Posted in Living
To Set a Table
To set a table is a gesture full of humanity.The careful preparation for the meal, the arrangement of the seating, the placing of individual cutlery pieces to suit the particular sequence of dishes that will follow. There is a place for each piece. A shape for each use. A tool for each hand.
There is a ritual to the way we use our cutlery, a rhythm of use connected to these simple tools, whose presence at each meal marks our days. Despite being descended from sharpened hand axes, the oldest of human tools, flatware is also surprisingly modern; with forks in particular having been limited to the tables of a select elite for centuries before becoming part of the typical western dining table. Today, our cutlery connects us to this potent history of preparing and sharing meals.
From as early as 1932, C.Hugo Pott defined themselves as the pioneers of modern table culture. From their factory in Solingen in Eastern Germany, Pott designed and manufactured their flatware settings with a Bauhaus ethos: each piece was highly restrained, with a geometric, unadorned form. As a complete collection, a Pott flatware setting is refined, with a perfect harmony between the curvature of a spoon and fork, the breadth of a knife blade and handle. For Pott, the focus was on allowing the useful to become even more perfect and beautiful. With their designs, setting the table and enjoying a meal became a simple luxury.
Later, in Italy, designer Gio Ponti refound inspiration in the raw, ancient history of these tools. Carved, rustic forms appear in his early 1950s set for Reed and Barton. The 20th century Italian modernist developed a sculptural cutlery collection in sterling silver, with elongated, sculptural lines expressive of natural forms. Housed in a unique blue-velvet lined wooden box, the idiosyncratic design extended the rituals and pleasures of the table.
Modest and sculptural directions were folded together in the 1970s and 80s, notably in a collaboration of Tobia and Afra Scarpa with San Lorenzo Studio. Growing out of an empathy for traditional Italian craftsmanship, the Venice based architects developed an elegant, hand-made response. The rivet-handled pieces have an almost-regal elegance, despite their reduced forms. Undecorated, the combination of pure silver and Pietra Dura stone handles describes a modern, innovative and yet familiar design. These pieces are imbued with a sense of longevity, culture and readiness for the messy realities of use.
Beyond setting the table, the best flatware often goes unnoticed. Used day in, day out, for a lifetime or longer, these tools become extensions of our bodies, perfectly natural prosthetics. There is a naturalness to the weight of a well-designed piece in the hand, to the balance and sensation of the wrist rising and falling with each mouthful. Whether minimal or sculptural, refined or crafted, the perfect flatware pieces correspond to our eating habits, anticipate our movements, and invite us, again and again, to prepare to share a meal together: to set the table.