01 November 2009

Happiness is a kitchen table

I love a kitchen table and I love this kitchen table particularly.

It's el Día de los Muertos, and as such I am taking a breather for the day. So in anticipation of the rest of the holidays that are barreling toward us, I present a little sumpin' sumpin' I found in Metropolitan Home.

furnished by Baron Design Studio
Photographer: Kerri McCaffety
Metropolitan Home

Seven Deadly Sins: Dining
Creative Director Linda O’Keeffe tackles the dos and don’ts of design (and etiquette) in the hallowed dining room.
Written by Linda O'Keefe

According to chef/restaurateur Charlie Trotter, there are four elements to a meal and when they are in sync dining can be elevated to a spiritual experience. Maybe that’s overstating it? Maybe not? In any case, Trotter’s perfect balance is achieved by a confluence of “cuisine, wine, service and overall ambience”. To me, this translates to delicious, healthy food and wine served in a comfortable, visually stimulating space where I feel pampered (but not fussed over) and I’m flanked by friends and/or people I’d like to know.

As usual, I’m reluctant to talk about rules but, as most hosts know, there are basic design no-nos that go a long way to ensuring the success of any gathering where bread is broken. I’ve listed seven of the deadliest here but there are many more so please feel free to add your own pet peeves. In the words of the inimitable Dorothy Draper, who referred to eating as an indoor sport, “you play three times a day and it’s well worthwhile to make the game as pleasant as possible.”

Sin #1. Non-supportive chairs: Well-proportioned seats that cater to all body types are a must. Even if the food’s delicious, spending an hour or two squirming on a backbreaking chair is an instant appetite suppressant. Case in point, Philippe Starck’s extremely popular and skinny La Marie is a jewel of a side chair but it should only be used for dining when penance is being served!

Sin #2. Poor lighting: The glow from a chandelier or pendant above a dining table should flatter guests (not too bright) and showcase food (not too dark). In short, a dimmer switch is essential as is the avoidance of tea lights. Their murky up light even makes super models look scary and it routinely turns vibrantly colored foods grey (pass the gruel, please!).

Sin #3. Over-the-top centerpieces: Avoid funereal or Carmen Miranda-like flower arrangements at all times but particularly at meal times when they block sight lines across a table. Centerpieces are not essential and they tend to interfere with an easy flow of conversation so they’re best removed before food is served.

Sin #4. Confrontational art work: Unless you plan to turn every dinner conversation into a debate, think twice before you hang provocative artwork in your dining room. The same goes for painting dining room walls intense colors. As one hostess put it “I painted the dining room red, and the conversation became very heated”.

Sin #5 Scented air: Perfumed candles and fragrant flowers (lilies, freesia and hyacinths) are beautiful in through spaces but they don’t work in dining rooms where they confuse the palette, upstage food and potentially trigger allergies.

Sin #6 One-note guest lists: An event where all the invitees share the same profession spells a convention, not a dinner party. The most stimulating gatherings comprise guests of all ages from all walks of life. And, radical as it may sound, couples and partners should always sit separately from each other.

Sin #7 The wrong table: There’s an endless debate about the shape of the perfect dining table. Circular or angular? Round or square? Rectangular or oval? One celeb NYC party planner swears by round tables, and she seats enough people so that knees touch under the table.

[editor's note: Ignore the celeb NYC party planner's advice. For starters, anyone so billed has already lost their credibility. For seconders, round dining tables are a crime against nature and any dinner party that involves me rubbing knees with strangers is a dinner party I won't attend. Tables should be rectangular and guests should have the option to play footsie, not the requirement.]


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  2. Speaking of El Dia de Los Muertos, in many Latin countries, the "comedor" or dining area (or "mesa de cocina" kitchen table in many cases) may be the only public space in the home being more popular than a "sala" or living room. I like to think this is where the 'open-plan' or island kitchen idea was born. Having grown up on a sheep ranch where the main gathering place was our kitchen table where we gathered each day for dinner (without fail), I carry this tradition to my own little home now which is a townhouse condo in the city... It's the tradition that is important. The kitchen table is not only where we eat everyday meals, but where we share the days events, make craft projects and cookies, and where my sewing machine goes on the rare occasion when I sew stuff.

    I personally like a round or oblong table because everybody sitting at it is slightly facing the others at the table. I like #7 above where she purposly arranges to have knees touching... HA! So much for arguing at the dinner table. It's tougher to do when somebody is clearly in your personal space. Love it!

  3. I grew up in the middle of no where too Pam, and everything that happened in my family's life either happened at the kitchen table or was discussed at it. If the kitchen is the soul of a home, then a kitchen table is its heart.

  4. That is just beautiful. I got a dining room table today. My uncle is terminally ill with asbestosis (thanks Manheim Asbestos) and needs his bedroom moved downstairs into the dining room. My aunt gave me her solid cherry, handmade dining set. It has a bench and four chairs and the table accomodates all of them with its two leaves inserted. It desperately needs refinished and the bench needs a little repair work, but other than that it's solid and very well-built.
    She had it made in 1961 by someone here in Lancaster. I took it originally thinking that it would work as a temporary table until we get our act together as far as a style and look for this place, but the more I look at it, the more I see possibilities to keep it here permanently. I don't know. At the least it will serve nicely for a year or so until we do some renovations. Replacing something with that kind of emotional connection is going to be tough and I always go back to your philosophy of having things in your house that have meaning instead of schlock just to fill the place up. I'll post some photos tomorrow. Would you mind giving me your opinion? I'd like to see what can be done to make this thing work...or if there's even a possibility of that happening.

  5. Melody, you table sounds fantastic. Well-made furniture with a story you know and that means something to you is a great place to start. I can't wait to see your photos.

  6. Hey, I'm the perfect dinner host without even trying!! ;-) Although I won't be hosting dinners any time soon -- the DR table is still covered with kitchen crap. And then once the kitchen stuff is moved out, I'll be painting and redecorating the DR. It never ends!!

    Our best dinner party was about 6 years ago for Thanksgiving. We invited all our friends who weren't able to go home to spend the holiday with their families. There was lots of food, lots of conversation, and lots of laughs :-) And tossing buns from one end of the table to the other was a highlight!! :-)


  7. I've been hosting Thanksgiving dinners for friends who aren't with their families ever since I was in college. I love the idea of feeding the people I care about and I think I'm happiest when my dining table's surrounded by the people I love.

  8. ah, that's why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

    I think my antipathy for kitchen islands has something to do with my love for kitchen tables. Seriously, I don't get perching on a barstool.

    I'm feeling clever for having figure most these rules out, but it's good to seem them listed here like this. We're using folding chairs until I figure out what we're really doing. I seem to be drawn to $800 chairs.

  9. I'm drawn in the same direction you are Johnna. Check out some of the chairs on Room and Board's website though. Most of their offerings are between $200 and $400 in dining chair land.


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