The Modern Table:
Essential Forms and Enduring Tools
Photographed by Marius W. Hansen
As the year winds down in a whirl of holiday feasting, take a moment to consider the designs for living that accompany each meal and gathering. Paring back the decorative flourishes of December reveals a modern table with streamlined utensils, refined serving pieces, and finely formed tools that transcend seasons and trends.
“Formality is not necessary for beauty,” wrote Russel and Mary Wright in their 1950 Guide to Easier Living. The designing couple brought a newly modern spirit to American housewares, experimenting with easily maintained materials and mass production to create beautiful, useful, and widely available pieces. The Wrights’ approach endures in the work of Brooklyn-based Billy Cotton, whose clean-lined tableware is both elegant and affordable.
Old-world craftsmanship prevails at Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur (KPM) Berlin, which still manufactures classic dinnerware and porcelain accessories by hand, but even the most precious materials can be made modern. Designed by Trude Petrie, the Urania dinner service refines each piece—from serving platter to egg cup—to its essential form.
Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose. Charles Eames
Designing for the table is problem-solving: How can a particular task be accomplished in a more efficient, effective, or pleasurable way? How can objects and tools better complement one another? Asking and answering such questions led the designers at Stockholm-based studio Claesson Koivisto Rune to develop a novel coaster. Their “Basso,” designed for Skultuna, is a disc of polished brass with a convex bulb that fits snugly into the concave dent in the bottom of most wine bottles. When placed on the coaster, the bottle instantly adjusts to a centered position.
“Why shouldn’t you have special things be a part of your everyday life?” asks Deborah Ehrlich, a designer renowned for exquisitely simple crystal glassware that begins as sketches in her studio in New York’s Hudson Valley. Her glasses are hand-blown, hand-cut, and polished to a clear-as-water finish. Artisan knowledge is also a hallmark of glassware crafted in Yachiyo, Japan under the guidance of certified traditional Japanese craftmasters, a prestigious prefectural title for those who have attained the highest level of skill and knowledge of traditional regional crafts.
Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.M.F.K. Fisher
For Jesper Ståhl, cutlery was the ultimate design project. “It involves the functional aspects of ergonomics and production, to find the right balance and weight, but also artistic expression—strong visual, emotional, and tactile qualities,” says the Swedish designer. His collection for Design House Stockholm combines streamlined matte-polished steel with handles coated in durable black thermoplastic. “We have taken a sculptural approach to the design process,” notes Ståhl, “where great care is put in its transformation of form, with both distinct and complex surfaces, and smooth transitions.”
Explore another chapter in The Stories:
Modern Milliner: In the Studio with Albertus Swanepoel