Beauty in Small Moments: How to Set a Simple Summer Picnic, Wherever You Are


The picnic, if you ask me, is the simple, nostalgic summer pleasure. Design-wise, it couldn’t be easier: All you need is a cloth, maybe a few utensils or plates, and something to eat (or drink). But carry it outside and spread out your cloth, and the experience—eating outdoors on long, languid nights (or afternoons or mornings)—feels so much more special than eating at the kitchen table. Somehow everything tastes a little better, too. In the strange, distanced times we’re living in, the spirit of the picnic—attainable but a little bit special and thoroughly outdoors—feels like something we all could use right now.

For years we’ve featured table-setting tips from designers, shopkeepers, and makers. But this summer, we thought: Why not take the tabletop outdoors—and take on picnics instead?

To start, we turned to Daniela Jacobs, the New York-based designer and ceramicist behind ARC Objects, whose Instagram feed has captivated me for a while, filled as it is with gentle, thoughtful still lifes that incorporate her curvilinear ceramics and offer glimpses of her life split between New York and Mallorca. She is interested, according to the ARC site, in “the beauty in small, transient moments in the everyday”—evident in the way she captures picnics of all sorts.

First and foremost, she says, “the beauty of a picnic is its inherent simplicity.” Also, it needn’t be outdoors; she often lays out a cloth for a picnic in her own apartment. “I’ve always loved indoor and outdoor picnics,” she says. “I think the indoor picnic thing first came to be when I was little, and we had planned a picnic but it started pouring so we decided to have one inside on the floor instead. The concept still delights me.”

Here are a few of her tips for picnics indoors or out, for a few friends or just for a change of scenery.

Photography by Daniela Jacobs.

Use the cloth for transport.

Portable summer: peaches on ARC Objects&#8
Above: Portable summer: peaches on ARC Objects’ Full Circle Plate.

“Try to avoid using disposable anything,” says Jacobs. If your picnic is outdoors: “I like to wrap the cutlery in one of the cloth napkins and place it on the bottom of the bag or basket I’m using to transport everything in. That way a sharp knife won’t be floating around. I use other cloth napkins and the sheet or scrap of fabric that will be the picnic blanket to help safely transport anything else breakable or fragile, like glass cups or ceramic tableware.”

Use the good plates.

Don’t use paper products or plastic. For the sake of the earth—and for the sake of wonder—use real ceramics and glassware. “Yes, I really do use ARC plates at picnics!” Jacobs says.

Consider your containers.

Above: Following Jacobs’ artful example, all you need for a beautiful picnic is a cloth, real ceramics and glassware, and some sprigs of green for brightness.

“Try to think creatively about what you will need at the picnic to avoid wasting or awkwardly scrambling when you get to your destination, in the case of an outdoor picnic. For example, container lids make excellent plates! Jar lids make perfect receptacles for olive pits.”

Make the food part of the design.

This is not to say that a picnic has to be a big production. A slice of melon and a cold glass of juice are all you need for a small moment of enjoyment.
Above: This is not to say that a picnic has to be a big production. A slice of melon and a cold glass of juice are all you need for a small moment of enjoyment.

Whether it’s a glass of wine and cheese or a more full meal, “leave as many finishing touches for the last minute so things taste (and look) as fresh as possible,” says Jacobs. “For example, if you’re using a fresh herb as a garnish, just bring a sprig of that herb and adorn the food with it when you get wherever you’re going so that it hasn’t wilted or disintegrated into the dish by the time the meal starts. If fruit is part of the meal, wait to slice or cut open it til you’re about to eat it.”

Left whole on the cloth, it adds a particular sense of summer lushness, too.

For more airy summer still lifes, follow Jacobs on Instagram @arc_objects. And see more table-setting ideas here:



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Il Buco Vita: Pastels for the Italian Easter Table


We’ve been fans of Il Buco and Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria, a duo of restaurants by prop designer turned restaurateur Donna Lennard, for authentic Italian rusticity—and food—in downtown Manhattan for a while now. (See: Il Buco Alimentari and Vineria in NYC: Kitchen as Still-Life.)

But recently we’ve been noting more delicate Italian tableware at Lennard’s accompanying shop, Il Buco Vita: pastel ceramics and soft-hued glassware, sourced from trips to central and southern Italy (and never before sold in the US). Here are the pieces we’re admiring for spring fetes.

Photography by Giada Paoloni, courtesy of Il Buco Vita.

