Decorating Dining Tables Using Placemats

Where in the world did the idea for placemats originate? Some say they started in China and were made of wood or bamboo reeds. Others think they were simply fabric versions of a table cloth, but easier to launder. Perhaps it started with the cave woman, who used a giant leaf or slab of stone to differentiate one meal setting from another. In any case, it’s fairly obvious that placemats rose to the informal dining occasion because they saved the hostess time, protected the family table, and offered an exclusive setting for one.

Like every other simplistic invention, placemats evolved into every type and manifestation imaginable and are now become the chameleons of the dining experience.

Once relegated to the plastic variety and displayed in neon colors that could be wiped clean with the swipe of a dishrag, the somewhat unappreciated placemat is now available in the finest fabrics and features sophisticated colors that reflect high style for upscale decorating.

Combining Elegance and Function

Many mats used for table decorating are still of the wipe-clean variety but are referred to as “laminated and cork-backed for heavy-duty use and easy care”, and yes, they are useful, beautiful, and designed to last for years. Maintaining elegance and functionality are the hallmarks of the versatile placemat and modern technology has encouraged its perfection. Many are even made slightly wider than others to easily accommodate silverware.

In fact, for everyday use, the tablecloth has become a thing of the past. And vinyl tabletops went the way of the horse and buggy years ago.

History at Hand

Now depicting some of the richest images of the past, the mats using historical reference and replication can add special interest to a table like no other accessory. The placemat reigns king of the table today and you’ll find it in the classiest homes.

Take the Naseau Vine Placemat for exquisite table decorating. Europeans and American colonists in the so-called “age of exploration” had an avid interest in things foreign and exotic. The Nasseau Vine is an accurate representation of a beautiful black and white tracery vine pattern inspired by an 18th century French gown crafted of hand-painted silk and now featured in the colonial Williamsburg collection.

Then there’s the elegant Lightfoot House Placemats. Their design was adapted from hand-painted wallpaper depicting peonies and mums, birds in flight and hanging baskets. The blue and white pattern was popular in Europe and America in the 18th century and the original wallpaper is in the collections of the colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

The Furber Fruit Placemat is another elegant style, based on an interpretation of 18th century prints in the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation collection. Robert Furber, an English nurseryman, published Twelve Months of Fruits in 1732 and from his paintings of gloriously beautiful images, there are now vibrant representations accurately portrayed in a set of placemats.

Cloth over Vinyl

If your tastes run to high-style yet easy-care fabrics, The Magnolia Placemats Napkins set are stunning scalloped edged, quilted beauties, showcasing “the flower of the south” in rich color and design. Sage green is the perfect background for the grand white magnolia with its dark green foliage. These placemats are enhanced by matching napkins and magnolia napkin rings. Their easy-care feature is that they are 100% cotton and machine washable. They are also reversible to a striped pattern, so will serve double-duty before hitting the washing machine.

The Elements of Choice

There are table placemats to commemorate every season including holiday placemats and those to suit every occasion, every taste, hobby, avocation, or need. Paper placemats for children to play games on, kitchen mats, collectibles, placemats with political messages, cartoons and comic strip heroes, exquisite representations of the hunt, horses, and the elegance of the chase. There are round, rectangular, straw and wheat grass table mats; floral, stripe, paisley, leaf, map and beach themed mats, and vinyl placemats in all the colors of the rainbow.

Hats Off to Modern Dining

There is still a time and a place for the crisp tablecloth, sterling silver cutlery and exquisite crystal for the extra special occasions in our lives. But for most other times, the placemat allows us to change our minds with our moods, is truly the chameleon of the dining room experience and remains one of the most versatile and adaptable additions to our lives. So, it matters not the origins of the homely placemat. It has evolved into the ultimate tool in table decorating and deserves our hats off as we sit down with family and friends to dine at leisure and to share our meals in caveman style with a modern twist.