History of the table, from the Russian service to the table decorations by Sandra Lee.


Once a year on Thanksgiving Day, I become obsessed with setting the table. Years ago my sister and I started a tradition of picking branches, leaves, and pine cones and using them to decorate our Thanksgiving table, and every year I still feel compelled to create one. perfectly fanciful picture. I braid sweet and sour vines into the chandelier, fill vases with acorns, and strategically scatter leaves in the center of the table. Last year, I convinced my brother to drop an abandoned hornet’s nest from a tree so that I could use it as a centerpiece to complete the wild, woodland feel of our dining room.

On a daily basis, setting the table is often just a chore: putting a plate, a fork, a knife and a napkin in front of each chair. But, on special occasions, many people try to turn their tables into dreamy landscapes – and nowadays there is an entire sector of the media devoted to the production of new table setting ideas. Martha Stewart and Sandra Lee have become the queens of this sector thanks to their lifestyle advice outlets, namely Martha Stewart alive and Half House. As a source of inspiration for table decors, Pinterest offers an endless stream of images divided into categories such as “elegant”, “DIY” and “rustic”. Each of these tables involves many aesthetic manipulations involving color schemes, flower arrangements, textiles, and centerpieces. Even the currently fashionable ‘rustic’ table (eg, a wooden farmhouse table accented with burlap, bouquets of wildflowers tied with twine, and bead pots) is a carefully planned aesthetic.

A tray on a formal dining table at the Hotel de Charost in Paris in September 2010.

Photo courtesy of Thibault Taillandier / Creative Commons

Why are we doing this? People haven’t always bothered to spruce up their dining tables. The Western craze for setting the table sets in at the end of the 18e century, when the aristocracy made the table a form of expression. Since then, the themed tables have often expressed the desire to escape from everyday life to a fantasy world, nothing more ironic than the rustic table, which is reminiscent of a time when no one cared about the appearance of the house. table.

A dining table was once a simple, removable affair. In the Middle Ages, when life was rough and uncertain, “setting the table” meant placing a wooden board on two trestles in order to make a somewhat solid but ultimately mobile table. The table was just a platform for the food to sit on. Even on royal feasts, the only ornament on the table was a nave, a container made to hold salt. People brought their own knives and spoons and ate on slices of bread instead of plates. Tables could be covered with fabric, but it was less of a decoration and more of a giant communal napkin on which diners could wipe their hands.

A day of celebration, 1902.
A day of celebration by Fanny Brate, 1902. The girls decorate a table with flowers under a painting of an undecorated medieval table.

Painting by Fanny Brate / National Museum

Over time, improved manufacturing technologies have led to a boom in utensils and cutlery. Elite European tables have exhibited silver tableware since the Middle Ages, but the variety of dishes for holding food has grown steadily, as they became more specific and ornate. This trend culminated in the Victorian era, when an abundance of silver, glass, and porcelain contributed to the table’s shiny new look, with around 20 pieces per place setting (including dinnerware, glasses and silverware). However, it was the passage of French service To russian service between 1750 and 1900 which led to elaborate, sometimes absurd table decorations.

French service brought all of the dishes to the table at once, so table setting concerns focused on where to place each dish. However, russian service left the table bare while the servants brought each dish one at a time to be placed on the buffet and served to guests on individual plates, as shown in Downton abbey. The void had to be filled with pretty things for the eye to catch, leading to an elaborate visual culture that lingers on our tables.

Centerpieces quickly became another way for aristocracy and high society to display their wealth. In the mid-18th century, the wealthy set their tables with ornate silver baskets called spurs, long mirrored platters called platters, flowers and candelabras.

The upper class hired decorators to organize intricate and dramatic scenes at the center of their tables, attempting to transport guests to another world. A pastor Woodforde wrote in his diary of an encounter with a fantastic table in 1783 which read: “A nicer man-made garden in the center of the table… in the middle of which was a tall round temple supported by round pillars… surrounded by artificial flowers. “The table at the Prince Regent’s feast at Carlton House in 1811, was described by Gentlemen’s magazine as having,

a channel of pure water … gushing from a beautifully constructed silver fountain at the end of the table. Its banks were covered with aquatic flowers of green moss; gold and silver fish swam and frolic in the bubbling current, which produced a pleasant murmur where it fell and formed a waterfall at the exit.

