In what seems like the blink of an eye, we’ve gone from a state of hushed hibernation to the official season of backyard barbecues and pool parties.
N ow that gathering with friends and family is finally a reality, there’s magic in the air as a longed-for summer of entertaining outside commences. Whether it’s an intimate Sunday night dinner on the patio or an al fresco picnic in the garden, bringing loved ones around the table is something we’re ready to savor with renewed enthusiasm.
As we ease (or dive) into welcoming guests, there’s no better time to refresh and elevate the table. And with a more relaxed approach to hosting and a newfound appreciation for the home, the possibilities are endless. The rules and restrictions of formal entertaining have given way to a love for the perfectly imperfect and the art of mixing treasures old and new. Exuberant centerpieces, colorful serveware and standout accessories from different countries and eras take outdoor dining up a notch. Suddenly, the dining table is a destination in and of itself: a festive, joyful and wonderfully layered setting for small soirees, neighborhood cookouts, cocktail hours and everything in between.
We’ve rounded up the ultimate assortment of vintage and designer dining pieces to pull off your next gathering without breaking a sweat. From vibrant golds to verdant greens, here’s everything you need—in tried-and-true, summer-ready palettes—for an unforgettable summer with your nearest and dearest.
Make It Polished: Sterling Silver
Don’t be fooled—the eternally classic material, typically reserved for more formal, indoor gatherings, can also have a playful side. And although this year’s outdoor get-togethers have taken on a decidedly more casual approach, silver is still completely at home in an outdoor setting. And after more than a year spent inside entertaining our pets and partners, we’d argue now is the time to break the rules and have a little fun.
Metallics can add depth and glamour to a tablescape, and delivered in the right doses, it is anything but stuffy. Pair it with sweet gingham linens or coastal-chic rattan accents—go-with-anything silver is truly versatile and can be styled up or down, depending on the occasion. Incorporating items that are exquisite and unique instantly creates a special moment.
With delightful, intricate detail, this gilt fish vinaigrette is perfectly suited for a clambake, while a 19th-century sterling silver owl vase from England is an utterly charming companion at any table. It’s petite accents like these that add joy and layers to the table. The real scene-stealer is this Buccellati octopus and scallop shell bowl, which is both dramatic and fun, begging to be the centerpiece at a summer soiree.
Garnished with mint sprigs picked fresh from the garden, always-chic julep cups are ready for cocktail hour, while an Art Nouveau-style sauce boat from Georg Jensen ups the ante as a serving piece for dressings. A 1910 silver and glass elephant sugar caster gives Sunday brunch a dash of whimsy and makes a tablescape feel collected, eclectic, yet intentional in its design.
Whether they are taking center stage or playing a supporting role, these silver pieces are at the ready to add polish and cheer to the table. Easygoing schemes feel instantly elevated with the glimmer of this timeless material.
Let the Sunshine In: Yellow & Gold
This way for a happy tablescape. Even the most casual supper takes on a celebratory air with the unabashed color and frivolity of yellow and gold. The juxtaposition of this sunny, happy pastel hue with the glitz of metallic makes for a high-low mix that’s anything but expected. Hesitant to try this bold combination? Think of gold as a neutral—a way to give your summer tablescape a little shimmer and shine, while zippy yellow brightens things up before they feel too serious.
A unique palette like this offers a sense of discovery around the table for parties large and small. The 1800s Wedgwood pearlware service is a candy-hued delight fit for a midsummer garden party or luncheon. The shell-form dishes and centerpiece, bedecked in a surprising and modern palette of pastel pink and neon yellow, turns the idea of formal serveware on its head. This set is the star of the show at any event and brings a sense of pure joy to any tablescape.
The graphic-happy designs of Fornasetti introduce a sense of allure and just the right amount of fancifulness to outdoor entertaining. The allover Chinoiserie pattern on this 1950s tray is made all the more sublime with the addition of gold. Palm trees, birds in flight and enchanting architectural motifs call to faraway shores—perfect for those whose wanderlust has hit its peak after the last year and a half. Dating to the 1960s, the pair of porcelain plates decorated with clusters of colorful fish adds intrigue and delivers the ocean right to your doorstep.
The 20th-century stoneware sake cup reveals the enduring appeal of wabi-sabi. The Japanese art of embracing the beauty of imperfection is particularly of the moment after more than a year spent slowing down and learning to prize what’s around us—flaws, mess and all. Rather than seeking perfection, this Zen Buddhist philosophy encourages acceptance of what’s natural, handmade, aging and worn. The uneven glaze, drips and cracks of this cup give it character and depth, and are a reminder to appreciate the simplicity and sheer pleasure of gathering around the table at home.