Spring awakening: a simple table set with Italian glassware and ceramics. Of note: Assisi Flat Dinner Plate in Plum, Dove Grey, and cheerful Ocra, made in Umbria; $0 each.
Above: Spring awakening: a simple table set with Italian glassware and ceramics. Of note: Assisi Flat Dinner Plate in Plum, Dove Grey, and cheerful Ocra, made in Umbria; $100 each.
 The terracotta Bevagna One Litre Pitcher is glazed in white with a green rim; $70.
Above: The terracotta Bevagna One Litre Pitcher is glazed in white with a green rim; $70.
A stack of Assisi plates in pale blue-grey.
Above: A stack of Assisi plates in pale blue-grey.
Above: The Assisi Appetizer Bowl is made of black terracotta clay glazed in five soft colors. Shown here: Bianco, complete with a hand-etched seal of authenticity; $85 each.
The dappled Pienza Honeycomb Patterned Tumbler is $34.
Above: The dappled Pienza Honeycomb Patterned Tumbler is $34.
 Panzano Rustica Napkins are cut and sewn in Tuscany of Italian linen; $40 for a bundle, tied with twine.
Above: Panzano Rustica Napkins are cut and sewn in Tuscany of Italian linen; $40 for a bundle, tied with twine.
A collection of tumblers, including the La Riccia Footed Drinking Glass, free-blown from recycled glass by an artisan in the Maremma countryside; $65 each.
Above: A collection of tumblers, including the La Riccia Footed Drinking Glass, free-blown from recycled glass by an artisan in the Maremma countryside; $65 each.

A set of Assisi Oval Platters in Sage Green, $300.
Above: A set of Assisi Oval Platters in Sage Green, $300.
Above: Collepino Twisted Candles ($28 for the tall size) and Collepino Tapered Candles (from $12) are made by hand the traditional way by Stefano, the candlemaker.
 Pienza -Ounce Glass Tumblers in clear, green, and amber are mouth-blown by a brother-sister team in a Tuscan village; $36 each.
Above: Pienza 10-Ounce Glass Tumblers in clear, green, and amber are mouth-blown by a brother-sister team in a Tuscan village; $36 each.
Muted blue-gray tableware. The charming Assisi Small Bowl with Handles (top left) is $65.
Above: Muted blue-gray tableware. The charming Assisi Small Bowl with Handles (top left) is $65.

N.B. Pieces from the Il Buco Vita collection are also available at two of our favorite West Coast design haunts: March in San Francisco and Nickey Kehoe in LA (for select speckleware).

For more spring-worthy ceramics, see our posts:

N.B.: This post is an update; the original story ran on April 11, 2017.



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Staying In: How to Set a Valentine’s Table for Two, Courtesy of Ajiri Aki


Instead of dining out on Valentine’s Day—in a restaurant packed with strangers and dripping with paper hearts—wouldn’t it be more intimate, in every sense of the word, to stay in? That’s always been our preference: candles, a table set for two, and perhaps pajamas over crowds and cold.

When we emailed recently with Ajiri Aki, the France-based doyenne of stylish, effortless table settings (she runs the vintage tableware shop and linen purveyor Madame de la Maison), we were happy to hear that she feels the same, all the way over in Paris. Here’s how she sets the table for a simple Valentine’s dinner for two—plus her tips for making it just a bit romantic, never fussy.

Photography by Ajiri Aki.

1. Resist the urge to go pink.

Just because it&#8
Above: Just because it’s Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you should drape the table with all the pink things you can find. “As much as I love pink everything, I wanted to go with a simple, soft, romantic look using the orage tablecloth and sable napkins,” Ajiri says. “The orage linen is grey-ish blue, kind of like a storm. Orage means storm in French. It’s a soft color palette without going full-on pink.”

2. Choose petite flowers over big bouquets.

In lieu of a big (quite possibly overpriced) bouquet or centerpiece, tuck just a few small stems into mix-and-match glass jars. This is an intimate dinner at home, remember; the scale should be small. Ajiri used vintage apothecary bottles and vanity jars; simple jam jars work, too.
Above: In lieu of a big (quite possibly overpriced) bouquet or centerpiece, tuck just a few small stems into mix-and-match glass jars. This is an intimate dinner at home, remember; the scale should be small. Ajiri used vintage apothecary bottles and vanity jars; simple jam jars work, too.

3. Sprinkle some roses.

Above: “I always add one little stereotypical element that connects to the holiday,” Ajiri says. For a romantic touch, she scattered a handful of dry rose buds down the center of the table.

4. Use the good china.

Keep the meal simple, but serve it with favorite pieces. &#8
Above: Keep the meal simple, but serve it with favorite pieces. “These mussels in white wine sauce take a whopping 20 minutes to make, but they are always served in beautiful antique finds,” Ajiri says.

5. Embrace imperfection.

Let the table be a little beautifully imperfect, not prim or overdone.  &#8
Above: Let the table be a little beautifully imperfect, not prim or overdone.  “I rarely iron my linens because I find the texture beautiful,” Ajiri says.

6. Sit kitty-corner.

Set two places kitty-corner from one another. It&#8
Above: Set two places kitty-corner from one another. It’s more casual than facing each other—and you won’t have a table between you.

P.S. See more of Ajiri’s entertaining tips in Joyeux Noël: How to Throw a Holiday Party the French Way. And here’s our original feature on her work: Vintage French Style You Can Rent: Madame de la Maison in Paris.



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