsor chairs, the hostess has invited eight for gingerbread cake, eggnog, and punch. She is serving a late-night repast that echoes le réveillon of Christmases at home in Paris or old Québec. Her festive table setting is the work of two people, from two different companies, who, by a serendipitous turn of events, found that her talents as a floral designer and event planner blended perfectly with his enthusiasm as a gallery owner and event designer—they are Jennifer Redding of Jennifer Redding Events in Danby and Greg DeLuca of 3 Pears Gallery On The Dorset Green, a business co-owned with his wife, Judith. Redding and DeLuca have been collaborating on a variety of events and creative projects for many different clients since they first met for lunch six years ago.
Redding says, “The idea for arrangements like the one on this Christmas Eve table might start by just taking a walk outside and thinking about all the different natural materials that can be cut and brought indoors. The greens can be tied into a garland like this, or they might go into a long tray with oasis. Decorated this way, the greenery is like having a second Christmas tree.”
DeLuca explains the details, saying, “This happens to be my own collection of toys and ornaments, mixed with new ornaments from my gallery, but everyone has collections like this that can be added to an arrangement of greens. Whatever that is, if it’s placed on the table, it starts a conversation.” Over dessert, everyone will be recalling their childhood holidays and sharing their stories.
It is the 5th night of Hanukkah. The menorah is lit, and dinner is served.
For a table setting at an elegant Hanukkah supper, the hostess would not have wanted anything less than Limoges china, antique crystal stemware, heirloom Tiffany silver, fine silk tablecloths, and gold linen napkins. Using a large dinner plate as a charger, the amber Depression glass plates add a layer of sparkle and a glimmer of light below the smaller plate, on which latke is served. Latke is a humble potato cake fried in oil, yet it is a highly symbolic part of the Hanukkah celebration. “So, why shouldn’t it be served on Limoges?” says DeLuca. Both he and Redding were delighted that this hostess owns so many heirloom pieces that they could select from for her table. Much of what is on the table has been passed down to the family, and carrying with it many deep personal connections to the people and gatherings of the years past.”
Here, the designers’ inspiration was light because Hanukkah is the celebration of light. “But we didn’t stop with the candles on the menorahs,” says DeLuca. “We added gold lanterns, and in the background around the room, there are fairy lights and more candles, so there will be light everywhere the guests look.”
Redding’s starting point for the Hanukkah supper table was a three color palette, which is a strategy anyone can follow for designing the theme of a big event, a casual party, or even a table setting. Start with three colors and embellish on that. On this table, she chose blue, gold, and silver on a white background and included all-white flower arrangements. Again, adding light.
After she and DeLuca have thoroughly combed through their client’s butler’s pantry to see which items in her collections they can bring to the tablescape, they source from their own inventories if they need to add some finishing touches, such as the unusual dreidels by Godiva, which DeLuca bought years ago. He and Redding are both collectors, but he knows that a family may have only one or two sentimental items that they use frequently when entertaining. He imagines some old Czech pot, belonging to someone’s grandmother, which a hostess might bring to her table filled with tiny yellow roses, her grandmother’s favorite flower. “It will work as a centerpiece,” he says, “because it means something to that family.”
During Hanukkah, a family traditionally lights only one menorah, but DeLuca was inspired by the time he visited a synagogue where families and individuals brought their menorahs with them and told touching stories of how they were passed down or acquired. Redding and DeLuca illustrated how dinner guests might be invited to bring their menorahs to the table.
Not to leave whimsy behind entirely, even in the most exalted tablescape, Redding and DeLuca conspire for this hostess to serve frosted doughnuts on an especially valuable pedestal dish. However, it is hardly a joke. The goldrimmed china itself is stunning, and, like the latke, the doughnuts have significance in this evening’s menu, representational of traditional Jewish foods fried in oil.
New Year’s Brunch
The brunch is wholesome, consisting of scones, fruit, vegetables, and salmon garnished with capers and lemon wedges, and they envisioned the way in which the hosts and guests will perhaps linger at the table, taking pleasure in spending time together over mugs of hot coffee.
Brunch is served on New Year’s Day. A fresh start on clean living.
A table for a gala evening almost always wants to be opulent and rich, but a table set for family and sleepover guests for a midday New Year’s Day brunch calls for a total departure. No less sophisticated and no less tasteful, but refined and edited to be beyond elegant in its Nordic-like simplicity—it is clean and chic.
“The centerpieces for this table are pots of herbs,” says Redding, “because this family and their guests are beginning the new year with intention about the way they want to live in the months to come. I chose to use sage, which means wisdom, rosemary for remembrance, and lavender symbolizing everlasting love, and we placed the herbs among white plates and white Swiss dot napkins on a striped and white Swedish linen runner.”
“Whatever Jen and I do, we always agree that the quality of the things we choose has to be the best. We may put just one tomato on an ordinary white plate, but it has to be a very beautiful heirloom tomato,” says DeLuca.
In this arrangement, the two designers took a step back from extravagance in concert with the menu. The brunch is wholesome, consisting of scones, fruit, vegetables, and salmon garnished with capers and lemon wedges; they envisioned the way in which the hosts and guests will perhaps linger at the table, taking pleasure in spending time together over mugs of hot coffee.
In this home, every room is curated to a nearly neutral palette accented with fine antiques, so Redding and DeLuca understood how to design an impeccable table setting compatible with these surroundings. “Look at the cake pedestal, which is used to serve the raspberry-walnut scones and Concord grapes,” says DeLuca. “Yes—it is white and simple—but the handcrafted porcelain is as beautiful as the food being presented, as beautiful as the entire room.”
There is a movement toward this aesthetic, Redding explains, a trend to incorporate fresh, clean design in home environments. At this meal, color comes into the design from the appetizing food and beverages. Everything else is the canvas on which the composition is created.
“The pleasure of working together,” says Redding, “is that after we have met with a client about an event or a project, we often discover that Greg and I have each taken something different from that conversation, and we might come away with different ideas. I might say, ‘Let’s do this theme because I can see where it reflects their personalities,’ and Greg will say ‘Yes, and let’s tweak it a little further.’” The designs that Redding and DeLuca create are finetuned and elevated, so that the result has an effect greater than the clients themselves might have imagined. Their signature style and vision are woven into the ideas that the clients expressed.
DeLuca takes a quiet, introspective moment and offers this advice: “Release all the conventional constraints you may have about how a table setting ‘should’ be done, and instead create an inspirational, personal design that will produce a truly magical experience for every guest. It’s all about creating an environment, even if it is only on the top of one table. Let it be transformative.”
Owner | Designer
Jennifer Redding Events
Planning, floral, and design
2512 Tinmouth Road, Danby, Vermont
Co-owner | Designer
3 Pears Gallery On The Dorset Green
Curated fine art, artisan pieces, design
41 Church Street, Dorset, Vermont