A LOVE LETTER TO THE CLASSIC TABLE SETTING
Gathering for a meal is an act as old as the human race itself, with physical evidence of communal eating dating as far back as 300,000 years ago. Our habit of meeting around a table has arguably led to some of the more exciting, dramatic or history altering moments over the last few millennia, along with some elegant and timeless table setting styles that are as beautiful now as they were centuries ago.
Acknowledging the past
Many of the quintessential table staples that we are familiar with today, i.e. napkins, candlesticks, cutlery etc. have cultural and rich histories dating back to Imperial palaces and European Courts. Many of the frills, details and accessories we associate with a ‘classic table setting’ today first started appearing around the Renaissance period, before which some dining practices might be considered odd by modern standards. One such example was the common practice of washing your hands repeatedly mid-meal before the acceptance of cutlery, particularly the fork. While nations like France and Italy embraced the utensil fairly quickly around the 1500s, the English only adopted it as common practice when Charles I declared his preference for using it in 1633.
Today, a lot of table setting inspiration for the JAN team comes from the European Masters and their still lives, depicting fruit, vegetables, and flowers as a sign of status and elegance when dining, illustrating the eternal phrase, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.
Simplicity is your timeless starting block
As is usually the case, simplicity is the cornerstone from which to build if you want something to be timeless. Starting with the basics means that you can get creative with injecting touches of fun and luxury as a garnish of sorts. When it comes to a dinner party, sometimes it’s better to have the food act as the star embellishment, bringing colour, character and drama to a crisp white linen tablecloth and a chic table setting.
Playing with excess
That said, excess can be fun, and has certainly had its place in the historical table settings we draw inspiration from. The trick to mastering excess is focussing on quality rather than quantity, if the setting feels a bit too overwhelming, cut back on variety and simplify the space by highlighting one standout element like a pop of colour, adding more specific elements like candles or flowers, or indulging in some decadent crystalware if you can.
The forever favourites
There are some eternal pieces that are classic for a reason. Flowers are an obvious addition to a beautiful table setting and we’re incredibly blessed with the varieties offered by the diverse Southern African Floral Kingdom. Candles are also a tried and tested way to set a mood with a versatile medium that can create maximum effect with minimal effort and cost. These beautiful additions also have the benefit of impermanence, and their limited availability makes them feel even more luxurious as a result.
Similarly, employing fruit and vegetables as decor elements can also make your table feel more alive and organic, and you can use the colours or ingredients from your planned menu to influence which produce you’d like to include. Ranging from grapes and cherries to simple brown onions or golden apples, utilising fresh produce is a real testament to Renaissance trends that saw produce double as both decor and food without wasting anything.