Few do it better: those grand, visionary tablesettings we dream about each time the holiday season rolls around. Martha Stewart has been 'table dressing' professionally for decades now, first as a homemaker, then as a caterer and finally as the world's leading lifestyle authority, through columns, books, magazines and television shows.
With the holiday season about to launch in just a week, I wanted to showcase some of the spectacular table settings Martha has created recently at her homes in Bedford and Maine. (Perhaps, at a later time, I will highlight some of her tablesettings from past holidays, from the Turkey Hill days, to illustrate how her design aesthetic has changed.)
These days, Martha styles her tables in a relatively simple but no less inspiring fashion. Among her trademarks is a long row (or runner) of fresh flowers, potted plants, gourds or candles - or a mix of objects - that stretches along the length and center of the table. While she is not averse to using tablecloths, she rarely employs them. When she does, she always opts for those that are tailored specifically for the table she is using. She is also a big fan of symmetry and balance.
Similarly, she rarely uses placemats, opting instead to keep the placesetting free of material, aside from a luxurious linen napkin. In some of the photographs below you will see that she has used large damask napkins as placemats, opened and angled to create an area for the placesettings. Most of all, Martha always uses her vast collections of rare china, glassware, flatware and decorative accessories, mixing and matching them to make her table uniquely hers. Nearly all of the centerpieces are harvested from the grounds of her farm, whether they are gourds from the garden or cacti from the greenhouse. We have all, at one time or another, dreamed of having dinner at Cantitoe Corners, Lily Pond or Skylands. Hopefully these photos from The Martha Blog and her book Martha's Entertaining will inspire you to create something magical for your holiday table this year.
For a Thanksgiving placesetting, Martha used early flatware and a turkey-patterned set of early English Staffordshire china. Loose groupings of gourds, potted geraniums and candles form the centerpiece.
For big crowds, Martha uses her "Brown Room" for entertaining. This room was originally a tractor garage, adjacent but somewhat detached from the main house, accessible only by the kitchen and a side entrance. It has plenty of space for several long tables, most of which were custom made to fit the dimensions of the room. The chairs were also designed by Martha.
Martha designed a beautiful, marble-top table for the Brown Room, which can be separated into two. Here, she has split them apart to create a more intimate gathering.
This is a formal placesetting. The dinner plate is at the center and can be layered with chargers to denote the various courses. The napkin at the center of the plate is a welcoming and elegant touch. The bread plate is located to the left with its own butter knife. Above that is the salt cellar. The flatware around the plate is placed with the first course utensils on the extreme outer edges (soup spoon/salad fork) then a fish course then the main course. (As a diner, one should always begin using the outermost utensils first and work inward as the meal progresses.) Above the plate is the dessert spoon and the dessert fork. The stemware is for water (glass directly above the knife) white wine (glass to the right of the water glass) and red wine (the largest glass.)
Martha had a logo created for her farm: a large, stylized sycamore tree. (Cantitoe Corners is known for its sycamores and the property was once called Sycamore Farms.) She uses the logo on personal menus, such as the one above.
At Skylands, the style is similar. This holiday table is intimate and festive, nestled into one corner of the dining room. It is decorated with Fitzhugh china and red glassware. The effect is simple, symmetrical and elegant - never overdone.
The long, faux-bois table Martha had commissioned for Skylands is used in the dining room for a Burgundy dinner party. Wine bottles, pillar candles and long vines of grapes are used as the rustic centerpiece.
Martha had a similar menu commissioned for Skylands, using a stylized map of Mt. Desert Island and Seal Harbor as the embellishment.