By Arianne Nardo
History reminds that after taste was invented, table manners and centerpieces swooped in to claim credit for a perfect evening. For centuries, stylish service has stoked our decorative desire for drama. A beautiful place setting creates anticipation for the meal, no matter the company. It also begs us to strive beyond white, dishwasher-safe staples. As Sue Fisher King, noted proprietress of her namesake San Francisco boutique, describes it: “Setting the table is part of the fun of eating.”
Tabletop is special. It is the cosmetics counter of the design industry: colorful, seductive, available and intriguing. And just like makeup, it offers the irresistible invitation to experiment. This explains why tableware, and all its elegant trappings, is an increasingly essential category for interior designers. While special occasions and holidays will always call for l’art de la table, now there is little excuse to define the category as purely event-specific. The New York Tabletop Show, running April 12-15, heralds the beginning of this year's introductions.
“Designers are so smart, and their clients are highly educated and worldly,” says Laurie Burns, senior vice president and director of FortyOne Madison. “They rely on designers throughout their lives, which includes tabletop for their homes, their offices and yachts. A client might have a porcelain setting for the dining room and something acrylic for the pool house, and so on.”
Dusting off the “good china” begins to feel outdated considering the range of options and opportunities to use them. This is especially true given that tabletop isn’t subject to the same bruising in/out cycle as fashion. At the New York Tabletop Show, happening April 12 to 15 at FortyOne Madison, more than 120 brands will unveil new looks for spring. Now in its 42nd year, the show is an effervescent event that gives attendees a taste of more than the new colors and patterns on offer. It gives the design trade, retailers and hospitality influencers a preview into the lifestyles being articulated by each company.
At Rosenthal, whose first-floor showroom interiors evolve dramatically every season, the new Versace collection, Les Étoiles de la Mer, is in a wistful, wind-swept mood inspired by the line’s previous hit, Les Trésors de la Mer. Layered and confident, shells, coral and starfish—all tokens of the sea—are set on a tranquil gray and ivory palette with a couture volt of orange trim (or the choice of a vivacious pink for dinner plates). Drawing from the catwalk, Versace Home also wins for centerpiece of attention, with a zebra-striped black porcelain vessel (limited to 49 editions).
The Richard Ginori client fancies Florentine history: Since 1735, the Italian company has been producing handmade porcelain creations, some bearing the mark of design icon Gio Ponti. Additions to the Catene and Labirinto series include oval bowls, urns, cachepots, plates and Ming vases, showcasing Ponti’s geometric verve. The company’s revamped 17th-floor showroom also hosts the Marchese line of crystal goblets and pitchers crowned with hand-painted classical gold motifs.
Crystal, considered royalty among stemware, is poised for a few double takes this season. The English purveyor William Yeoward Crystal will reveal a new concept with the limited-edition Azzura collection. An elegant detour from the house’s Georgian and Regency influences, the Azzura narrative is one of sky blue prisms and craftsmanship, as Dana Jenkins, the brand’s marketing director describes, “Each piece has been hand-cut by a highly skilled craftsman, the design incorporating circular mirror cuts and vertical prism cuts that reflect and refract the light, the whole presenting an intriguing optical effect.” One standout is the 19-inch pineapple centerpiece.
Endiables coupe vue plongeante and Endiables lampe a poser vue de face allumee, both by José Lévy
Renowned French cristallerie Saint-Louis gives designer José Lévy carte blanche in a kaleidoscopic follow-up to his 2011 series, Les Endiablés. This artistic rebellion of candy-colored objet announces itself like a spray-painted tag, “Enough with the formalities—let’s party!” Lévy’s luscious new crystal pairings have birthed a mirror, vases, bowls and table lamp.
While glassware has thrill-of-the-hunt qualities, it has practicality in equal measure. As Burns points out, FortyOne Madison is an interior designer’s best drinking buddy. “How do you stock a bar?” she asks. “You need wine glasses, tumblers, singles for highballs, martini glasses and ice buckets. Here, designers can find anything at any price point. They can stock a dining room or entertaining area. Those are the basics, and our showrooms give them everything they need for a client.”
