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Tabletop Trends in a Gray World

By Marsha Fottler –

Gray is the new black. Attend a fashion show, tour a model home, or skim a design shelter magazine to see every shade and hue of gray celebrated from floor to ceiling in residences. In fashion gray reigns on the couture cat walk and at trendy off-the-rack places such as Banana Republic, Ann Taylor, Macy’s and more.

Some design experts insist this embrace of ashes has to do with the dour economy; others explain it’s a reaction to several years of vivid colors. But will this gray trend translate to table settings? Do you envision your holiday table, your annual brunch buffet, or your next formal dinner party draped in the color of America’s old reliable battleships? I couldn’t either.

Then I walked into my local Restoration Hardware store and tumbled into home-decor-crazy-love with gray. That retailer is going through a massive re-do of furniture styles, accessories, bed linens, showroom, catalog and Web site. And it’s mostly gray. There’s everything from pale dove, gray-taupe, pewter, old silver, anchor and cloudy-day to ruined-Chateau gray and, my favorite, Gustavian Swedish blue-gray. There’s gray with a hint of green, metrosexual charcoal (think Tom Ford) and fragile fog-gray so restrained it’s nearly white, like a rare mushroom or a shimmering oyster in its shell. Who knew gray could be so sexy, so sophisticated, so comforting, so easy to love? And, gray is a serene neutral that appeals to both men and women.

Now I think I must do some table settings in gray. For quick surrounding inspiration I’ll just check out the mother lode of stainless steel appliances in the kitchen.

I might anchor my table in a Gustavian blue-gray cloth, use pewter chargers, vintage silver or Mercury glass candlesticks, ivory candles, creamy plates edged with platinum, and ivory napkins. For a centerpiece a combination of pale white flowers, an eggplant, plums and some soft green foliage. The arrangement might be spilling out of a putty-gray wire birdcage. Napkin rings in merlot, clear glass stemware, silver flatware. Or maybe something entirely different using shells and coral with hues of fragile gray, like fog rolling onto the beach.

For the holidays I’ll pair my favorite shade of gray with claret, purple, white and gleaming silver metallics that express both a high shine and a matte patina. The secret to using gray (which can be sterile) is to use several shades and lots of texture to make the space inviting and sensual. Otherwise, friends will think Nurse Ratched was the decorator.

More table trends:

Layering. Start with the cloth and build layers with over-cloths, placemats, chargers, etc. The more layers the more eye appeal. Think of your table as a stage set for the food, which is the star of the show.

Monochromatic. It’s got to be gray this year. Little pops of accent color could be yellow, red, plum, lavender. Anything in the purple range is really nice. When you do a monochrome setting, texture is critical. You want a contrast of rough and smooth; old and new; shiny and matte finish. Don’t forget metallic objects.

Napkin rings: How about big pearl-gray iridescent ones?

Pave flower arrangements. Tightly arranged, everything the same height.

Innovative centerpieces: Go beyond flowers to include fruits, architectural fragments, vegetables, even books.

Cloth napkins: Dove gray, cotton or linen, at least 12-inches square. Iron them.

Individual salt cellars: Look for Mercury glass ones or antique silver. Salt cellars have come back into style because of gourmet salts.

Ice water in a handsome pitcher brightened with lemon or cucumber slices. Spas do this all the time and now great hostesses do too.

Table favors. Lately I’ve been sending each guest home with a packet of truffle salt.

Place cards. Do your guests a favor and don’t make eight or more people shuffle around the table and feel confused. Let them know where to sit.

Ivory candles for fall and winter.

Dining room chairs with arms. Low enough so the chairs slide under the table. Arm chairs rule because of downsizing. People want their dining room chairs to double as extra seating in other rooms.

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