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Jenny Deeming, founder of Cologne and Cotton, on laying the perfect table

Interview: Clare Finney

How have approaches to table setting changed?
A lot of people just don’t want the formality of traditional table settings these days. We don’t want to be scrabbling about in the drawers for matching napkins when we come home from work. More people eat in their kitchens now, even when they are entertaining—and our food is often more informal too: sharing plates and so on.

Why do you think that is? It is interesting, isn’t it?
The British don’t really set as much store by table linen and table cloths—not like they do on the continent. The French have spent years trying to sell us expensive linens and napkins, but we find they just don’t go. Personally, I think the nicer dinner parties are the more casual ones where nothing matches: unmatched glasses and napkins, some wild flowers in the middle, lovely candles of different shapes.

What about eating al fresco?
Our gorgeous block-printed tablecloths from India are great for al fresco dining. The block prints are so much fun, and being cotton, they wash very well. We do some beautiful embroidered linen tablecloths too, which also look great outside. They’d be good for a wedding, actually—or any occasion that’s slightly more formal—as they look lovely with silver cutlery and glass.

Speaking of washing, how easy is it to look after your table linen?
Very easy. With the block-printed cloths, just put them in a wash at 40C and they won’t run. The whiter ones you can put in a hotter wash—up to 60C or so—but they will need more ironing. All table cloths look better after being ironed, of course.

How do you decide which colour tablecloth to go for? Do you have to think about the colour of your walls?
I think if you’re matching your tablecloth to your walls you are probably going too far. Some people do, but it is a lot of effort. That is why the Indian block-printed table cloths work so well: they’re bright, patterned, and they aren’t expensive, so you can get two or three. At Christmas, our red linen tablecloth sold well, but you can’t go wrong with white. We have a lovely ivory leaf cotton damask tablecloth which is very classic, very elegant—almost hotel-style, but robust too—as well as a hand-embroidered one in Venice lace. If you want to avoid white, but still want something sophisticated, grey and taupe can work well. We have a lace-edged linen table cloth in taupe.

I want to do some table décor, but I also really like my table. Is there a halfway house?
If you’ve a lovely scrubbed wooden table or some such, you might not want to cover the whole thing with a table cloth—in which case, we have beautiful embroidered placemats like the Honfleur. They have a stunning border, stitched by hand in Vietnam. If you’re having 12 people over for dinner, you want something basic but pretty. Those, some napkins, some candles and some flowers would work very well.

Any other top table tips?
It’s the company that matters—fine wine and good company. That’s why we’re setting the table in the first place.

Cologne & Cotton