Add the Wow Factor: Dazzling Reds
The most ambitious hosts can go for broke with red. A hit of this bold, sophisticated and striking hue is a surefire way to dive head first back into entertaining with confidence and gusto. From afternoon tea to a full-blown dinner party, it never hurts to keep red pieces in your dining arsenal for that pop of color, or if you want to go all out with a monochromatic scheme. But committing to a saturated color like this one doesn’t necessarily mean committing to a maximalist look. From our peerless trove is a variety of ways to introduce red, whether you’re a minimalist at heart or crave pattern on pattern.
The 1976 enamel bowl from Richard Anuszkiewicz brings the graphic playfulness of Op Art to the dining table with bright bands of blue, green and teal. It packs a festive punch but with a streamlined look. On the more decadent end of the spectrum, the etched and lacquered tray from Burma is a visual feast. Dancing animals and geometric etchings make for a showpiece that can be used every day or reserved for special occasions.
Devotees and coveteurs of Italian furniture designer Aldo Tura, who was primarily known for his modernist take on Art Nouveau and Art Deco, will covet this utterly singular pitcher from the 1950s. Tura had a penchant for sculptural forms and rich materials like parchment and eggshell and a commitment to slow, handmade craftsmanship as an antidote to mass production. Meticulously wrapped in goatskin with a brass top and ebonized wood handle, this pitcher turns the ritual of pouring and serving into a true artform. For the ultimate dose of pattern, the early 19th-century set of dessert plates from Chamberlain Worcester is a maximalist’s dream. The Chinoiserie-style motif features a cow at its center for an animated and playful dose of color that will leave guests satiated.
Embrace the Great Outdoors: Verdant Green
With the season in full bloom, a timeless palette of greens practically begs to be used on a summer tablescape. Inspired by the lush and leafy greens of nature, this energetic hue brings vitality and richness to the scene and is a natural in any outdoor setting. Artful vintage designs feel forever fresh in shades of pistachio, jade or emerald, while exceptional craftsmanship means they’ll stand the test of time. Think of these pieces as everyday heirlooms to add to your collection.
Lettuce ware is today’s new (old) favorite. The style was originated in the 1960s by the “Queen Potter of Palm Beach,” Dodie Thayer, who created her pottery from castings of actual lettuce and cabbage leaves. Leafy green plates, bowls, soup tureens, cups and saucers quickly found fast fans in the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and C.Z. Guest. But the kitschy china has an undeniable pick-me-up factor that’s to credit for its long-standing popularity beyond the country homes of high society. In 2015, fashion designer Tory Burch partnered with Dodie Thayer in an ongoing exclusive lettuce ware line, proving the leafy goods were here to stay. The late Mario Buatta’s enviable personal collection of lettuce ware sold well above its estimate during Sotheby’s Americana Week last year, and Bunny Mellon’s estate collected over $30,000 on foliate goods that were originally valued at $2,000. From a late 20th-century soup tureen to a nearly 200-year-old yet fresh-from-the-garden leaf plate and a clever mid-century veggie plate by Fornasetti, there’s an abundance of iterations of this iconic, blissful style.
Dating a few centuries older than Dodie Thayer’s creations, Famille Verte porcelain brings wonderful, delicate Chinese patterns to the present with a verdant color palette. French for “green family,” the term was coined in the 1860s by art historian Albert Jacquemart to classify Qing Dynasty porcelain according to the color of the enamel. While this style tends to garner less recognition than its cousin, Famille Rose, defined by its pretty pink enamel and soft coloring, the designs of Famille Verte are no less exquisite. Largely made during the reign of Emperor Kangxi between 1661–1722, Famille Verte sees beautiful and intricately detailed motifs—climbing branches, blossoming flowers, butterflies in flight and more—brought to life with vivid greens, yellows, reds, blues and blacks. This pair of dragon tea canisters makes for a lively centerpiece or a chic vessel for flowers.
As today’s gatherings and parties have taken on a whole new look and approach, it brings a shifted perspective on the meaning of entertaining and spending time at home. Freshen up your collection with pieces that have stood the test of time, tell stories and turn everyday meals into occasions. Discover how our unparalleled collection of vintage china, serveware and accessories can dress up the table and provide the backdrop for a season of get-togethers ahead.