Dedicating a space to your fall gatherings may require revisioning the room.
BY DANIELLE POPE
The dining room can be a quietly closeted place in a house. When daily meals are enjoyed on the kitchen island, nightly teas are taken in the living area and only the kids swing by to drop off an overflowing bag of something, the dining room all but awaits its turn.
It’s fall, perhaps, that gives any dining room the most hope.
With the promise of holiday gatherings on the horizon, cool evenings forcing meals inside from the patio and ever-darkening days encouraging family game nights, this is the dining room’s time to shine.
With a little polish — and some clear intent — this room can also become your key to creating a space dedicated to the season, and treating guests to an experience they’ll take home long after the stuffed bellies are forgotten.
Decorating with Life
“Coming into autumn, the dining table is really the hearth of the home,” says Ann Squires Ferguson, CEO of Western Design+Build. “You come together, and you’re face to face with the people you love. It’s a place of gathering and community.”
For Squires Ferguson, bringing a ritual into dining has become a beautiful way of honouring time and space. She says her family’s experience of the dining room has changed significantly this last year.
“In our family, we add a lot of ceremony with dining now. We take the time to set the candles and the placemats, and the cloth napkins, really at every occasion,” says Squires Ferguson. “Coming out of cancer, I used to think, ‘Oh, it’s just the family,’ and now I think, ‘It’s the family — this is as good as it gets.’ ”
To use a room this way, Squires Ferguson says the key is “normalizing the detritus of daily life.” She holds a regular gathering with a group of friends who meet at each other’s houses with one rule: no preparing. Cleaning is off limits; so is creating a fancy dish, or getting dressed up. The result is more comfort.
“I think we all need more permission to have a little bit of friendly chaos,” says Squires Ferguson. “Rather than apologizing for what has become a craft table, see it as a wonderful thing … When we talk about creating an experience around the dining table, you’re talking about creating connection.”
Colour Outside the Lines
Squires Ferguson suggests that building experiences — whether for yourself, your family or your guests — is the best way to infuse meaning into a space.
That’s not to discount esthetics. Squires Ferguson is the first to talk about the great joy in beauty, but she offers a tip.
“If I have done a really good job with a design at a restaurant, for example, people don’t talk about the restaurant — they talk about what a wonderful night they had,” she says. “When we talk about creating meaningful spaces, we’re really building a container for an experience. Those are the things people actually remember.”
How does one capture that potential for experience? Curating the setting with personality goes a long way.
Muffet Billyard-Leake, owner of Muffet & Louisa, admits she bucks the trends most seasons. While greys, whites and pinks remain the most popular colour schemes, Billyard-Leake prefers to go big with her colour.
“It’s so grey and cold and dark in the winter, so we bring in a lot of colour,” she says. “We bring candles in metallic and gold and rose gold and blood red. We do tablecloths in red and green and cream — anything that brings as much warmth and colour as we can.”
While Billyard-Leake acknowledges the classic fall palettes, she says there are always twists you can take on tradition. Instead of oranges and blacks, try amber, pewter grey, dark platinum and metallics. Drop the pumpkins and go with a more sophisticated motif, like a fall-bounty theme, or stick to dried, seasonal grasses.
The dining room is also the perfect place to experiment with textiles.
“Fall is a time when you can go to the heavier weaves,” says Billyard-Leake. “Runners are lovely, as they allow people to show off their tables more. You can take a few short runners and lay them across the table in a vis-à-vis pattern.”
With nostalgia surging in popularity, vintage shops are a great place to find antique silverware — and Billyard-Leake notes that it doesn’t have to match.
“People are using things they love, and you can always find new ways to organize things you have,” she says. “You also have to remember the food is going to take place, too. That can become a display in itself.”
Table this Idea
Your furniture can also set the tone of the room.
Dave Duckworth, owner and creator of Willow Groove Live Edge Furniture, creates tables from locally sourced materials, including artfully created epoxy and resin designs with mixed mediums.
“Clients that come to us for a dining table are wanting it to be the focal point. They want a beautiful, artistic table that they are excited to host their friends and family at,” says Duckworth. “They want a space that is inviting, warm and a table that can be a topic of discussion.”
When it comes to decorating these tables, Duckworth suggests less is more.
“You don’t need much on the table since you want to see it,” he says. “For a fall theme, simple décor like a flower vase with some fresh flowers is all you need — and, of course, the table should have an abundant spread of food.”
Regardless of what makes up your dining room, Squires Ferguson encourages building an experience out of reflection.
“There is a season to our lives, and autumn is a time of focusing inward and stockpiling resources,” says Squires Ferguson. “It’s a time to gather around the table and celebrate the harvest. Often, this is the time we’re reaping the rewards of the connections we’ve been fostering.”
Seat at the Table
Design fans can plan to whisk dinner guests to new worlds with the help of the latest work out from author and photographer Stephanie Stokes. The World at Your Table is one part how-to guide, one part coffee-table reader and one part design guide featuring tablescapes set with evocative, eye-catching and exotic items.
Stokes draws inspiration from her global travels to give a breakdown on how to select meaningful pieces to enliven any tabletop setting this season. Using a combination of collected china, glassware, linens, candlesticks and cutlery from different destinations — like Japan, Cartagena, Budapest and London — Stokes lays out a plan for people to follow along and create unparalleled environments around their own tables.
Tips for your fall tablescape
Layer fabrics > Experiment with layering different textures on your table, from runners to placemats and napkins. Natural textures can be offset with synthetic ones for a dynamic look.
Choose seasonal vessels > Swap a traditional flower vase for a hollowed-out gourd or collection of leaves, sticks, unusual items or other seasonal holders.
Greenery garlands > Harvest your own local greenery and create a loose braid of grasses to drape over the table or runner.
Trivet tips > If you plan to serve food on the table, prepare your centre spread with trivets pre-set amongst the décor, making it easier to deliver dishes.
Missing seats > The season will inevitably highlight anyone not at the table this year. Consider a tribute to those not present through artistic décor, a framed photo or favourite item that can welcome them in spirit.
Stem down > For dinner parties with many people, young kids or unsteady hands, opt for stemless wine glasses to reduce the risk of accidents.
Bright ideas > While candles and lanterns create beauty, ensure all flammable materials are well out of reach, and that guests dashing by won’t catch flames on their clothes.
Antique it up > Fall is the perfect season to showcase sentimental family heirlooms, from heritage silverware to an item that could be incorporated into a centrepiece.