Privilege Blog

9 Tricks and Tips for A Generous Aristocratic Table, On A 2010 Budget

This year I’m hosting 17 people for Thanksgiving. Or 18.  Two more tables will be added to what you see above, causing our seating to extend out through the living room, almost to the windowed hallway in back.  In any case, the occasion will call for all the plates I own. Some will be gold-rimmed, from my father’s family. Some will be white, from Aunt Crate and Uncle Barrel. Somehow, the resultant table has to approximate, in my heart, the Thanksgivings of my family. I am attached to our traditions.

Were I at my mother’s, we’d eat with Miessen and Tiffany. At my father’s, Quimper or something with flags, and Georgian silver. But I’m in my ranch house, a Rav4 parked outside, the realities of 2010 holding sway. Not that I don’t understand my fortune is good, that many go hungry, many have no family of any sort. I’m talking like someone on a diet, remembering the macaroni and cheese of their youth. China and silver are High WASP high-fat comfort food. Perhaps, like beef, consuming too much of the world’s resources, but inextricably part of our childhood and laden with childhood feelings.

Let’s assume you are more sensible, suffering no nostalgia. Let’s assume you simply enjoy the High WASP aesthetic. How then does one achieve High WASP table style, absent a family fortune? Herewith, the tricks of impoverished Highs all over the world.

10 Tricks And Tips For Generous Aristocratic Tables On A 2010 Budget

  1. Make sure most of your china is white. This is the backbone of your event. Very “good-looking” stuff can be had for almost nothing.
  2. Obtain something, maybe two things, rimmed with gold. Doesn’t matter what. There are very few objects not improved by a stripe of gold.
  3. Haul out your best table-friendly pieces. Bowls, pitchers, vases. Wash them, polish them, repair them as required. This is where second-hand stores, thrifting, and auctions can serve you very well. Used silver is a good deal.
  4. Determine which of your sentimental favorites you will use, even when they don’t actually comport with the Thanksgiving code of conduct. In my case it’s the Swedish bowls. Pale blue has no seat in the pantheon of Thanksgiving colors but my Swedish stepfather is coming up from Santa Barbara so that, as they say, is that.
  5. Iron the tablecloth, or placemats if they are cloth. Every component should be playing at the top of its game. Lay everything out.
  6. Now step back. Take a look. You want to paint the domestic equivalent of a canvas, meaning an aesthetic experienced as a whole. Do you like high contrast? Vivid flowers and colorful bowls against a white table. Subtlety? All pieces in the same color family. This is what they mean by “training your eye.” It can take some time, it can be native. There’s no value attached either way.
  7. Here’s the most important part. Some things should match. Some things shouldn’t.
  8. Here’s the next most important part. Match the cheap things, pick expensive things because you find them beautiful, or meaningful. My silver bowls above, full of chrysanthemums, are all different. Some are actually porringers. Bowls from which babies ate porridge. The wine glasses don’t match, the Lenox doesn’t even all match, the silverware won’t match. But the water glasses do, and they cost $0.50 apiece at Crate and Barrel. Their circular details are visible enough for design impact. The circular votive candleholders match and they were $1.50 apiece. Also Crate and Barrel. And I’m renting 18 matching light wooden chairs, at $2.50 a pop.
  9. Finally, consider your lighting. Fiddle with illumination enough and anything, absolutely anything looks pretty glamorous. Candles cast that glow of, um, candlelight. Flicker is your friend, when going for fancy.

And, of course, feel free to ignore everything I just said. A table is only a table. For people to sit, talk, eat, and drink around. Notice the large bottles of wine and champagne on the little white sideboard. Jeroboams. Visible abundance raises endorphin levels.

There are other ways to achieve the High WASP aesthetic. Were we hosting fewer people, my Thanksgiving might look like this. From Janet at The Gardener’s Cottage.

Simple, green, al fresco.  The elegance is in the contrast. More beautiful photos here.

Had I paid more attention to my family fortune, or were I an expert collector, my Thanksgiving table would quite certainly look like this.

Elegant, sparkling, and candelabra to die for. Taken when Reggie Darling and Boy Fenwick gave a “high dudgeon,” black tie dinner at Darlington. More of Boy’s beautiful photos here. My family might relax the black tie standard for Thanksgiving, as a dinner jacket weakens one’s capacity to chase tykes around. But this, this is the Jungian Table of the High WASP.  Nothing ostentatious, yet all is fine, harmonious. Put forth for love of a close community. Enjoyed in all its glory.

Good luck and good cheer to all with Thanksgiving preparations this week. Do you recreate family tradition, or have you established a new aesthetic?

Images: Simple table via The Gardener’s Cottage. Table with fantastic candelabra by Boy Fenwick via Reggie Darling. Belle de Ville noticed these same two tables, here.

