# Lessons from Madame Chic # Paris

Madame Chic and the Tablecloth

Madame Chic (the Parisian host mother in my study abroad program) ran a very beautiful and efficient home. It was the details that mattered to her. One thing she always used was a tablecloth. The table would be considered naked without one.

Every night after dinner I would help her take the cloth off. We would do this carefully as baguette crumbs and other odds and ends usually gathered on the cloth’s surface. We would then walk to the kitchen window (their Parisian apartment was several floors up) and shake the cloth out the window as a way to remove all of the crumbs. Then if the tablecloth was still looking in top condition the cloth would be taken back to the table, if not it awaited its laundering the next day as fresh linens were ushered in.

It was such a simple activity, shaking the tablecloth out the window, but I remember really enjoying it and feeling rather ‘quaint’ while doing it.

Since I’m back in America I have brought with me Madame Chic’s love of tablecloths and always have my own table adorned. Of course crisp white is perfect for elegant occasions (formal or casual), bright colors are lovely for adding life to a room and seasonal hues are perfect for ushering in the holiday spirit.

I also like to experiment with layering different textures or colors together on the table. Below is the table I set for the Royal Wedding Tea Party I threw last spring. Here I layered a marigold colored linen cloth that I picked up during my travels in Sri Lanka on top of a plain white table cloth purchased from Williams Sonoma.

So that I am not constantly laundering tablecloths after ordinary dinners at home (some how we are a little messier at dinner time than Famille Chic) we generally put place mats on top of the cloth when we have dinner to avoid too many spills.

And because I live in a townhome I still employ Madame Chic’s quaint technique of shaking the cloth out the window after dinner. Although regarding that I do have a word of caution- It is important when shaking the cloth out the window (especially if you live on the second floor or higher) to make sure that a.) no one is underneath the tablecloth when you shake it and b.) that there is nothing valuable like a silver spoon hiding in the folds of the cloth (please learn from my mistakes).

And as a side note, I am not in love with our dining room set. But since it's not in our budget right now to update it with a new one, I find that a tablecloth really dresses it up and makes me forget the set's less desirable qualities...

I would love to know… do you use tablecloths? How do you dress your table?

Madame Chic's beautifully laid table is the first picture featured... Oh the wonderful dinners that were had at that table!

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Shelley said...

I have my Grandmother's living room and dining room furniture. Over the 30-some years I've had it, I've paid a lot to have bits recovered or re-finished, but not the table. The table top is in pretty sad shape. Fortunately, it has a thick glass cover, but that's not in great shape either. I have a number of Grandmother (and Bill's grandmother's) linen table cloths, some of which aren't in wonderful condition. Then there are lace table cloths, also a bit shabby. The strange thing is, I prefer these to new ones. Something to do with being Mom and Grandmother's views on the faded glories of the Southern US, I guess. Clean and ironed are my main standards, though I appreciate some stains take longer to come out than others. Layer white on white or cream on white or white on the African tie-dyed thing we bought in The Gambia, add candle (or dimmed) lights and it still looks good. I prefer to let people relax and not worry about little accidents. I can honestly say, "These are old table linens and they've lasted this long so I doubt you'll do any major damage." I learned that linen is pretty tough!

Your post inspired me to go out and buy decanters!


When Bill and I married, we splashed out and bought a set of sterling silver cutlery in the pattern that my Grandmother had. I grew up loving it.


I like table clothes in the kitchen even though that table is in reasonable shape.


I just think it all look a bit more homey (or homely, as the Brits say).

I've just realised there are loads of photos I've taken of the table that I've never posted...must get on that!

Kathleen said...

I am still a tablecloth lady...even though palcemats are easier. For the holidays I put the pads on the table (my grandmothers that I had redone) and wash and iron my one good linen white tablecloth. It stays on,with some palcemats changed for various evenings for some added color. Jon helps me shake it out if needed.
I used to send it to a drycleaner that would wash and press linen tablecloths and then put them on a cardboard roll covered in acid free tissue to be stored, but they closed. Ah, the good old days when those service existed. I have found that the OLD sprinkling method for linen works best. (A la Martha).
It's good to hear others enjoy the same traditions.

Warmly, Kathleen

Anonymous said...

I use an old white linen cloth passed down from Grandma, to Momma and now to me. It's been darned many times, but because of the care taken by my predecessors it still looks beautiful and is very soft. Yes, there are some faint wine, tea and food stains, but when friends or family are here I simply throw over a smaller, antique Quaker lace received as a wedding gift many moons ago.

I use my antique white china, sterling fiddleback silver, wine and water glasses for everyday as for special. I have brown-stained, square grass placemats for the kids, but use none for special. And white linen napkins, softened with age, always. I'm just not a paper napkin kind of gal.

