Home & Design

Green Acre #181: Set It With Flowers

IN THE MIDST of winter there’s nothing like a cozy brunch or dinner to celebrate something—or nothing. But even if you dish up naught but a bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, the setting should be spectacular. Or, at least, nice. 

There’s layer upon layer of pink and white and green whimsy on the dining table at J. Brown & Co. in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia. Begin with the faux Granny Smith apples propping up the heavy round glass tabletop, add lacy linen placemats topped with gilded wood chargers topped with rose-and-gold plates with scalloped rims topped with gold-bordered salad plates. Centered on the top, custom-embroidered napkins gathered with silvery rings.  (The napkins can be special-ordered with your own heraldic hoo-ha).

The intricately embroidered napkins can be custom-ordered at J, Brown & Co. in Alexandria, Virginia, using your own monogram or other design. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

The settings change frequently, with accessories culled from Brown’s exquisite stock by designers such as William Yeoward and MacKenzie-Childs, plus beeswax candles of extraordinary length, and masses of fabulous silk flowers.

Somewhat surprisingly, my Prince—who’s intimately acquainted with power tools and grout—loved the table setting. “It’s so Alice in Wonderland,” he said, though I wouldn’t attempt a setting like this at home unless he puts down his wrench. There was once an incident with a Waterford goblet, but that is neither here nor there.  

Some say floral arrangements should be kept low, so you can see your dining companions (though there are some I’d rather ignore, in which case a high and wide arrangement would suit me fine). Brown’s display would present a problem, with those extravagant sprays of lilies tangling with the chandelier overhead. But picture a tall glass vase that doesn’t hide your tablemates —or set any vase on a pedestal of some sort—and add branches of cherry blossoms or those curly willows I keep harping on about. Let the branches unfurl above eye level, like a magical umbrella or a little dining forest. 

The floral extravaganza topping J. Brown & Co.’s table celebrates flora perhaps at the expense of the company at your table, not always an unfortunate thing. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

Baby and I did something like this for her wedding a few years back—after getting the florist’s estimate.  We ordered tall glass cylinders on Amazon and bought out Harris Teeter’s stock of potted palms. The bridesmaids clipped off the fronds, plonked them in the vases, and turned the hotel’s dining room into a swank supper club. I think we spent about $150 on the whole shebang—and the palms themselves revived quite nicely. I have two in the living room, she has several others. Nice mementos. 

There’s plenty more inspiration among the fabulous tablescapes on Flower Magazine’s website, including a so-fabulous-I-could-plotz rose-covered dining pavilion at the Baccarat Museum in Paris. I don’t spend much time on Twitter but happened upon a chirp from them the other day that got me curious, and I ended up spending a pleasurable hour or so (meaning way too much of my work day) mesmerized by their settings. The china and silver, layers of mats and plates, chargers, multiple colorways and moods. The photos serve as tutorials on how to organize a tablescape, and punctuate it with flowers, of course.

Shamefully, I’ve just discovered this gorgeous magazine, and immediately subscribed. With luck, it’ll survive for the length of my subscription, at least.  

If you really have nothing else to do for the rest of the week, wander your fingers onto Pinterest, for hundreds of table and flower arrangement ideas from everyday settings to weddings, handily broken up into 30 categories, such as vintage, rustic, outdoors and even table shape. So (in theory) you’re less overwhelmed.  

I do hope you haven’t sent your fancy tableware to the thrift shop. You’ll need it.  

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” is happiest when immersed in floral excess, even when she didn’t grown the flora herself.


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