49 Responses

  1. Such a great post. I couldn’t agree more strongly about not having everything matching – either in tables or in life, to be honest. Too ‘matchy-matchy’ and however beautiful you table looks, it looks like it should be in a restaurant not a home. A few mismatched things breathes life into the table setting and stops it from looking stuffy.

  2. I love this post!! Thanksgiving is my most treasured holiday because it’s not only about tradition its also a time to pause for gratefulness of family, the good the bad and the tacky!

    I am a traditionalist when it comes to linens and china and sterling and crystal. However, with two little ones under 3 running circles around my feet I don’t get to “pull out the good stuff” much anymore so Thanksgiving is my time to shine, literally! Thanks for all the wonderful tips too. It sounds like you’ll have a wonderful holiday.


  3. I love this post! I too am a believer in “match the cheap things” – this provides my tables with a cohesive look while still allowing me to use timeless family pieces that are precious to me but don’t all match. I am also a big believer in white china. I can do almost any tablescape in any season with white china.

    I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your crowd! Good luck, I’m sure you will be a fantastic hostess.

  4. Your timing couldn’t be any better Miss Privilige, and what outstanding pointers you provide. The note on gold enhancing most things, and only the water glasses needing to match are two of the easiest for anyone to accomplish.

    Love this post, and the pictures are fun as well, thank you!

  5. I enjoy your thoughts on this…love the mismatching idea…love how you strung your gratefulness throught out this post. I hope you have a wonderful week of preparations and time with loved ones. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. XX

  6. “…and yet all is fine, harmonious.”

    Exactly. Candlelight, a little soft music, low lights…that is all anyone needs really. In the end it’s good food and lively conversation that carries the day. That having been said, I agree with all of your wonderful tips! White dishes are always a unifying force. They give the table a clean, elegant look…and yes, a few odd pieces add charm and interest! (The first time I saw Reggie’s table my mouth dropped. Now it seems I am gawking all over again. Gorgeous!) Have a fabulous Turkey Day to you and your family Lisa!


  7. I only ever entertain my children, and occasionally our staff – none of whom care who my table looks, as long as I’m feeding them.

    I need to get out and meet more people…

  8. You had me at Quimper. Our Herend Lady Rothschild platter is my favorite piece we received for our wedding. This will be the first time to actually use it to serve the turkey and dressing. Happy Thanksgiving!

  9. Excellent points. Elegance can be achieved even on a budget. Style is more about sense than money. And candlelight does make everything more lovely. But the highlight of your table will clearly be having so many of your loved ones at hand. Any table sparkles then. (And oh, yes, to have been a guest at Reggie Darling’s dinner party. Lovely, and I enjoyed reading about it on his page.)
    A very Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  10. Lovely. You’ve set us down at the table, so do please come back on this at some point telling what you will wear, what you will serve, time of day and expected duration of the event, and so forth.

  11. PS, public service comment: there’s a pristine white oval nicely-rimmed platter available at Target right now, it’s colossal and gorgeous, it’s in the open stock white aisle, they’re practically giving it away, I’m going back right now to buy all they have to give as gifts, I don’t know what possessed me to walk out of that store with only one.

  12. One of my favorite moments will come Wednesday night, when my tables are set & everything is sparkling clean.

    The next best is when the masses descend on Thursday and wreck it all up!

  13. What an absolutely gorgeous table you have set! It’s true, you can mix the top end and the inexpensive. My mother always taught me that when you choose inexpensive pieces to keep them simple, simple, simple, and you’ve done this to beautiful effect. It really makes the event feel special to use our beautiful things.

    We don’t have any china at all, but I may invest in a few pieces and complement with some simple white plates as you’ve done here. We inherited two sets of silverware (one from my family, one from his) and as neither have enough settings to accommodate the size of the group we usually have (18-22) we alternate place settings between the two. I so enjoy setting a beautiful table, and this is the first Thanksgiving in years I haven’t hosted as we’re leaving to go out of town early the next morning. Maybe I’ll host a New Years supper….

  14. Another wonderful post. I tend not to use my beautiful Wedgwood china (wedding gifts of almost 35 years ago) and instead we have our Thanksgiving dinner at our farm–creamy white dishes (Edme) and Martha Stewart (Kmart) glassware, combined with Crate and Barrel wine glasses. I DO think I will take my sterling flatware out there for Thanksgiving. Everyone is right though—it’s the guests at the table who make it such a special meal. This year we will have both of our sons, our dil, two grandsons (both babies) and both of our mothers. It could be last time for this whole group to be together for Thanksgiving. One never knows.

