By Kaitlin Hill
Photos by Callie Broaddus
Finding inspiration for spring décor can be more difficult than, say, Christmas or Fourth of July, where the color schemes are chosen for you. But with a few simple guidelines and help from two local shop owners, dressing an elegant yet accessible table is a breeze for any spring event you have on your calendar.
Tara Wegdam, owner and keen eye behind Middleburg’s Crème de la Crème, sets three gorgeous springtime spreads and explains how each unique table is influenced by the same set of principles.
Tara’s process begins with a single question and then a single source of inspiration. “What I like to start with is ‘who’s coming,’” she says.
The guests’ level of familiarity with the hosts will often determine how casual or formal she makes the table. “You need to consider how comfortable they are going to be if you make it complicated. If you don’t know them well you should be traditional with what you are serving and how you are serving it,” she recommends.
From there, she picks a piece to build around. “I like to start with something interesting,” she says. “If there are tons of apples in the yard, I’ll take a big vase and fill it with those apples.” Her approach is applicable in all occasions and results in eye-catching displays that, with a couple of tips and a little practice, are easily replicated.
Her first example is a vibrant tailgate table that looks like something Renoir may have seen while painting dancing couples in Bougival. For outdoor dining, Tara emphasizes the importance of using pieces that are not only colorful and cheery, but also durable and low maintenance. The bright colors she uses—red, blue and yellow—are marked with different patterns that enhance the individual elements of the table versus competing with each other.
The French “Fermob” Bistro Table and Chairs are popular outside Parisian cafés and even in Times Square, but they’re also ideal dining in spring’s often unpredictable weather. “They fold up, they are great quality, and they can withstand anything,” Tara explains.
The French influence continues with a Valdrome tablecloth in a Provencal print. Le Cadeaux plates and plastic stemware, made from melamine, are delicate yet sturdy, an important quality for al fresco dining. The Porto motif adds an additional pop of color to an already dazzling table. Finally, the use of high quality paper napkins adds sophistication without a huge price tag. Although this design seems as if it was plucked from Provence, Tara recommends it for The Middleburg Spring Races that are just around the corner.
For a relaxed Easter breakfast with family, Tara adorns a rustic wood table with Vietri Italian “Chicken Plates” and bold Gingham napkins. Springtime meals with family are the perfect time to, as Tara puts it, “Be whimsical.” Her use of Claude Dozorme’s rainbow colored flatware is certainly that. She nestles Heidi Callard’s Ceramic Chickens in packing materials, white hydrangeas and pink tulips for added innocence.
For her third table, Tara proves formal can and should also be fun. She recommends pairing old-fashioned china with contemporary touches. “Dust off your stodgy china and silver inherited from grandmother and freshen it up with colorful, modern table accessories,” she advises. She uses Hester & Cook leaf paper placemats and silver-rimmed white china for a look that helps, “dress it up and dress it down at the same time.” Spring colored cloth napkins add a subtle pop of color to a traditional table that is anything but dull.
Bearing in mind that developing an eye for table styling doesn’t happen overnight, she encourages building relationships and working with local vendors, therefore benefitting from their expertise. Geraldine “Gerry” Chittick, proprietor of Middleburg Floral Gallery, has more than two decades of experience in the flower field and is happy to give guidance. Her advice for setting a spring table? Lilies, tulips and hydrangeas arranged in small vases.
“Spring flowers and summer flowers especially are more conducive to smaller arrangements grouped together. It makes a much nicer statement,” she says, adding that you can give the small vases as gifts when the festivities are finished, and that’s your party favors figured out.
Tara’s table displays and Gerry’s flower arrangements all serve as examples of Tara’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to mix it up.” With seemingly endless choices for placemats, flowers, centerpieces, color schemes, flatware and even ceramic chickens, it’s easier now more than ever to blend different styles and create a distinct and personalized motif. Finally, Tara says, it is important for a spring table-setting novice to “trust your instincts” and “know the rules, but know that you can break them.
“Don’t worry if it’s not perfect,” she says, “because usually the things that aren’t perfect end up being the best.” ML