WHEN IT COMES to planning a dinner party, setting the table is just as important — but, thankfully, less time-consuming — as the hours you’ll spend crafting raviolis or hovering over chocolate souffle.
Luckily, a nostalgic dining set-up usually costs less than what you spend on the cheese course. In her photo-filled book, “The Vintage Table” ($35, Clarkson Potter), stylist Jacqueline de Montravel shows how inexpensive vintage pieces can instantly spruce up place settings. Here, she dishes on flea market finds and granny-chic plates.
» EXPRESS: You say people should stop coordinating their tables and bring in more eclectic, retro pieces. Why?
» DE MONTRAVEL: After creating so many tabletops, what energizes me most is when someone uses their favorite personal pieces. It’s just not as exciting to take out six matching plates, six glasses and six napkins, all from a store you can quickly identify. Those things can never be as special as an item that has a story behind it.
» EXPRESS: How does decor affect the dinner?
» DE MONTRAVEL: I personally get intimidated when things are super-perfect matchy-matchy. When you’re in a formal dining experience, you can feel a little uncomfortable and on guard. But when the decor is not as precise and has a little personality, it sets a more relaxed tone.
» EXPRESS: Why bring in vintage items?
» DE MONTRAVEL: They’re so affordable and easy to find. Maybe you’re walking past a garage sale and find a cute pitcher. Or perhaps a friend is trying to unload some pieces from her kitchen. You might not know immediately what to do with it, but if you’re drawn to something, you’ll find a way to make it work — usually, in a one-of-a-kind way.
» EXPRESS: How do you make a tabletop look artsy but not messy?
» DE MONTRAVEL: I do think you should always follow a proper table setting, where your glasses, utensils and such are in the right places. But from there, you can have fun. Stack up a pile of plates and put cookies on top. Or throw on an interesting gingham tablecloth underneath white earthenware dishes.
» EXPRESS: Do you have some go-to tips when creating a fashionable table?
» DE MONTRAVEL: A great tablecloth can pull together a very styled look. I’ve even used fabric remnants that I’ve draped over each other, like Indian fabrics in bright pink and blue. Pedestal dishes are also dramatic pieces that add instant flair.
» EXPRESS: What do you look for at thrift stores, flea markets or garage sales?
» DE MONTRAVEL: I love rose patterns on classic old china; it’s easily modernized but has so much charm. You can often find mismatched silver sets; I love tiny teaspoons because you can use them in different dishes. Pieces in glass and silver are also good because they’re very neutral and can be woven into any table setting.
» EXPRESS: Any tips for someone who’s not into secondhand shopping?
» DE MONTRAVEL: There are companies that do the vintage look well, even though they’re new items. I love Comptoir de Famille for the rustic French look. Match has great pewter pieces. And the housewares section at Dean & Deluca also has neat little pieces.
Photo reprinted from “The Vintage Table” by Jacqueline de Montravel (Clarkson Potter). Photographs by Jaimee Itagaki