07 Aug2006

Table settings

by Marketman


I was at the beach with my family this past weekend. After the two previous weeks of moss-inducing rains and humidity, two days of sun late last week lured us to the shore…only to get there to one of the wettest, greyest and most depressing Saturdays in recent memory. I had intentionally left my laptop at home set2and don’t have an internet connection at the beach so after an hour of staring at raindrops and happy plants, I decided to go through the kitchen cabinets. If you are offended by brainless discussions over china, cutlery and linens, skip this post. I grew up in a home where my parents entertained often, at least in their younger to middle years. Our kitchen had rather deep cabinets and now I realize it was because my mom used to store her china or ceramic plates by pattern and the service would then go deep into the cabinet. If a particular set of plates was in use then you had to go to the depths of the closet to extract all the pieces, however, this set up made it easy to keep track of several different patterns and colors of plates in stock.

At the beach, we have three sets of plates. The first is a standard set of white round plates that I purchased in bulk (I even have the same set in the city so that when plates break and I lose pieces, set3I can consolidate the pieces and still have enough) for a very reasonable price. They are classic, and always correct, whatever the meal. A second set we have is a small set of khaki and dark blue Balinese ceramics that we purchased while living in Indonesia a decade or more ago, and at USD3 or so a plate, they are likewise reasonably priced and have lasted a dozen years so far. Finally, at the beach we have a white square set of china that I inherited from my parents. It is at least 30 years old and only have a service for 6 or 7 remaining. In addition to all of that, we have many side dishes, bowls, platters, etc. all of a fairly plain and clean aesthetic and none too precious to use by the sea shore. We have two sets of cutlery, incomplete at that, and some placemats and napkins.

So the challenge I formulated for myself out of boredom was to determine if I could make at least 5 place settings that looked different using these few options. Gosh that was easy. set4I photographed 7 settings that I did in less than 15 minutes and stopped at that. I could have done another dozen or so. I was actually amazed what could be done with a little bit of imagination. I have never even thought to do half of these settings when real guests were around… So let this be an eye-opener in terms of fooling with what’s in your kitchen cabinets. Who wants to eat off of the same old place setting every single day of the year??? If you get a few more abaca placemats, different colored napkins, etc. you could go a whole month and not use the same set-up twice! I realize this sounds a bit frivolous but you do exactly that same effort when you dress up each day unless you work with a uniform or only have 10 identical barongs in your closet…

Up top was the last setting that I did. It was getting a bit esoteric so I decided to quit set6after that. But I thought it was the most interesting setting of all. I used a white limoges porcelain serving platter in a rectangular shape (used to serve everything from meats, cheeses, etc.) and placed it on a placemat with stainless steel cutlery. I placed a glass bowl on the plate, presumably for crab or shellfish detritus or shells… I have a rectangular sauce dish at the upper left along with a white shell to remind you where you are. I added my favorite bizarrely crumpled white ceramic cappuccino “cups,” a champagne glass and a regular water glass. On the white linen napkin is actually a sleek Philippe Starck nutcracker (purchased at 80% off at a closeout sale) but you can use it for cracking crabs if you like. Overall, I liked this setting the best. Bizarre, but cool. Something I would definitely use at the beach with a seafood meal.

The second photo above is where I actually started off on the place setting set5adventure… The first five photos use a plastic placemat that is made to look like a basket weave. It is my favorite at the moment. So organic looking, so neutrally colored and so practical to keep clean. My sister in NY sent them as a present. The second photo uses a light brown or khaki ceramic dinner plate and a simple acacia salad bowl resting on a white salad plate. Stainless steel cutlery. Plain water glass. The next setting alters things just a bit by using a white dinner plate, white underplate beneath a light green ceramic bowl for a savory souffle or small portion of soup. I changed the water glass to these cool 1950’s green glasses from my parents and the set-up is noticeable different from the previous one. The fourth photo features the same plate as the third photo, but I have used a blue ceramic salad plate underneath a large glass bowl that would be perfect for a hearty soup. I changed the green glass and instead included a Japanese tea cup so thin you can see light through the porcelain…

