Crystal, china, silver, flowers, mood music and food--they all are a part of the art of table setting.
What's missing? Table linens, the touch that harmonizes the components into graceful softness. Here are a few examples to create a unique feeling for your next entertaining agenda.
The bedroom or living room could be moving into the dining room, but when Bebe Winkler does it, the staging is executed in formal taste. When the highly regarded interior designer, a former fashion model, launched "Bebe's Home," a premier home collection of table-top accessories in the fall of 1988, place mats became "place palettes," tablecloths or overlays became "table shawls," while napkin rings became "fashion wraps."
Since then, the Bebe Winkler collection of classic fringed and trimmed merchandise has grown from a three to 300-accessory line, going beyond table top to bed covers, elegant towels, decorative cushions and fashion shawls. Among the fabrics available are cotton, linen, rayon and damask.
Cushions, trimmed with tassel ties or fringes, cords or French braids beautifully coordinating with table linens, play a great part in "Bebe's Table." Winkler says, "It's decorative cushions galore and the market is exploding. I use cushions in a formal dining room, and suddenly it says, 'Hello, come here and sit down."' Another hot item for Winkler are tassel ties, which come in 11 fashion colors. "We've sold an incredible number of ties, thousands and thousands are being used to tie up those napkins." The fashion wraps or napkin rings include ruby and ivory rings, as well as onyx, tango lacquered wood and brass buckle. Winkler suggests using the brass buckle as a knife rest after the napkin is unwrapped.
A persisting trend that's being extended to the entertainment table is recapturing Victorian atmosphere and the opulent 19th Century. Moving back to the periods of the flamboyant Medieval and Renaissance, Romantique to Provencal, CSI, Creations de France has come out with a large collection of French table draping. Representing the line in Los Angeles, Marlin Lim said, "The traditional look is back, tassels are in; customers get really excited when we trim tapestry tablecloths (like cushions) with borders, with tassel fringes and braided French cordings."
Included in the CSI tablecloth line are elegant rectangular tapestry place mats--featuring people, floral and scenery designs, some with borders; square tapestry tablecloths and runners, wool table scarfs with paisley patterns; and laminated cotton tablecloths with Provencal prints. Practical for outdoor use, the latter are moisture-proof and can be easily cleaned by just wiping with a damp cloth.
"What's good with our tapestry tablecloths is that they are versatile. They are also designed as area rugs and work well for wall hangings with tassel cords," Lim added.
A choice for many table textiles is the exquisite Jacquard, a loom with an endless belt of cards punched with holes arranged to produce a figured weave. A French company that has been producing good quality Jacquard linens since the mid-1800s is Le Jacquard Francais, distributed by Palais Royal in the United States. Still favored for elegant traditional settings are its classic white damask linens, intricately woven with luscious floral and line patterns. Color and a more casual approach has been recently introduced in the line, thanks to the works of Primrose Bordier, one of France's leading textile designers.
There are three new Le Jacquard Francais Primrose Bordier patterns in innovative color shades against white weaving: the Planteur, a tropical themed tablecloth with pineapples, palm trees and parrots; the Oeillets tablecloth, featuring carnations, floral baskets and ribbons, and the Nautile kitchen towel (which doubles as a table runner), designed with a bowl of seashells and framed with a pretty border.
Jacquard has been chosen by generations as an excellent table linen for its durability and quality. "We have very close quality control. The rate of return for anything damaged is extremely low," said Beth Villwock, customer service manager for Palais Royal. "People buy them because they know they're going to last. I haven't seen anybody wear anything out. I've seen the traditional white Jacquard passed down from three generations." A good example, she added, is a kitchen towel that she continually washes and irons. "The more you wash them the better they look," she said.
Going back further in European history are images of Greek and Roman works of art imprinted on table scarfs, appropriate for those committed to architectural motifs. Expressed in black and white scheme with a contemporary feel, Timney Fowler's Scarf Range consists of 52-inch square soft wool challis and silk twill materials. Some of the design symbols are Nero, Compass, Clock, Aesop, Canimede, Pastoral, Bacchus, Aphrodite, Adam and Eve and Roman Statues. Part of the scarf collection is housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, in the 20th Century collection. The English manufacturer is represented by Gary McNatton at Mottura Showroom in Los Angeles.
The popularity of Southwest decor has inspired many manufacturers to produce items for the table to carry out the theme. For Victoria Weaver, co-owner of Taos Mountain Wool in Arroyo Hondo, N. M., an innovative Mexican table-top accessory idea was developed out of a rejected sample material. Taos Tortilla Potholders and Place Mats, Taos Tacos Napkin Holders and Taos Taquitos Magnets were born out of wrinkled natural wool felt, which simulates tortilla color and texture.
"We make wool quilt batting for quilters and take the yardage to a manufacturer in Montana," Weaver said. "One time, we had one batch that was wrinkled, so we cut a neck hole for a poncho. The round piece cut out looked so much like a tortilla so that's how it all started."
What makes them more authentic looking are the burned spots. This was an afterthought, she said, which she achieved by scorching the items with a blowtorch. "We've had a lot of inquiries for theme parties and gift baskets; people are also using the napkin holders for favors," she added. Next, the company is working on making pastel colors as well as "blue tortillas."
Glitter and glitz on the table was the glamorous route taken by Roberta Karsch, owner of Galerie Foil Collections, a company that manufactures hand-screened fabrics and accessories for the interior design trade. Creating an ambience of wealth and excitement, the home accessories encompass an extensive line of napkins, table overlays and underlays, fabric flowers, decorator cushions, hatboxes and shower curtains. Besides a border of tassels, the tablecloths may be finished with a rich thick piping or welting. All hand silk screened on either satin or bengaline materials, the print designs utilize Italian gold or silver foils or inks. They feature zebra, pony, leopard and paw prints.
Some of the standard colors include white with gold, peach with gold, lilac with silver, smoke with silver and antique gold with copper. "We can customize them," Karsch said. "We can work with a client with color. The unique thing about it is that there is something for everyone, for every type of theme party."
And finally for those who want to keep their setting "blanc on blanc," or white on white, the delicate pristine value of lace is unbeatable. Battenberg laces in white or ecru remain a popular choice for tea parties and brunch events. Today, there is an ever increasing range of designs available, not just for table overlays but for doilies, bread basket liners, runners and place mats as well.
But no matter what table linens you choose to buy, whether to use over and over or for an occasional change of pace, don't let it stop there. Listen to Bebe Winkler's advise: "Have some fun; please don't set the table like you did last week, last month, or last night, even if it was just for two. Move it around. Don't be timid. Bring in accessories from your bedroom, from the living room. Take the bracelets off your wrist and make them into napkin rings, as I did."