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Setting The Table
Take your next dinner party up a notch with a well-dressed table.
By Lila Edythe
AS MUCH AS YOU MIGHT hate this idea after having spent hours in the kitchen cooking, dinner parties aren’t just about the food. “You’re bringing together people who are important to you, and how your table is set can take things up a notch and make them feel super special. Or not,” says Lisa Mack, the founder of Hitched Jackson Hole, an event and wedding planning company. Boutique baker and interior designer Lindsey Johnson agrees: “A flat table is boring and uninviting.” Fear not; We asked Mack, Johnson, and Ali Cohane, the co-owner and designer/stylist behind Persephone Bakery Café and Picnic to share their tips for creating a table that will make your guests feel super special.
Ali and Kevin Cohane had no idea they were starting a mini empire when they opened Persephone Bakery Café in a log cabin—its exterior freshly painted white—one block off the Town Square in 2014. But today the couple—Kevin is the Cordon Bleu-trained pastry chef and Ali is responsible for all things related to design and style—have Persephone Café, the West Jackson hotspot Picnic, and, as of Spring 2019, Persephone West in the Aspens on Teton Village Road. And then there’s the “Super Persephone” (not its real name) that is set to open sometime in 2020 in the remodeled and expanded Coe Cabin, built in 1915 and one block from the original Persephone location.
- Fresh flowers always help a table. I like wildflowers because they don’t need the arranging other flowers do. Setting them on this table in small bunches is not super time-intensive, but the flowers are still beautiful.
- Monochromatic does not work well in a food presentation. Color is really important. You can use bright splashes in food—we love watermelon radishes—or flowers or linens.
- Pewter and enamels are nice because they don’t break. Sturdy can be beautiful.
- Composing a cheese board, I want it to be overflowing with tastes and textures—spreads, gherkins, meats, and cheese. Put some things in little glass jars or small dishes. To get more of the perfectly imperfect look, cut the cheese into random sizes and have these flow off the main piece of cheese, so they’re kind of like grocery store cubes but more rustic and interesting.
- I love mixing dishes. Everything does not have to match. There’s an idea about the perfection of imperfection, and I like to bring that to tables, using elements that come together in a beautiful way that almost seems haphazard.
- Microgreens always help with presentation—they finish any dish, look thoughtful, and add delicious flavors. We get microgreens from Vertical Harvest. (Pictured here is sorrel on top of feta and pea shoots on burrata.)
“At a dinner party, food goes a long way,” says Lisa Mack, who founded Hitched Jackson Hole, a wedding and event planning company, in 2014 after working in events at Spring Creek Ranch and the Four Seasons Jackson Hole. “But when you’re sitting at a dinner for a long time talking to people you care about or who you are just getting to know, a beautiful table makes the evening even better.” Mack often collaborates with Sami Volcansek, who does floral and event design at Magnolia Ranch JH, which she founded in 2011 with her now-husband Luke. Volcansek and Mack agree about the importance of textures and patterns in a table setting. “The right mix of textures and patterns makes for dynamic design,” Volcansek says.
- The clusters of greenery at each setting are not all identical in size or composition. Making them different makes each one feel special and thoughtful.
- We love doing big, lush florals, but you can also walk around the local market or outside and use the seasonal bounty.
- It is fun to surprise guests with juxtapositions. This table is formal, yet edgy: There are cut-crystal glasses, but the flatware is gunmetal; the guests’ names are written in calligraphy on pieces of black leather.
- Consider getting plates and glassware that aren’t what you have at the house. It’s a minimal fee but can make things so special. [Editor’s note: Jackson-based XOWYO recently began offering a beautifully curated selection of tabletop rentals including handmade pieces sourced from Italy, Portugal, France, and the U.S. Previously these items had to be shipped in. Browse the catalog at xowyo.com.]
- Table linens set the tone. Generally, the heavier a linen is, the more formal the event. The patterned linen on this table is pretty heavy, which sets a formal tone. Lighter linen would be more casual. Decide what kind of feeling you’re going for and pick a linen that supports it.
- A menu at each place setting gives guests something to get excited about.
Lindsey Johnson graduated from design school and spent more than a decade doing interiors for commercial and custom residential projects in Southern California before moving to Jackson Hole with her husband and three sons in 2016. Since making the move to Wyoming, JOhnson has gone from doing interior design to edible design: In early 2018 she founded the boutique bakery Lady in the Wild West. (If you’ve got a sweet tooth and aren’t already following @ladyinthewildwest on Instagram, do so immediately.) Johnson says she spends her days “thinking about cake design, creating the perfect styling of dessert bars, and making edible art to bring people joy.”
- I like to have only one or two colors of flowers. I would use different varieties of flowers, but stick to all-white for a clean, elegant, and classic look. Single-color arrangements look better in photos, too.
- A flat table is boring and uninviting—think about height and scale. Stack plates—a charger on the bottom with a dinner plate, salad plate, and bowl on top—to layer. You can use things like old crate boxes or galvanized tin platters turned upside down to display food.
- I love things on a table that are unexpected and can be conversation starters—like if you have a vintage collection of glassware that you found on Etsy or at a flea market. Guests will notice them and likely will ask questions.
- Use table runners instead of placemats. Placemats can overcrowd a table and make it look messy. A clean, beautiful table runner is all you need.
- Place cards show you’re a considerate host and allow you to add another creative design element to the table. They don’t have to be fancy, either. Gather river rocks and write guests’ names on them or on small chalkboards. Place cards are another way to be unique.