The next setting features all white round plates and it is punctuated with a 1940’s or 50’s blue glass bowl/dessert dish. I changed the cutlery to a blue set that we got as a present. set7In the sixth photo, I used a dark blue cloth placemat and on a square white dinner plate, I placed an oversize large ceramic dark blue soup bowl. The proportions seem out of whack, but depending on what you are serving, this can work well. I use these bowls when serving nice substantial Indonesian soups, a cioppino, etc. Finally, the seventh photo here uses a different cloth placemat with a khaki stripe, on which I have placed a square plate, a round salad plate and the same acacia salad bowl used up top. Was this a waste of 15-20 minutes during a rain soaked day? Absolutely not. It’s always good to mix things up and if you are feeling a little staid, try some new combinations of things you already have and you may be surprised with the results… In the next few posts, some of the stuff we ended up cooking on the rainy weekend…



  1. millet says:

    looove the plastic placemats, and the “squished” cup!

    Aug 7, 2006 | 4:32 pm


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  3. Gigi says:

    Not at all offended by a discussion on table setting and whathaveyou, MM! After all, the packaging is just as important as what’s in it…. I like the 5th setting with the blue bowl situated far off the center — whoever said these things should have mid-alignment… Visually provoking for me… I’m partial to white dishes that serve as a blank canvass to the food.

    Aug 7, 2006 | 5:33 pm

  4. Apicio says:

    There is much to be learned from the Japanese in the way they react to their environment and the changing seasons which minutely informs the presentation of their food and their table settings. This attitude becomes subjected to even more rigorous and exacting limits when they touch on the serving of tea. All the more surprising when you consider that this worldview originally developed under enforced extreme poverty. So as with everything, it is not necessarily opulence but the thought that we inject into the cooking and presentation of food that yields pure joy.

    Aug 7, 2006 | 7:47 pm

  5. CecileJ says:

    I agree with you, I liked the first setting best. Not because of the Limoges and Philippe Starck but because the setting was slightly “skewed” yet elegant. Even the way the napkin was parang “carelessly” folded and placed cater-cornered. Parang yung nag-set ay seemingly sane pero may tinatagong craziness. How’s that for Freudian analysis? :)

    Aug 8, 2006 | 9:07 am

  6. joey says:

    The first setting is my favorite too! :) I love the shell detail and rectangular plate…which is practical too because I’m sure it can hold more crabs…yumyum. I totally agree with you about the place settings and I think that it was definitely time well spent! I also like to think how I can stretch the “looks” of my meager collection. While reading through your post I was getting more and more inspired. And you are SO right to compare it to dressing up…because that is exactly how I feel about it :) Now I’m the one who better stop lest the frivolity police track me down!

    Aug 8, 2006 | 8:21 pm

  7. annesqui says:

    Wow! They’re all beautiful. Not a waste of time; art never is. :)

    I’m so green with envy. I’m the first generation of collectors so to speak, I guess I’d be the one to leave deep cabinets of plates arranged by pattern. :) (I love entertaining too, and love beautiful but not necessarily expensive table presentations.) Each time I’m left to my devices in the mall, I go to the home supply stores and inspect plates, making up table settings in my head. Someday… when I get a/my own (bigger) house I will buy all the plates I want. :) (And probably spend hours dressing up the table. Hahaha.)

    Aug 8, 2006 | 8:24 pm

  8. Marketman says:

    annesqui et al, Manila has surprisingly good finds… cardinal ceramics has been a treasure trove over the years, I found leaf ceramic overruns destined for a well known Parisian florist/designer… I also got overruns of a Danish or Scandinavian design for votive candle holders. they also have everyday and unusual plates. From Mikasa overruns I got great huge serving platters for PHP100 each so I bough a dozen so I can do a lobster meal with everyone getting their own platter! From Divisoria, there are votive candle holders for PHP5 each. When you put 100 of them on your lawn, it looks like a million bucks…no, stunning need not be expensive!

    Aug 8, 2006 | 9:40 pm

  9. Wilson Cariaga says:

    nice. . . modern and clean. . . :)

    Aug 17, 2006 | 10:02 am

  10. raymund says:

    Im happy that u make this table setting.!.. I can do now my project. thank you very much!!!:)

    Sep 18, 2008 | 7:43 pm


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