Table Talk With Isabelle von Boch
If anyone knows how to dress a table, it’s Isabelle von Boch. An eighth-generation leader of Villeroy & Boch, one of the world’s most historically rich dinnerware companies, von Boch opens up about her holiday traditions, entertaining tips and wintertime table trends
City Life: This isn’t your first time visiting Canada, so welcome back. Are you impressed by how we dress our tables?
Isabelle von Boch: Yes! You know what I love about Canada? People here still sit down and celebrate every day. Not just Christmas, not just Thanksgiving. And people are still into setting the table, and not only that, they are communicating and socializing as a family. People here have traditions and rituals that they still continue.
CL: Any tips for the Canadian host or hostess?
IBV: You don’t have to go out and buy new dinner sets every five minutes, but in Europe people use different dinnerware for breakfast, lunch and dinner, for tea and coffee. So I tell people to mix it up, and I suggest that people use different placemats to change the look. Collect placemats in purple, orange, red and pink, and change them around seasonally. So, let’s say you do chargers in red or green or black or blue. Chargers will change everything. Different colours of glass will change everything. So don’t use the same dinnerware the same way for 40 years. Mix it up: do different placemats, do coloured glass. Add candles to every dinner at night — even if you’re having macaroni and cheese! It creates an atmosphere; it illuminates you and your food. And just keep on with the rituals!
CL: Why is it important to keep things interesting?
IBV: You don’t wear the same clothes every day, and your table shouldn’t, either. Placemats, napkins, tablecloths, I call these “the wardrobe of your table.” How you make yourself better is by making your table feel better, because the whole family will feel better.
CL: What table trends are we seeing on the dinner table this holiday season?
IBV: I think that Christmas is a very emotional and traditional time. I’ve always felt that people can modernize Christmas, but the colours of red and green — and gold accents — aren’t ever going to change, mostly because they’re warm colours. Once you come into New Year’s trends, you can do more blue, more ice blue, more white, more silver, because it’s cooler and closer to January. So I think the traditional colours of Christmas have always been green and red, and you see differences in the greens and the reds, but not turquoise and not pink. It’s interesting, because it’s a very traditional feast.
CL: Can you share a few of your own holiday traditions?
IBV: We celebrate Christmas Eve, so we do everything at night. I celebrate in the States or in Europe. In Germany we still have real candles on the tree, and in the U.S. we don’t, so when I’m at home in Germany we do candles, but in the States I do candles everywhere except the tree! It’s very dark and very cosy with the fireplace. We sing in front of the tree, German songs or English songs, and usually on Christmas Eve I have a buffet. I prefer a buffer because kids get very anxious. Even though my kids are grown up now, they don’t want to sit down that much. Everyone wants to hang out and relax. So I like to make that, and if I make a large, big dinner the night before, I don’t do it the next day. But usually I like lots of pine; I like to keep it very natural. I do lots of pines and noble firs so it smells good. I do wreaths and garlands everywhere, but I make them with rose. So I keep it very traditional, because it’s a traditional feast. Anytime I try to do something modern, nobody likes it!
CL: What do you personally love about dinnerware?
IBV: To me, dinnerware is as essential as the food that I eat! If you make a fabulous meal and put it on an ugly plate, you’ll downgrade your dining experience. It won’t be a dining experience; it will be an eating experience. A food station! You know, we want food as pleasure; we want food to communicate and socialize over. So, even if I’m by myself, I have to have a beautiful plate and beautiful mug at all times. If you make a so-so meal, like we mostly do, but you put it on a beautiful plate, it upgrades your dining experience.
CL: How has Villeroy & Boch evolved in terms of style over the centuries?
IBV: We started in 1748, so over the years several wars and revolutions occurred. We have had to adapt, and by doing so have become an international company. We have adapted to what people need, how people eat in different countries and in different cultures. So that’s how we have evolved — that, and with shapes, and with becoming contemporary. We’re doing patterns that are 240 years old and patterns that are based on the 1700s, 1800s, but we also do 21st century, with the new wave shapes and patterns. That’s the challenge for anyone who makes anything.
The Villeroy & Boch collection is available at Desirée China & Gifts