In her own shop, Sue Fisher King is partial to Murano tumblers by NasonMoretti, because their “different colors and permutations are so pretty, they make the whole table.” One hallmark of her shop, which celebrates its 37th anniversary this year, is the merchandising, a constant rotation alive with noted brands: glassware by Juliska, Alain Saint-Joanis flatware, and prints by Etro. “I like the idea of keeping things in the same genre, so you can mix them,” says King. “We have some more casual dishes and we mix them in all the time, especially with linen. We like color. While we have neutral things, we don’t do ‘griege.’ Our clients like something colorful. It’s cheerful and happy, and the food looks really nice.”
What King observes as a slight “overthrow of the traditional table, a little bohemian” captures a modern spirit, where the beverages are served in tumblers, not stemmed glasses, but the vessels are still flecked with gold. Low risk, high impact—few home furnishing categories rival paint in their talent for transformation. The 2016 spring tabletop intros give permission to experiment willingly and express freely.
Portuguese brand Vista Alegre revels in the notion of fusion with Blue Ming, a collaboration with Dutch designer Marcel Wanders. A chic riff on Delftware and Portugal’s own porcelain traditions, the full collection presents a white and blue palette with a faded effect suggesting two cultures and two eras. The latest creations from French brand Deshoulières are energetic. Graphic and lively, Rebelle is a zesty red service with a pattern inspired by an old fabric.
Rule breaking for a less vibrant palette requires no search party. Olivier Gagnère updates the beloved Pont-aux-Choux design by Faïencerie de Gien with a limited-edition series named Pandora. Excluding the mugs, only 200 have been produced. Moody and rich, the full-bodied colors united with the textural rice grain pattern and gold detailing imparts romance to the earthenware.
Elad Yifrach’s acclaimed L’Objet brand ventures in new territory with his Smoke + Mirrors collection, exploring the splendors of magic, fantasy and a maiden voyage with ebonized wood. For the first time, an assortment of games and leisure activities are presented as the L'Objet delves deeper into its lifestyle concept. The Deco tic-tac-toe and dominoes sets are handcrafted sojourns featuring shell inlay and antiqued brass.
Some homeowners will always crave something superlative and one-of-a-kind. For these clients, Burns points designers in the direction of select showrooms (listed on 41Madison.com) that work exclusively with the trade to conjure up custom creations—from monogrammed and hand-painted pieces to special details, shapes and colors. The merits of custom are not felt solely by clients: New York interior designer Alex Papachristidis’ signature napkins and vintage artifacts recently demonstrated how a table setting can be elevated by bespoke accessories and some gutsy moves.
While all eyes will be on the goods, the tabletop industry also found time to make a few headlining moves. Within FortyOne Madison, market attendees will find American silversmith Reed & Barton on the 9th floor. Lenox purchased the nearly 200-year-old company last spring, and a fresh portfolio of product is in the making. Libbey takes up residence on the 7th floor, sprawling over 8,500 square feet, while melamine maker TarHong heads up to the 15th floor.
Lladró, Spain’s famed porcelain manufacturer, has recently opened a showroom in the DDB. Within the 15th-floor space, the company inhabits its own universe of sculpture, objet, home decor and lighting, a recent foray that has witnessed the dulcet and quirky Winter Palace and Mademoiselle collections. Collaborations with acclaimed Spanish designer Jaime Hayon have heightened Lladro’s presence in the industry, as the company continues to pursue a contemporary porcelain mode for home and trade. Murano glass company Seguso will soon host visitors in its new space at 200 Lexington later this spring. The showroom promises to continue Seguso’s classic Vetri d’Arte legacy forward.
The New York Tabletop Show will host Interior Designer Day on April 14. Learn more.