A touch of whimsy and candy can make a dinner table festive and accessible to all ages.
Beth Rhodehamel is a former designer for Gucci, Donna Karan, Williams Sonoma and ceramics manufacturer Herrend. She brings her design skills to her business as an interior designer and owner of Monroe Street boutique Forget Me Not Studio.
Rhodehamel recently decorated a tabletop at Forget Me Not to model what she calls an elegant, family-friendly dinner party. The multi-layered display includes a simple centerpiece of sunflowers, dozens of tiny bouquets, small candy bowls and votive candles in vintage holders. Small animal-shaped ceramic animals also dot the table, including tiny mice and badger-shaped salt and pepper shakers.
“I try to put in little things that are whimsical, so that when you sit down you smile,” Rhodehamel said. “The feeling of the table matters more than the formality of the table.”
Ceramic animal figurines and candy dishes are fun for kids, but adults respond to it too, she said.
“They look like they’re there for kids, but do it for adults too,” she said. “Everyone loves a treat. If not, do you want to have them over?”
Open nearly two years, Forget Me Not is a culmination of Rhodehamel’s career in fashion design and tableware design. Rhodehamel began her design career working in footwear, eventually working with Tom Ford and selling designs to Gucci. She later worked for Donna Karan and Lands’ End.
A career switch to tableware design led her to work for the Hungary-based ceramics company Herrend. Herrend is one of the oldest ceramics manufacturers in the world, she said, and it was working there that she discovered the world of design available at the dinner table. She visited centuries-old factories and saw artisans blowing glass, firing ceramics and hand-blocking textiles.
“Once I started working with tableware, I realized a plate is like a blank canvas,” she said.
One of the connections she made was with Elgin, a small ceramics manufacturer based in New Jersey. Rhodehamel is a fan of Elgin’s playful but elegant plates, bowls and platters.
Forget Me Not’s family-friendly dinner table features Elgin white plates topped with the company’s, large, brightly-colored cappuccino mugs, which she says are really ideal soup bowls. They come in vibrant colors meant to be mixed together. The colors are fun and add an accessible touch to a traditional piece, she said.
“And they’re kid friendly because there’s a big handle you can hold on to,” she said.
The table’s ceramic animals are made by Quail Ceramics, an English manufacturer specializing in figurines of English wildlife. Rhodehamel estimates Forget Me Not is one of two retailers selling the ceramics in the United States. The badger-shaped salt and pepper shakers and a badger cream pitcher are especially popular in her shop, she said. They offer exactly the kind of unique aspect that inspire a feeling of accessible design, she said.
“When people get hung up on doing things the right way, that’s when they get stuck or things go wrong,” she said.
The table is covered with two table runners in a pumpkin, royal blue and cranberry damask pattern. The textiles are by Les Indiennes and the patterns are hand-blocked in India. Rhodehamel orders textiles from around the world, and her design colleague, Barb Mueller, sews window treatments, pillows and table coverings for Forget Me Not clients.
The table runner’s traditional damask is accented with the gold of the sunflowers, purple flowers, white plates and teal, coral and yellow accent bowls.
Use the entire table to add decorative accents, not just the center, Rhodehamel said. And don’t be limited by a strict color scheme, but in fact use a number of contrasting colors.
“Use contrasting colors. It’s like the most interesting couples you know, they’re not both the same,” she said. “It creates a dynamic that’s interesting in design too.”
For a Halloween display in the store, Rhodehamel topped a table with a cream and black table runner. The cloth is topped with a large vase filled with corn husks, black candles and bowls of candy corn. She points to a table runner in a dark red paisley pattern hanging on the wall, a pattern she recommends for Christmas settings.
“You can use these things year round, you could use it in the summertime,” she said. “Not everything has to be emblazoned with glittering Santas.”