  15. Phantastic posting! I love everything about it, the “how to”-list, the pictures, …
    Please tell me, when did you get the crown princess-cups? In the first place, or did you order them later? I thought you were unsure if you wanted to follow the wedding-hype.
    I guess it is Meissen you are referring to? I was shocked, when I saw at which low prices finest porcellain is available these days in auction-houses in Vienna. It used to be beyond anything I could ever afford and now I could buy it 2nd hand …

  16. Dear PVE

    I very much enjoyed reading your How To post. Your table looks delightful. Although we have nothing quite as wonderful as Thanksgiving in the UK, you have inspired me to attempt to furnish my Christmas table with as much of the ‘good stuff’ as I possibly can. Food aside, this includes the ancient hand-me-down linens, odd sized glasses and – oh blow it – I might even see if I can dig out something silver to add a bit more twinkle. I hope you and yours enjoy a wonderful celebration.

  17. Lovely post, and inspiring. Your table is beautiful and reminded me of some gorgeous old deep red, gold-trimmed plates of my grandmother’s I will have to dig out for Christmas dinner. You will see why later.
    Were Thanksgiving to be at my house, it would be in a dining room carved from the chicken coop that connected the house to the barn, wall of windows overlooking stone bridge and stream, across to a few acres of meadow bordered by deep woods. The long table was locally handmade, simple Shaker style chairs, silver twisted candelabra, homespun placemats, linen or matching napkins, Mottahedeh Blue Canton and some genuine antique cantonware, a few dragons (the soup tureen) all awaiting the perfect dollop of crimson and gold Imari. Now wouldn’t those earlier-mentioned deep red and gold plates tie the Imari to the cantonware just beautifully?
    Sensible sturdy crystal. Huge portrait of great-grandma watching over us, and a grand-uncle’s winners oar from an early 1900s crew race.
    Alas, all 57 of us are gathering at a resort in the mountains this year!
    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  18. Lisa, I love your comment about china and silver being comfort food. I seem to have acquired five sets of china, sterling flatware for 24 and odd serving pieces. Only six for Thanksgiving, but I’m pulling out all the stops.

  19. Lickedspoon – Good point. And if one tries to do the moral equivalent of china matching in life, life being what it is, one is almost sure to fail. Leading to wasted time and disappointment.

    Ms. Ouiser – I too love the pause at Thanksgiving, right before we start to eat. And then at some point, once everyone has had a bite to eat, we usually go round the table and say what we are thankful for. It’s a wonderful time.

    Lauren – Thank you. The good part is about having family is that in many ways we all host each other. My aunt just dropped off two folding tables, some extra silver tableware and a set of 18 cheap wine glasses:).

    TPP – Thank you. And my favorite gold-enhanced glass is Annieware – you know it, right?

    Lori- Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

  20. Crate and Barrel … Uncle and Auntie have a store within a mile of my little casa. No pangs when something breaks ’cause it’s so reasonably priced. We just walk over and buy more. Happy Thanksgiving.

  21. Hill House – I think it’s possible to understand both, just as you say. The company matters most, but it’s also fun to get creative with the setting. I felt the same way about Reggie’s table…Those candelabra!

    Jan – If you fed me I wouldn’t care about anything else either:).

    Nelle – Have a wonderful, Quimper-supported, Thanksgiving.

    The Daily Connoisseur – There’s always room for one more. The tables aren’t quite out the back door yet!

    Stephanie – Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. Style is absolutely more about sense than money.

    Hostess – Thank you! I appreciate your kudos and your taste.

  22. Hurrah for the layered crockery look – it’s great to sit down in front of half a dishwasher-load of plates and bowls. My proudest moment was before my wedding, when I unwrapped the largest charger plates I’d ever seen, bought for me by a friend who clearly knew that I had serious years of layering ahead. Since then I’ve been an impeccable gold-rimmed & family silver style hostess, stalwartly resisting the urge to dish up the vegetables in a Charles and Diana engagement commemoration bowl.

  23. I’ve never heard anybody articulate the matching inexpensive/un-matched heirloom theory, but it seems intuitive.

    I go for a raucous Thanksgiving and then expect everybody to settle in and behave at Christmas. So e colored earthenware at Thanksgiving and gold-trimmed for Christmas dinner. I like Quimper at Easter — something about all those eggs and the farm inspired figures.

    Now that we’ve seen the table, what’s on the menu?

  24. Hello Privilege: It is an honor to be featured on your site, and what you write has made Reggie blush, which he is quite pleased to do, considering that it was you who wrote it. Oh, and he agrees: all white is definitely the foundation upon which to build upon, and one never need feel compelled to have everything match, in fact one really should refrain from it. Fondest, Reggie

  25. Absolutely gorgeous post LPC… Love it so much and agree you cannot go wrong with white. Anywhere in fact! Hope your plans are going well. x

  26. Oh, I’m so glad you posted this. It prompted me to go through my china and see if I have enough for my guests, and I do not!! Oops. Fortunately I can mix ‘n’ match with my regular dishes, I think, and it will look OK. It’s all white, just different trim styles.

