The Art and Etiquette of Setting a Beautiful Table

... Not to Mention Throwing a Fabulous Bridal Shower! 

A beautiful welcome to a bridal shower for my nephew's fiancée, Casey!

A friend, Elle Richesse, recently gifted me with a subscription to Tea Time magazine.  Not being a big tea lover (as many of my readers know) I was still looking forward to the magazine, as I knew it would be filled with beautiful pictures, stories and features on various tea rooms.  I'm always up for a good cucumber sandwich, and tea rooms are generally charming places to visit.
Taking photos from an old Architectural Digest and tweeting from my doctor's exam room.  Surprisingly, he was interested in my thoughts on place setting etiquette.  Then again, his daughters were in my etiquette classes years ago.
I was pleased to see on the cover when the first issue arrived, that table settings would be featured and a Downton Abbey tea.  A big Downton Abbey fan, I was looking forward to reading about Downton and seeing the table settings.  
Tea really isn't "my cup of tea," but the articles in this magazine really are terrific.  Thank you again, Elle!

I am known for zeroing in on table settings the moment I see a table set. It comes from years of judging tables, setting tables, and an enthusiasm for a certain symmetry.  It's sort of like my bizarre counting the rings of ringing telephones on tv and in movies, but that is for another post.  It's not something I want to do mind you, it just happens. Its the same thing with table settings and me. It doesn't matter if I'm flipping through a magazine or walking through a restaurant. I see a place setting and immediately start looking to see if it is correct or incorrect. So flipping through Tea Time and to the Downton Abbey Tea... Oh dear...
Almost Downton Abbey style, but those forks would never be placed on the napkins!
One of my biggest peeves with place settings? Those which have forks placed on the napkins.  One's guests should not have to reset one's table, but that is exactly what a host or hostess is requiring their guests to do when they place forks on napkins.  The guests have to take the 2, or possibly 3, forks off of the napkin with one hand, retrieve the napkin to place in their laps, then replace the forks back down in their correct order. 
Napkin in the center of the place setting

A napkin belongs in the center of the place setting, if you really want your guests to use them nowadays.  Napkins placed to the left of the forks are okay in my book, but again, I want my guests to put their napkins in their laps.  Placing them on the table or service plate, in the center of the setting, means that your guest has to remove the napkin to have food placed in front of him or her.  I have seen napkins set to the left of the forks go completely unused, so I do not recommend placing napkins there.
Napkin to the left of the forks, in a napkin ring.

Now I understand why magazines and catalogs show gorgeous settings with the forks on the napkins.  It is either to show off more on an already crowded table, with limited space on the page, or it is that the stylist or photographer has no idea that placing the forks on the napkins is improper.  Those photos are not nearly as irritating as the old magazine and catalog, "mirror -image" backward place settings, that had the photo transparencies reversed prior to printing.  Seeing those photos of really beautiful but backward tables, always made me nuts!  So walking in to see these gorgeous tables set with such flair for the bridal shower Sunday... I was thrilled.
The settings Sunday?  Wonderful! 

The bridal shower Sunday was just beautiful.  Really stunning. 
Kudos to Peggy, and my niece Kelly.  They outdid themselves on this shower!

Kelly and Peggy have a surprise basket of roses for Casey from Sean.   Each had a note attached with a different reason why he loves her.  So sweet.

As I was admiring the tables and taking photos, a good friend of Peggy's, chef Cathy Mc Knight, told me that Peggy had gotten the vintage glasses, mismatched antique  silver flatware, etc... from a company called Archive Rentals.  I was dying to talk with Peggy about the settings, but didn't want to pester my sister in-law, as she and my niece Kelly had their hands full, putting the finishing touches on everything. 

Cathy's son, Scotty, is a groomsman in my nephew's wedding, as is a young man named Garrett Beck.  I had interviewed the three of them on sports etiquette back when they were all buddies in eighth grade.
Garrett, Sean and Scotty all grown up!  I still have my taped interview with them on sports' etiquette though, and am planning a blog post using their thoughts from 13 years ago.  All are still excellent etiquette tips!
Amanda Ngyuen (from my post on calling cards), a dear friend Maria Basdakis, Cathy McKnight and myself.  I spent a whole year and a half on the east coast and picked up that "no white after Labor Day" habit, so when the invite requested we, "Wear white or a favorite white accessory." I could only bring myself to wear a white jacket, even though it was a warm 80 degrees outside.
I also spotted Cindy Beck and chatted about Garrett.  She was exhausted, but also very excited and told us about her son in-law, Olympian Bode Miller's latest medal.  She had gotten texts from her daughter in Russia at about 4:00 a.m. and was thrilled for his win.