It always gives me the warm fuzzies to set our table. Most importantly for special occassions. I lay a long antique, gilt framed mirror in the middle of the table, then place a rather large, sterling silver bowl in the middle of that. In this goes water, floating candles. Then surround the bowl with french jelly jars (the kids and I sprayed gold and silver paint on the inside to look like mercury) and votives inside. For Christmas I gather holly and place on the mirror, cuddling the votives; for Easter, pussywillows.

Finally, I dim our crystal chandelier and the room sparkles and glows warmly with the relection from the candlelight, mirror and glass.

Bon appetit mes amis! xoo

Pug1 said...

I like to use tablecloths too, however my hubby doesn't like them. He prefers to eat directly on the table. So I do both sometimes with and sometimes without. I also shake my tableclothes outside...we have plain ones and patterned ones. BTW your table looks lovely! CHEERS! Michele xo

Marie Francesca said...

We use tablecloths daily. I put placemats under our setting at each meal. Our Italian cherry table has a mat to protect the wood as well.
I also would feel the table was "naked" without a cloth!

Merveilleux said...

I mainly use placemats.. I will change them out with each season (and have a few sets for each season). For the holidays I like to use a tablecloth though. We purchased a new dining set a few months ago so I'm on the hunt for a new tablecloth for the holidays as it's square rather than rectangle like our previous table.
Love the idea of shaking the cloth out of the window. We have screens so I'd have to do it out on our patio but I'd be somewhat concerned about attracting pests.. Maybe our crumbs are larger than what you're referencing ;)

PANNA said...

I love table cloths and prefer them to place mats. With two young children, I go through two or three every week as we often end up with more than just crumbs after a meal. :-) I like to have flowers or a small potted plant on the table for everyday use; crystal
vases and votives for more special meals.

Thought I'd share -- rach family member has his/her own unique napkin ring and we typically use one cloth napkin per person per day. Assuming we didn't have spaghetti (or anything messy) for breakfast, and the napkin remains relatively clean, it goes into the napkin ring for use at dinner, which is commonly our second meal at home. Cuts down on the laundry a bit while allowing us to use cloth instead of paper. The toddler gets bright-colored napkins that hide stains well. :-)

PANNA said...

Pardon the typo, I meant to say "each family member has his/her own unique napkin ring."


Anonymous said...

I love tablecloths, especially crisp white ones. I use a Williams Sonoma white tablecloth (which are fabulous quality) and matching napkins for "formal" occassions, and I have several inherited tablecloths that I use for everyday. Such a chic way to dress up meals AND hide unsightly tabletops.

The Daily Connoisseur said...

I just love hearing about your tablecloth rituals... thank you for commenting!

Shelley- Love your blog posts- you have such a great blog and I love your decanters- very Madame Chic! Thanks also for your chic suggestions on color- those African layered clothes sound divine!

Kathleen- Alas there is nothing I loathe more than ironing a table cloth (maybe ironing sheets) they seem to never end! But it is a necessary evil... How nice to be able to send out to have the cloth serviced. Maybe I could still do that...

LMK- most of my tablecloths have tea or food stains... firstly they are very hard to get out and secondly I think they add character :) I love to set the table too- and yours sounds absolutely beautiful! Especially the chandelier!

Michele- Isn't it fun to shake the tablecloth outside? I figure the birds must appreciate it :)

Marie Francesca- Our table isn't nice enough to warrant using a pad so I just put the cloth directly on top of our table. It's nice to know others share Madame Chic's sentiments about the table being naked without one!

Merveilleux- I do use placemats a lot too- with a baby and mostly rushed dinnertimes it is just more convenient. So mainly we use placemats at the kitchen table and tablecloths at the dining room table. There are a lot of kitchen table dinners in my house! With regards to pests- you do bring up a good point! I just figure the birds eat the crumbs but who knows who is feasting on them!

Panna- I love your napkin ring idea- I will have to try that! Thank you!

Rebekah- Aren't Williams Sonoma tablecloths great? I really love my white one and it has lasted forever...

Fiona Ferris said...

I love using a tablecloth also, and reading your post think I have to look into getting more than the two we have. I haven't really layered, but yours looks so lovely I will experiment with smaller cloths I have. Merci for the inspiration!

Simony said...

Oh dear... Yes I use tablecloths everyday. I grew up in Brazil and tablecloths are the norm.
Place mats in Brazil are called "American set" because we all know Americans lean towards practicality and not sometimes beauty.
It's very interesting to learn new cultures and enrich our lives with it. I can say I've learned a lot during these last 20 years I've lived in America. Both worlds have made me into a smarter person.