    And I thadn’t thought of the tablecloth. Where did I put that thing?

  27. Amy – I remember the first Thanksgiving I ever hosted. How excited I was. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in Ask LPC, and I will do my best to answer with my limited knowledge:).

    Flo – All right. It’s a deal. And thank for the heads up on the Target platter. I may pick one up for the turkey, if it doesn’t fit on the round silver one I’ve got.

    Patsy – I know! It’s all just a frame for loved ones.

    Colleen – Well, isn’t that what we all want in the years after 30? Opportunities for personal growth that don’t involve a sweat lodge?

    Deja – I am thinking that you would put together a really fun Thanksgiving. The table included. Leopard might play a role:).

    Susan – Thank you. A farm would compensate for closeted Wedgwood. And grandsons would be the best of all. Along with mothers.

  28. Janet – You are very welcome. Thank you for sharing that photo. And I am sure I can use all the help I can get.

    Paula – I ordered the princess bowls after the visit from an online Scandinavian design company. It’s on the blog somewhere. I didn’t follow the hype, per se, but I did love the pattern. And yes I mean Meissen. One can now own some, if one is so inclined. As you say, it didn’t use to be possible.

    Sensible – Well thank you!

    meg – You had me at, “Were Thanksgiving to be at my house, it would be in a dining room carved from the chicken coop that connected the house to the barn, wall of windows overlooking stone bridge and stream, across to a few acres of meadow bordered by deep woods.” :). The rest is like fabulous icing on a beautiful cake. Some day send photos. We can post them on the Privilege[d] Hall of Fame. Thank you.

    DocP – Pull out those stop and have a wonderful time. If you have all that hostess infrastructure I bet you do a fantastic job.

    ADG – Happy Thanksgiving to you, the little one, and all your fabulous fabric.

  29. mise – I now have a new term to embrace. Layered crockery. However, you do know that those Swedish bowls are from the Swedish Royal Wedding series, right? Right? The Swedes just avoid that Put Their Faces On A Teapot thing:).

    Preppy Pink – Thank you!

    RoseAG – I love the idea of raucous earthenware. Ah, the menu. OK. I will put it up. We’re doing Asian-inspired Thanksgiving this year.

    Laura – Thank you! I certainly made myself laugh:). Glad I shared it with you.

    Reggie – Yours, in persistent match-restraining, and with great affection, Lisa.

  30. Well I’ve never really appreciated my mom’s gold rimmed Royal Daulton china until now–I thought it was kind of hideous. I’m more of a PB white minimalist. But I like the idea of mixing it up. It’s growing on me slowly, slowly.

    xo Mary Jo

  31. Wonderfully articulated. I’m a big believer in the white china — have a huge stack of the Johnson’s Athena Ironstone, very inexpensive but dresses up nicely and plays well with others.

  32. Beautiful table settings, your table is the most inviting though. I used to have complete china sets, but not anymore. A bit of mixing and matching makes the table setting more interesting and functional!

  33. Semi Expat – Thank you. Making progress here. Cross fingers.

    rb – How funny! I actually had a line in there about making sure everyone has enough plates so they don’t have to eat off the table.

    Preppy 101 – Thank you so much!

    Mary Jo – Little steps. Little steps. And some people never go gold:).

    Tabitha – Thank you. That is a very nice compliment, and I thank you.

    Mater – I use china to mean any plates that aren’t paper, plastic, or metal, so there you go:).

    Metscan – Thank you very much. Perhaps you will show us your table set for a large dinner one day.

  34. LPC your table looks lovely. I wish you and your family a beautiful Thanksgiving.

    And we are very much enjoying our used sterling! Thanks again for providing the inspiration to consider a used set.

  35. Lisa your table is most beautiful and full of ambience. Adore Reggie’s table, and that candelabra, ahhhh!

    It is important to use the things you love and make it a true celebration of gratitude!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Art by Karena

  36. Happy Thanksgiving!

    I’m having a little trouble navigating your new blog. I’m so used to Blogspot, so this take some getting used to.

    In my family, we always knew ourselves to be WASP’s. I had never heard of high WASP; but I like your descriptions. I’ve inquired around the family; the English, Irish, Scottish, ones, anyway. WASP to them, means White, Anglo Saxon Protestant. Is High WASP, an American term? Here in Canada, we have ‘High Anglicans, but that refers to particular Anglican, high church, congregations.

  37. This is quite belated, but I found this post at just the right time, since I’m hosting a party tomorrow!

    Love what you say about the gold trim — I recently received two different sets of dishes from relatives as housewarming gifts. The sets are very different (one is fine china from Japan, the other is sturdy stuff Made in China), but both are white with gold trim.

    I’m happy to know these sets will be great mixed and matched for my party!

    Thank you Lisa, as always, for your wise style advice.

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