If you ever want to cause a little social anxiety amongst your friends, I've found a great way to do it is to put up an Instagram post of a table setting, with little other detail on it. The text messages and comments will then roll in enquiring exactly who is coming to dinner, and why aren't they?


This table setting above was for a photo shoot at my house, there'll be more on that some other time, but by the time the text messages were coming in that evening, I was packing away the silver and place cards, and instead making Spaghetti Bolognase for the family after a rather long day of trying to make my house Photo perfect.

Plates from Mottahedeh, linen scalloped placemats and napkins from Birdie Fortescue, coloured candles from my friend Kal in random glass candlesticks, watering can place card holders from Ballard Designs, antique Kings pattern silver, and green water glasses from Villeroy and Boch

While I do enjoy entertaining friends and family with a lovely table setting and a more interesting menu than Spag Bol, I was really wanting to discuss table setting in general, because Social Media has divided into two. There are either elaborately set out tables that are often for a fake "entertaining" set up, or they are a dispiriting "keeping it real" post of utensil free tables or kitchen islands with kids eating meals they probably shouldn't with their hands, no placemats or napkins in sight. The middle ground of a standard dinner setting seems to be lacking.

On the face of it, I have no problem with actual stylists setting a table attractively and letting everyone know it's a photo shoot. I have more of a problem with people, civilians if you like, trying to do the same, except pretending it's real life, or a "professional" of some kind pretending it's everyday for them. This leads into the whole problem with social media and the Insta-fake lives that so many lead, whether that be posting a photo of a Paul Bangay designed garden in Sydney Harbour and saying you took the photo when on a holiday in the South of France at a villa you rent each Summer (yes, a New York based designer really did that), or posting the same stack of ironed napkins and gifted plates on your outdoor table claiming breakfast was being served, on a day when the temperature where you were was about 9C (did everyone wear puffas?)


Breakfast is served - eating outside when it's 9C, plus a chicken, at Melissa Penfold's house at Bowral via Instagram

But back to table settings.... I was recently entertained by a post from Sophie Paterson Interiors on Instagram. Sophie is a well known Surrey (England) based decorator with an enormous social media following on Instagram. She was hosting 10 other designers over for a networking dinner at her house, for which she had styled her house immaculately and brought in a chef to cater. Her dinner placements were elaborately laid out with multiple glasses, sets of cutlery, placemats, chargers and napkins fluffed out in rings. There was just one problem: her knife blades were all pointing the wrong way. Cue the reasonably blunt first comment on the Instagram post that the knife blades were pointing the wrong way. Cue Sophie responding in a huffy lengthy paragraph that she was a busy working mother with better things to do than think about knife blades and it was all done in a rush and .......

the offending knife blades via Sophie Paterson Interiors Instagram account 

Putting aside how to respond to comments that you consider rude on social media, (a simple, "thanks, hadn't noticed it" would have saved face and shut down the back and forth of the pile on that then happened, with people hotly debating whether it was of any importance which way the knife blades faced, or if it was irrelevant because it looked pretty anyway), an Australian designer then commented that they'd done a photo shoot for their upcoming "styling your house" series, for which people pay money to take an E -course, and that they'd realised after the shoot that every single table setting they'd photographed they'd put the knife blades pointing the wrong way. They were now feeling a little anxious about the potential backlash.

Attractive table setting, not theirs

As well they should - if you're purporting to be a style expert and people are paying money to learn from you, you really need to ensure that you get the basic details right. Style over substance is the key point here - a simple check on google if you're unsure of your table setting placement would have shown the knife blades were pointing in the wrong way. One thing I have noticed on Social Media is that obviously as you are talking to a global audience, what is the "right" way to do something in one part of the world, is not necessarily the "right" way to do it on the other: there are cultural norms to setting a table, or even in naming something (Serviette vs Napkin etc). Announce something is wrong at your peril...

Via Tory Burch's Instagram account - white cabbageware and Iksel wallpaper

But really,  this all highlights a few things to me. My personal bugbear is that so few sit at a dinner table to eat anymore. I know from my client work that a lot of people want a kitchen Island bench to accommodate their entire family sitting down to eat a meal, however usually there is a dining table immediately adjacent to the island. When you sit at an island you line up on one side, which is not sociable, facing the mess in the kitchen. Eating casually like this (or off your lap in front of a tv) means many people don't actually set a place. You grab cutlery and sit down.... which means that if you've done this all your life, as an adult you may not actually know how to do a basic table setting (just a single knife and fork, a napkin and glass) unless you've worked in hospitality.

The two designers who have made the basic knife blade error are from a generation that likely grew up not being forced to set a table for dinner every night, a generation that on the whole as adults feels more comfortable eating out at a food truck that sells gourmet food at exorbitant prices, rather than sitting in a restaurant that charges the same, but puts a tablecloth on the table (so formal!).

Via Tory Burch's Instagram account

In the end, does knife blade placement really matter? Not really I suppose. It's just a detail... but it's symptomatic of a wider problem - the demise of the importance placed on eating communally, of setting a table every day to enjoy a meal with others, of talking and taking time out from other distractions be that work, or just the world at large with everything we do being plugged into it. Eating dinner with others, and placing an emphasis on visual enjoyment as well as a culinary one is one of those simple things that give dignity to ordinary everyday life, and that place emphasis on enjoying time with others. This is something anyone, from any walk of life can do within their means. It's just sadly symptomatic of society in general that emphasis is placed on doing it only for a special occasion or a photo shoot, not for everyday - it's about Style over Substance.

But then, I guess, that's Social Media in general....


Edit: I'm so sorry but I'm turning off anonymous comments for a while as the blog is being inundated with Spam, and it's becoming very tedious wading through it to find the genuine comments. 

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Architect & Interior Designer. Mother of three. A sometimes Cook, Baker, Reader, Gardener, Fashion Lover, Renovator, Writer of random things in South Australia email me on anadelaidevilla@bigpond.com
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