The Art of the Table

Southerners know hospitality. Gathering friends and family, welcoming newcomers: It’s who we are. Whether an after-church brunch, birthdays, holidays or an impromptu party, Southerners love to get together. And every affair is made to be special. Outdoor settings often call to us because of their ease and abundance of natural light. On the First Coast, blue skies, lush greenery and perhaps even sandy beaches add to the festive atmosphere. But the table setting is central to pulling it all together.

“One of life’s most reliable pleasures is sharing a meal with family and friends. Setting a lovely table helps ensure that each meal is memorable,” note Jane Schwab and Cindy Smith, Charlotte, N.C., based interior designers and authors. “When a party succeeds, when a home is wonderfully welcoming, it creates a mood and an emotion that lasts.” Schwab and Smith, who will be in Jacksonville for the 2014 Art & Antiques Show benefiting Wolfson Children’s Hospital, offer the following thoughts on setting a beautiful table from their first book, The Welcoming House.

Never underestimate the power of presentation. A festive, fun table helps make an occasion out of a meal, however simple or grand. There’s no great secret to setting a lovely table. Start by choosing a color. You might opt for one of the hues in your china pattern, particularly if that pattern contains fruit or flowers. You could also develop a palette from something wonderful blooming in your garden, especially if the flower petals pick up a tone in the floor, of your walls, or chair fabric. Once you have a color theme, you can build your table décor around it.

Add candlelight high and low to create instant atmosphere and another memory to share with family and friends.

We believe you should use what you have rather than letting your possessions linger in a cabinet or drawer unloved. Your silver flatware, for instance, isn’t just for dressy occasions. And your mother’s and grandmother’s beautiful old serving pieces and coffee service can certainly add a quiet gleam. If you’re concerned that they may be too showy or off-putting, try pairing them with straw placemats or earthenware plates to make them feel more up-to-the-moment.

We love good food, but it is important to remember that the food is never the be-all and end-all of a special evening. Here’s why we advocate the power of presentation so strongly: if you haven’t had the time to cook as you might like or if it’s a last-minute invitation, as long as you arrange the food on handsome serving pieces, set a lovely table with a pleasing palette, and light lots of candles, it will be a special evening no matter what. Add a few sprigs of something you’ve picked from your garden in a glass or vase or create a centerpiece of fruits or vegetables and voila!

Showing graciousness, kindness, and warmth to others is the hallmark of Southern hospitality. Schwab and Smith feel “entertaining is the opportunity to share the best of yourself with others, after all.” Indeed.

The 2014 Art & Antiques Show features a Boxwoods & Bowties theme, a modern twist on Southern traditions, and welcomes over forty-five distinguished arts and antiques dealers from across the country. Guest lecturers will include nationally-known interior design and style experts Bobby McAlpine & Susan Ferrier, Jan Showers, Jane Schwab & Cindy Smith, Julie Reed, and a seminar by local design authorities Juliana Catlin & E. William Nash IV. The show will be held Dec. 5-7 at the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center and is presented by the Women’s Board of Wolfson Children’s Hospital. For a complete schedule of events and ticket information, please visit or call (904) 202-2886.

Article written by Janet Reagor

Author: Arbus

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