When it comes to special occasion table settings, vintage Limoges, silver and crystal is my signature.
For the past three decades I’ve been using the same service for twelve of celadon-green, Asian inspired Limoges china for holiday lunches, brunches and dinners along with the same 8-piece place settings of Buccellati Italian silverware. Apart from buying butter knives about 15 years ago, I haven’t added to either set.
The pale green china and the blue tablecloth are very similar in color – in certain light they look the same. I’ve always used a small group of colors in my houses – pale blues, greens, raspberry, grays and taupe so I learn towards frosty, silvery tables, even for the holidays. Rather than dazzling from afar, I hope that, once seated, all the small details intrigue my guests.
Limoges, France has been famous for its porcelain since the 18th century. Ceraline was a manufacturer with own shop on Madison Avenue for many years and the brand also was sold by Tiffany’s. My Chinese Basket” or panier chinois pattern is one of their least popular and has been discontinued. It features traditional celadon green body. That’s not for everyone, I know, and I never understood why I always loved green china so much but, looking back, I think it was subliminal. While I worked at Sotheby’s, I saw a tremendous amount of Chinese export going through. It just never registered until it came time to actually buying dishes I expected to use for a lifetime – as I basically have.
Back in 1985, I purchased more than 100 small celadon-green Chinese export famille vert porcelain dishes at the James Beard estate auction. Since I had been one of the regular Beard cooking students in the early 80s, I knew Jim’s taste for Chinese food and dishware. The “Beard pieces” are small 19th century hand-painted dishes which are a perfect size for hors d’oeuvre and butter plates. But I never saw these until they were set out at the auction exhibition. I’ve always used them with the Limoges because this type of Chinese pattern was originally what inspired it.
I don’t recall where I acquired four really old, low silver candlesticks. I’ve just always had them. I did search out American pressed-glass open salt cellars and found a pair of tiny sterling salt spoons in an antique shop in Vermont. The small silver Cambodian animals belong to my husband, who bought them when he lived in Asia. I move them from the kitchen window sill to the table when I need them. I like to have some wildlife snuggling up under the white pine branch centerpiece.
Red berries, white spider orchids and pine boughs make a naturalistic floral arrangement for the center of the table – pale green and lavender ribbons add to the festive air and transform the cut stems into a table bouquet.
Several well-priced silver serving pieces have found a home with me along the way. One favorite is a sauce boat from the antique department at Marshall Field & Co. That rests on an oval silver tray lined with one of my Grandmother’s 50s era cocktail napkins. The gravy spoon was another vintage find.
One of my collecting passions is vintage cut-crystal and etched American goblets. I bought these from a local dealer, also in the ‘90s. I’ve collected two different sets of yellow wine glasses but nothing matches, which I think adds even more variety to the table.
The cut-crystal goblet bowls are intricate and probably date back to the first decade of the 20th century.
Depression glass goblets often were colored yellow, pink or green. These have exceptionally nice facets and etching. I adore colored American glassware.
The eight-piece place settings of Milano silver include a luncheon knife and spoon, soup spoon, salad fork, butter knife and teaspoon in addition to the dinner knife and fork. What first attracted me to Italian silver was the heavy weight and the real blades (not serrated) on the knives. My rimmed soup bowls are perfect for cream soups, risotto, pasta or fish courses with savory broth. I’m glad I chose them over the more formal loop-handle soup bowls which people bought back when consommé was still in fashion. I’d like to officially state that while I’ve led a vintage life, that was way before my time.
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