Friday, January 7, 2011

Winter Tablescapes… Top These Tabletops

In mid-December, I attended a seminar at the Boston Design Center called “Historical Tablescapes: Dishing up unexpected holiday style from Bauhaus to your house.” It was a joint effort between several of the showrooms at the Design Center, Neptune 1 Studios of Marblehead, and Historic New England. What a fascinating draw for me, considering that I studied both interior design and historic preservation in college! In fact, when I was in graduate school, I learned all about one of the very first groundbreaking preservation organizations in the country, which was called the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities at the time… now Historic New England. And while working at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, I especially enjoyed the month of December when we staged the homes and buildings to reflect how the holidays would have been celebrated in homes from 17th century Cotswold, England through lavish spreads in Victorian Era American homes.

Anyway, back to the seminar! Our session began with an interesting history and context lesson of several specific historical properties, as well as what the holiday styles would have been like at each of homes in their day. Then we had the opportunity to view tablescapes that complemented those properties, which were designed by Neptune 1 Studios, utilizing their own creations as well as furnishings from showrooms in the building.

Susan Newburg and Phyllis Tracy of Neptune 1 create decoupage plates utilizing reproductions of historically significant images from the properties and archives of extraordinary properties throughout New England. Their stunning pieces were the focal point of three tables, each of which gave a nod to a different time and place in history… although they were also very of the moment. The tabletops were designed with the upcoming Christmas holiday in mind, but except for the occasional red berry or shiny ornament, most of the elements that they used set the mood for a wonderful gathering that could take place any time all winter long.

Starting with the oldest first, we were inspired by the Lee Mansion Wallpaper Collection, which was actually the spark for Neptune 1 Studio’s inception- Colonel Jeremiah Lee’s 18th century mansion, one of the grandest of its day, is owned by the Marblehead Historical Society. Among its remarkable contents is the wallpaper that was hand painted in London, transported to Marblehead and installed on site. Each plate in the collection translates just a small part of the expansive mural from the mansion into a small work of art.

Phyllis Tracy of Neptune 1 Studios

Inspired Tablecape

Moving into the early 20th century, we experienced the exuberance of Neptune 1’s Décor Chinois Collection, which utilizes wallpaper from the Belfry Chamber at Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, which overlooks the harbor in Gloucester. Built in the late 1800’s but expanded on in the 1900’s, it was the summer home of Henry Davis Sleeper, one of the first professional interior designers in America, who used the home’s setting to express his own style as well as experiment with new and exciting design concepts of the day. The light colors combined with birds and flowers in the Décor Chinois Collection set the tone for a lively and festive table setting.

Inspired Tablescape

Décor Chinois Collection

Reflecting Mid-century Modern while looking perfectly up to the minute was the final tablescape, influenced by the Gropius House in Lincoln. Walter Gropius was the founder of the Bauhaus School in Weimar, Germany… which was an actual school as well as radical new ‘school of thought’ regarding design in which the fine arts and applied crafts were considered collaborative rather than opposing. Gropius moved, with his wife Ise and daughter Ati, to the United States in 1937 where he continued his influence on a new direction in architecture and design as both an architect in private practice, and an educator and Director of the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge. His 1938 home in Lincoln combined traditional elements from his newly adopted New England combined with innovative materials and the efficiency and simplicity of the Bauhaus philosophy.

Gropius House Inspired Mid-century Modern Tablescape

Although Phyllis & Susan use documented papers and more sophisticated application techniques for their designs, I have long enjoyed creating decoupage plates for different holidays, seasons, and vignettes. I generally use fabrics that relate to the interior of the room I am designing for, or a fabric acquired specifically to be used in the space for a particular point in time. One year, everyone on my Christmas list received a decoupage plate created especially for them… I selected a specific holiday fabric that spoke to each of the recipients color schemes and design styles… I bought quite a few quarter-yards of fabric that season!

This year, I tied in my Blue Christmas themed holiday décor with decorative plates and drink coasters of blue ombre fabric with silver snowflakes. The great thing about that pattern selection is that it doesn’t have to go into storage on January 1st with the tree… I can use it as long as the weather dictates! Although it’s fine to have some very holiday-specific items to decorate with, the more seasonally oriented the pieces are, the more flexible they are, and the more usage you will get out of them.

Winter Tablescape with Blue Ombre & Silver Snowflake Decoupage

Just another example of how I used a small piece of fabric to make a fabulous decorative statement by bringing it together with a clear glass plate...

Vignette with Beige & Blue Nautical Chart Decoupage

I hope that this has you thinking creatively about some of those scraps of fabric that you just weren’t quite sure what to do with!


  1. Hi Kat,

    Very informative and thanks for sharing your seminar experience! Love the fabric you chose and what a great idea to use those fabric scraps for..

    Keep up the great posts and looking forward to your next one!

  2. Wow, I was looking for inspiration for my blog and thought of writing about that seminar we attended together. And then I read your post. Well, you said it all! Great explanations and detail! And fabulous pictures! I couldn't even touch this! Great post!


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