All Eyes On These Modern Tablescapes Rooted In History


Playful papier-mâche candlesticks by Farfelus Farfadet are set in front of a 17th-century tapestry and paired with gold-rimmed Venetian wine glasses, French silver and English ivory salt and pepper shakers. (Photo: Aaron Delesie)

“I find that the artisans that are most in touch with themselves often understand their work’s relationship to history,” ruminates designer and event producer David Stark. This philosophy harmoniously resonates throughout Stark and fellow designer Jane Schulak’s new tome: At The Artisan’s Table. The duo paired the work of contemporary artisans who specialize in tableware, textiles, ceramics and more with antique decorative pieces that span five centuries to create magnificent and inventive tablescapes photographed around the globe. Coming off the heels of the book’s November 1 release, Schulak and Stark brief us on the genesis of the project, their design ideologies and the dinner party accessories they’re currently eyeing.

david stark jane schulak ceramic delft blue and white tabletop

Blue and white ceramics by artist and designer Tyler Hayes are displayed alongside a 19th century French delft flower container, antique Battersea enamel candlesticks and Chantilly porcelain-handled knives from the collection of Pierre Bergé.

david stark jane schulak industrial hand forged tabletop

Set in front of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry, South Wall, Amy Weik and Gabriel Craig's hand-forged pieces share a denim-clad table with Puiforcat flatware and Saint-Louis glasses.

david stark jane schulak ceramic theatrical english tabletop

For a chapter on royalty, Schulak and Stark set Roberto Lugo's ceramic dishes inspired by 17th-century English porcelain on a table situated inside the now defunct Michigan Theatre in Detroit.

david stark jane schulak wedgwood black basalt crockery tabletop

Stark and Schulak masterfully layered shades of black to complement Max Lamb's contemporary basalt crockery with 19th century Wedgwood.

david stark jane schulak wood faux bois tabletop

Faux bois plates, cups and saucers from the Nymphenburg manufactory in Germany are paired with French silver, a Wedgwood platter and, naturally, a turkey painted by David Starks Studio to mimic a wood pattern.

david stark jane schulak at the artisan's table book cover

At The Artisan's Table (Vendome Press) features gorgeous tabletops that marry historical and contemporary pieces inspired by 18 decorative styles.

The pairing of high-design tabletops with high-art pieces is ingenious. What moved you to approach this project through that lens?

Jane Schulak: Before we had the idea for the book, I would often bring David to some of my favorite artisans’ studios in Paris because I knew we shared a love for craft and art; these experiences inspired us to come up with the concept for At The Artisan’s Table. We began our process by visiting the library at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris and carefully selecting major periods and styles that served as our inspiration points for each chapter.

At The Artisan’s Table pushes the boundaries of table setting. How did you conceptualize such non-traditional yet immensely successful tabletops?

David Stark: This project is less about decorating and more about storytelling. We are both deeply inspired by visual connections and have open minds when it comes to materials. When you realize that you can have more than just a bouquet of flowers on a table, the possibilities are endless. Throughout the book there is a constant dialogue between the environment and the objects.

What are some important factors to consider when setting a table for guests?

JS: I love having people sit close to each other. I like the ease of conversation and the feeling of intimacy.

DS: Sightlines. No matter how fabulous a centerpiece is, if it blocks the view of your dining guests, it’s probably not a great addition to a table.

What pieces would you curate for the ultimate table setting at your dream dinner party?

JS: I currently have my eyes on Puiforcat silver. I’d love to mix the patterns so that each piece of cutlery displays a different design.

DS: Salvador Dalí silverware comes to mind first. It would be fun to have something that extravagant when you least expect it.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from At The Artisan’s Table?

JS: I think that we need to give ourselves permission to sit down together, break bread, exist in the moment and think about our quality of life.

DS: In this very fast-moving, technological time we live in, the things we make with our hands tell us so much about our commonality on this planet. There’s a lot of value in that and it’s something to genuinely celebrate.