Meanwhile, in Europe and America, the middle class was emerging and mimicking the lifestyle of the rich. As the dinner trend spread, becoming popular among the middle class in the late 19e century, women began to use table setting as a means of expressing art, creativity and taste. These women couldn’t have hired someone to create a table painting or afford an abundance of precious cash, so taste makers like Ms Beeton took the opportunity to write advice to the housewife. Briton on how to set the table on his own. In 1884 Beeton wrote in his Household management book, “One can notice, in general, that there should always be flowers on the table, and since they are not an expense, there is no reason why they should not be used every day. “

Exhibition of the setting up of the table, September 1941.
A baby shower themed table at a table setting exhibition in Sydney in 1941.

Photo courtesy of Sam Hood / Hood Photographic Collection / Creative Commons

For those who are not satisfied with a simple and tasteful flower arrangement (a 1941 Chicago Tribune article describes them as “women frowning on tables for special occasions”), 20eThe table setting exhibits of the century offered additional inspiration for themed decorations that a middle-class woman could recreate in her home. For these exhibitions, garden clubs design and set up dining tables to be judged by a jury and viewed by the public. Each dining table had a specific theme. For example, “the May 1 lunch, the ski dinner, the explorer’s return lunch, the Aloha lunch, the Arabic buffet…” were all themes presented at the 1941 Navy Pier exhibit in Chicago. The winner of this exhibition was,

Called “The Stag at Harvest Eve” … intended for the voracious male. … At one end… is a huge Greek head of white plaster… the goddess of the harvest… dressed in sheaves of wheat and she wears a headdress of a huge round loaf of bread on which are glued various fruits and small French croissants! To balance this lady at the other end of the table, there is a huge decorative white plaster hand holding a sickle.

Such an elaborate presentation seems to be the spiritual ancestor of Sandra Lee’s “tablescapes”. The TV chief coined the term in 2003, giving a name to “the artistic arrangement of items on a table,” as Wiktionary puts it. The coat rack evokes landscaping, cultivating a table to satisfy your desires. The housewife’s initial obsession with creating an elaborate table design may stem from a desire to dine like the rich and escape the boredom of staying home, but the urge to beautify survived the sexual revolution. Even liberated, active women (including me) feel the need to give a little life to daily meals from time to time. While it might sound a bit silly, Sandra Lee chooses to do it with cheerful colors, nifty centerpieces like giant paper flowers or a cardboard winter village, and names for table settings like ” A Wisteria Wish “. The term tablescape also contains the word “escape”. If you want to get away from it all in the Mediterranean, Sandra Lee offers you a table setting to recreate, with photos and instructions to follow on her website. His concept and aesthetic have been well received by audiences – his iconic landscapes have been auctioned off, and there are even table-scape contests, as parodied in a 2013 episode of Bob’s burgers.

Regent Theater table at a theatrical ball with Beefeater attenda
A dramatic table setting for a ball at the Regent Theater in Sydney, July 1937.

Photo courtesy of Sam Hood / Hood Photographic Collection / Creative Commons

The latest trend in table decoration is the rustic table, which seems to be a reaction to table decor. You might see this kind of table at weddings, at dinner parties, waving pages of Parents, or at this Brooklyn restaurant. By baring the table and removing the papier mache, crystal, color coordination, and professional floral arrangements, the rustic table attempts to take us back to a time or a simpler way of life (like the days when people ate pieces of bread instead of plates). The rustic table, with its I-live-on-a-farm aesthetic, says you recycle and eat sustainably, are down-to-earth and don’t care about material possessions, and don’t you certainly don’t like to think about setting a chic table. However, since most of us don’t live on a farm, the rustic table is an idyllic fantasy, just as organized as a Sandra Lee table. Give it up, ‘rustic scapers – you probably didn’t stumble upon that burlap while cleaning the barn.

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