Remember Aunt Jenny, the culinary maven of old radio fame? Well, she would be shocked to see what's happening to the Thanksgiving table.
In those days, Thanksgiving talk was about turkey and the trimmings. Today's Thanksgiving talk is more apt to be about tables--tables filled with glitter and glitz, spray-paint and eyelet. It's about combining grandmother's antique Imari, expensive Buccellati and Baccarat if you can afford it and plastic if you can't. The idea is IDEAS, costly or not.
So when Ron Basford, Gumps designer, came up with a trio of satellite tables around a raised center pedestal table set with furnishings that would put most people in hock for life, the jam-packed crowd of idea-seekers lunching at the Bel-Air Country Club last Tuesday were naturally impressed.
"I don't know why, but people seem to be entertaining at home more than ever and there seems to be an increased interest in elaborate table decorations," Basford said. Hosts, Basford thinks, are getting most of their inspiration and adapting ideas from decorators and designers, and the pages of slick magazines.
The rationale behind the quartet of tables created by Basford was threefold: to help consolidate rather than isolate the diners at Thanksgiving dinner, to get the centerpiece off the dining table, and to set a stage for the dessert and other after-dinner goodies.
"Large tables often isolate diners, so this is one way of making people feel part of an ensemble," Basford said.
The idea of using the satellite tables actually came from the dessert displays in restaurants found in France. "There is something warm and comforting about beautiful desserts on display as you walk into a room, so I decided to adapt the idea for Thanksgiving. Isn't it nice to have a beautiful view while you're dining?"
Creating several levels for the eye also was part of the scheme. The centerpiece floral arrangement of bee orchids, bittersweet, tiger lilies and yellow gourds sprinkled with faux cherries, was raised slightly for effect. Around the centerpiece were a walnut tart on a pedestal plate, an 1875 English cake basket filled with grapes, figs and nuts, an Old Sheffield 1820 wine cooler filled with ice and champagne, and a Baccarat water pitcher filled with mineral water.
Could you create the effect yourself? "Certainly, and it doesn't have to be expensive," Basford said.
Look for inexpensive collapsible particle board stands and round boards that come in different sizes at any lumber store. Use those for the satellite tables and an inexpensive pedestal topped with a round board for the center table.
Covered With Moire
Basford covered all his tables to the floor with burgundy-colored moire hemmed with heavy roping, and set each table with china, flatware and stemware of different vintages and styles. That "gives the host a chance to use unmatched collected or heirloom pieces that could be mixed with others. It doesn't matter what the pattern is, as long as the colors are complementary," Basford said.
At each table were two place settings, although as many as three can be used for each small round table and four or more for larger satellites. For instance, at one table the designer emphasized the Art Deco period with Ginori's Deco pattern and Ricci's Art Deco serving tray and silver tray, stacking them in graduated sizes. Stacking all the plates to be used during the course of dinner is easy on the host, too, if the service is family-style.
At another table the setting was more 19th Century with a mixture of Coalport china (Hong Kong pattern) with Christofle (Marly) flatware, Lalique (Phalsbourg) stemware and Baccarat candlestick and place-card holders. He used tiny Baccarat perfume bottles filled with single white orchid lilies or fuchsia stems as individual place-setting decorations.
Basford's daring mix-and-match, old-and-new approach is one way to go, but there are others, just as imaginative. We canvassed several other table designers who shared their decorating ideas for those who don't mind applying a bit of elbow grease for a dazzling effect.
"Glitter is the fashion this year," said caterer-designer Arthur Simon of Beverly Hills. Simon suggested spray-painting corn husks, gourds, autumn leaves and other materials in gold and silver and sprinkling them with glitter available at any art supply store. Simon also suggested filling a large basket (also spray-painted) with the gold and silver fruit and gourds or spraying artificial plastic flowers for a better look and texture.
"For place cards you can spray paint a beautiful lemon or magnolia leaf in gold or silver, and with a black marker, write your guest's name on the leaf. If you want to carry out the glitter theme with a modern look, use black satin for a spectacular effect," Simon suggests. Use gold-colored or ecru linen napkins with black, white or gold Japanese lacquer plates.