Revival Décor

Revival Décor: Combining the Table Decor We Love from Eras Past

When it comes to putting together the perfect table, you need to exercise as much caution as you do creativity. Combining classic elements with modern ones can be a bit tricky. Conventional tabletops, like a classic white table linen paired with matching linen table napkins, go together like strawberries and cream—fully functional, attractive, and somewhat devoid of personality. Unconventional combinations, like contrasting colors, can go together like Tom Waits and Cookie Monster—utter perfection. Then there are those table linen combinations that form the visual equivalent of a jet fuel and anchovy smoothie. They most commonly populate smaller events like birthday parties, but we’ve all seen them—the tables that combine whimsical seashells with baroque candlesticks, or dated seasonal table cloth with cloth, snowman-printed dinner napkins. When we talk about revival décor, we are really discussing the challenge of combining the old with a new. While our individual approaches may differ, understanding the process will simplify its execution.

Define “Classic”
For the purposes of combining linen, table napkins, and other tabletop décor, a “classic” is an item that has become a standard over the years. But it is also an article that can match nearly any décor—an item that is not ornate and doesn’t represent a particular time period. White table linen falls under this category, as would a basic silver candlestick or a rounded vase.

Define “Era Décor”
“Era décor” refers to décor we can immediately date to a particular era. Think of the lowboy candles that populating many a dining room in the 1980s. They are still manufactured, but most of us only think of them as sitting upon white table cloths and serving as part of the ultimate restaurant experience. Likewise, the wax-free “candles of the 1990s made of colorful gel has more-or-less disappeared from popular table linen pairings.

Define “Modern”
For the sake of this article, “modern décor” will refer to any motif or decorative item indigenous to the present year. For example, zebra print reached new levels of popularity in the late 2000s and continues to be popular in the 2010s—in linen table cloths, napkins, and so on. Color blocking and ombre are also distinctively modern patterns, as are asymmetrical glasses and square plates.

Combining the three
You can absolutely combine classic elements with those of particular eras. Streamlined, silver candlesticks would look charming on a zebra-printed table linen, while lowboy candles provide a cute, minimalist appeal when placed on pale table linen with napkins that match its rippled glass. The key to combining these elements is to have fun, but to keep the focus on only a few elements. A streamlined look will be elegant, no matter which era your cloth dinner napkins represent. But if you want to do a full-scale revival, try to focus more on era décor and throw in a few classics. This makes for a perfect “inspired by” table that stays away from anachronism .

Reviving era-specific table décor might seem complicated, but if there is a certain element you love, like lowboy candles, you have every right to use it in your table settings. However, it is important to recognize the difference between “era décor” and “classic décor.” A classic never goes out of style—it’s essentially The Iliad of table décor: white table linen and other functional, streamlined elements. “Era décor” consists of items from a particular time period that immediately evoke that time period. Though you could technically categorize “modern décor” as “era décor,” it is important to distinguish between the two when reviving a particular element. Mixing too many eras together can appear anachronistic, but infusing the look with classics can result in a fun, retro tabletop.

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