Me with Cindy Beck... Cheers to Olympic medals and a lovely afternoon!
Peggy had Yolanda Thayer there.  She has a company called "Perfume Bar Soiree" and mixed perfume for each guest.  We got to choose from the different top notes, etc... to create our own personal scent.  She had a label to place on the bottle and asked what I wanted to call my scent. All I could think of was "Etiquette."  The gift boxes at everyone's seats, held a different vintage or antique crystal perfume bottle.  No two were alike.   

One of Casey's bridesmaids, Emily with Amanda of "Feast.Fashion.Faves" along with my son Robert's girlfriend Kelsey, at Yolanda's table of "Perfume Bar Soiree"

Great food, wonderful company, scintillating scents and beautifully set tables.  What more could one ask for in a bridal shower?

Casey opening the gifts Kelsey and I brought for her.
Peggy and Kelly had a white, tufted seat raised up for Casey to sit on while she opened her gifts.  She looked just like a princess!

Victorian and Edwardian Era Bridal Shower Etiquette

The bestowal of engagement presents has of late years taken on a wholesale aspect. Instead of the occasional receipt of a present from one or another of her friends and relatives, the bride-elect is often now the guest of honor at one or more parties called "showers," and the recipient of numerous gifts which are literally showered upon her. There are many kinds of "showers," as many as the ingenuity and financial resources of friends may admit of. When, however, any one bride is to be made the object of a series of such attentions, it is well for the girl's friends who have the matter in hand to see to it that no one person is invited to more than one shower, or, if so invited, that it be at her own request and because she wishes to make several gifts to her friend.  These affairs should be purely spontaneous and informal, and occasions of much fun and jollity. Nevertheless, there is danger of overdoing the idea, and making the recipient feel burdened rather than gratified by the zeal of her friends in her behalf.

Effort should be made not to have the articles given at a "shower" duplicate each other. They should be some simple, useful gifts, which will be of immediate service, and need not be either expensive or especially durable, unless the giver so desires. A "shower" is usually given when a wedding is in prospect, and the necessity of stocking up the new home confronts the young home-makers. The aim is to take a kindly interest in the new home and help to fit it out, more in the way of suggestion than in any extravagant way, which would make the recipients feel embarrassed or indebted, or overload them with semi-desirable gifts.

The "shower" is usually in the afternoon, and is joined in almost exclusively by the girl friends of the bride-elect, with perhaps a few of her older women friends and relatives. If, however, it comes in the evening, the men of the bridal party are usually also invited. The refreshments are simple and the style of entertainment informal. The invitations to a "shower" are usually given by the hostess verbally, or she sends her cards by post with the words "Linen shower for Miss Hanley on Wednesday at four."

There is a wide range of possible kinds of "showers," but the only rational way is to choose for a donation party of this sort only such objects as will be needed in quantity and variety, and in the choice of which one has not too strong and distinctive taste, as, for instance, the following: Linen, towels, glass, books, fancy china, silver, spoons, aprons, etc. Of course, the furnishings of some one room, as the bath-room, laundry, or kitchen, might be the subject of a "shower," but usually a housewife would prefer to have what she wanted and nothing else for use in these places.

From Etiquipedia

Antique perfume bottles and scents to choose from, at the ready... 
Best wishes to Casey for a beautiful wedding!


  1. The vintage mix and match silver and glassware are beautiful with the simple white plates and napkins. I will have to try this for my next "all girls luncheon" or bridge night. I did not realize it could look so elegant.

  2. Thank you Maura! Kelly and I had so much fun planning the shower and we were so excited to see it all come together. It was a lot of work but worth it seeing our friends and family and especially Casey enjoying the day. I really enjoyed your blog on the shower it really captured and highlighted all the beautiful details- thank you.

    1. It was my pleasure! Kelsey and I had a lot of fun Sunday. It really was just beautiful! You have set the bar pretty high for whoever hosts Kelly's shower, prior to her upcoming wedding, next fall.

  3. I thought I was the only person who immediately started judging the correctness of place settings, even in magazines! Love the shower photos too. That must have been a lot of fun to attend.


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