Artist and illustrator Chiara Perano’s pen and ink calligraphy and sketches have graced many a dinner party table, from Mulberry’s fashion week soirées to Laura Jackson’s Hoste supper clubs. She's also just launched a collection of painterly prints at Liberty and is the author of Nib+Ink, a guide to modern creative calligraphy. Here she shares her tips on how to make your table look special.
How can you give your table a sense of occasion?
I love creating hand-painted stationery like menus and place settings for a very personal touch. You could also forage for some seasonal foliage to decorate the table or tie gingham ribbon bows round tall tapered candlesticks and linen napkins.
What’s a good way to pick a scheme for a table?
I am usually led by the occasion and cuisine. For example, for a festive Italian feast, I’ll use rustic linens on my wooden table, add in some Italian herbs or fruits with white candles all along the centre, and use splattered Italian plates, big sharing platters and fun painted menus. For a more formal British festive occasion, special silverware and dark plates can be dressed up with dried winter foliage, long tapered candles in a traditional candelabra and elegant place settings.
How can you make guests feel special?
Add a personalised touch on the place setting – their name painted or written on a card or, if your budget allows, a small gift they can take home. Embroidering a napkin with their initials is an extra beautiful touch – it doesn’t need to be fancy, a simple chain stitch is so effective, and is a great creative pastime. Other essentials are attentive hosting and creating the perfect ambience with lighting and playlists.
How much time do you need to set the scene?
Give yourself time to hand-write menus and make personalised settings as soon as you finalise the menu and guest list – you’ll have other things to worry about at the last minute! Keep it simple if you’re not too arty – a sleek painted border with a handwritten menu gets guests excited for what’s to come. Watercolour pens create a lovely effect.
Tell us about how you like to dress your table at Christmas...
I usually get to dress the table while my mum is cooking, which I love – getting out all the special silverware, glasses and charger plates, putting ribbons round the napkins and foraging for holly and berries outside. I also love making personalised crackers, slipping in a special gift for each person – I write their name on a little piece of card and stick it on so they act like a place setting. This year I want to try making my own out of fabric, which will be reusable and I can match the fabric to the colour scheme. ciao-chiara.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration January 2020
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