This year I’m hosting 17 people for Thanksgiving. Or 18. Two more tables will be added to what you see above, causing our seating to extend out through the living room, almost to the windowed hallway in back. In any case, the occasion will call for all the plates I own. Some will be gold-rimmed, from my father’s family. Some will be white, from Aunt Crate and Uncle Barrel. Somehow, the resultant table has to approximate, in my heart, the Thanksgivings of my family. I am attached to our traditions.
Were I at my mother’s, we’d eat with Miessen and Tiffany. At my father’s, Quimper or something with flags, and Georgian silver. But I’m in my ranch house, a Rav4 parked outside, the realities of 2010 holding sway. Not that I don’t understand my fortune is good, that many go hungry, many have no family of any sort. I’m talking like someone on a diet, remembering the macaroni and cheese of their youth. China and silver are High WASP high-fat comfort food. Perhaps, like beef, consuming too much of the world’s resources, but inextricably part of our childhood and laden with childhood feelings.
Let’s assume you are more sensible, suffering no nostalgia. Let’s assume you simply enjoy the High WASP aesthetic. How then does one achieve High WASP table style, absent a family fortune? Herewith, the tricks of impoverished Highs all over the world.
10 Tricks And Tips For Generous Aristocratic Tables On A 2010 Budget
- Make sure most of your china is white. This is the backbone of your event. Very “good-looking” stuff can be had for almost nothing.
- Obtain something, maybe two things, rimmed with gold. Doesn’t matter what. There are very few objects not improved by a stripe of gold.
- Haul out your best table-friendly pieces. Bowls, pitchers, vases. Wash them, polish them, repair them as required. This is where second-hand stores, thrifting, and auctions can serve you very well. Used silver is a good deal.
- Determine which of your sentimental favorites you will use, even when they don’t actually comport with the Thanksgiving code of conduct. In my case it’s the Swedish bowls. Pale blue has no seat in the pantheon of Thanksgiving colors but my Swedish stepfather is coming up from Santa Barbara so that, as they say, is that.
- Iron the tablecloth, or placemats if they are cloth. Every component should be playing at the top of its game. Lay everything out.
- Now step back. Take a look. You want to paint the domestic equivalent of a canvas, meaning an aesthetic experienced as a whole. Do you like high contrast? Vivid flowers and colorful bowls against a white table. Subtlety? All pieces in the same color family. This is what they mean by “training your eye.” It can take some time, it can be native. There’s no value attached either way.
- Here’s the most important part. Some things should match. Some things shouldn’t.
- Here’s the next most important part. Match the cheap things, pick expensive things because you find them beautiful, or meaningful. My silver bowls above, full of chrysanthemums, are all different. Some are actually porringers. Bowls from which babies ate porridge. The wine glasses don’t match, the Lenox doesn’t even all match, the silverware won’t match. But the water glasses do, and they cost $0.50 apiece at Crate and Barrel. Their circular details are visible enough for design impact. The circular votive candleholders match and they were $1.50 apiece. Also Crate and Barrel. And I’m renting 18 matching light wooden chairs, at $2.50 a pop.
- Finally, consider your lighting. Fiddle with illumination enough and anything, absolutely anything looks pretty glamorous. Candles cast that glow of, um, candlelight. Flicker is your friend, when going for fancy.
And, of course, feel free to ignore everything I just said. A table is only a table. For people to sit, talk, eat, and drink around. Notice the large bottles of wine and champagne on the little white sideboard. Jeroboams. Visible abundance raises endorphin levels.
There are other ways to achieve the High WASP aesthetic. Were we hosting fewer people, my Thanksgiving might look like this. From Janet at The Gardener’s Cottage.
Simple, green, al fresco. The elegance is in the contrast. More beautiful photos here.
Had I paid more attention to my family fortune, or were I an expert collector, my Thanksgiving table would quite certainly look like this.
Elegant, sparkling, and candelabra to die for. Taken when Reggie Darling and Boy Fenwick gave a “high dudgeon,” black tie dinner at Darlington. More of Boy’s beautiful photos here. My family might relax the black tie standard for Thanksgiving, as a dinner jacket weakens one’s capacity to chase tykes around. But this, this is the Jungian Table of the High WASP. Nothing ostentatious, yet all is fine, harmonious. Put forth for love of a close community. Enjoyed in all its glory.
Good luck and good cheer to all with Thanksgiving preparations this week. Do you recreate family tradition, or have you established a new aesthetic?