Setting the Table with New Friends

As some modern hostesses shift to more casual entertaining, many others have bonded over their love of inspired table settings. Whether inherited, sourced at antique stores or scavenged from flea markets, the building blocks of a beautiful table can set the stage for so much more than just dinner.

Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau

In a year full of anxiety and unknowns surrounding in-person gatherings, many have put dinner parties, Sunday luncheons and holiday celebrations on hold. Fine china enthusiasts across the country have watched their tableware collect dust and have missed the social connections felt around a table. 

Maybe that’s why a Facebook group that revolves around something so simple and pure has experienced exponential growth since its inception in September 2019. The “Beautiful Table Settings” Facebook group, founded by May Eason of Wetumpka, Alabama, serves as a happy place for 55,000 women from over 40 countries who gather online to share the stories of their collections and creative decor.  

“Never Never Land”

“We only have a few rules,” Eason says. “We try to keep the outside world off our page. No politics, religion or pandemic discussion. We want to be Never Never Land, so you can just come and have fun and play.”

Eason, 67, is a semiretired interior decorator who spends a large portion of her time traveling to estate sales and antique shops. She owns over 100 different china patterns and also collects silver, crystal, Early American pattern glass, napkin rings, cloth napkins and water pitchers. 

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“My china alone fills up a buffet, a sideboard, a pair of china cabinets and a secretary chest of drawers,” she says. “I’m also always changing up my own table settings and posting them for the group. I have four tables of my own — one in the foyer, the dining room, my breakfast room and the sunroom. I change up one, if not two, every day.”

As the group has grown, Eason has added administrators to help monitor every post and comment to ensure the group stays true to its mission. She personally spends eight to 10 hours per day posting, commenting or monitoring the group, although she says most people are overjoyed to adhere to the rules.

“This group is very positive,” says Gerry Lester of Magnolia Springs, who has been a member since September 2020. “Kindness seems to be the main value of this group.”

“This has a shell pattern around the rim with a floral centerpiece. I chose it specifically because it didn’t have gold on it — way back in the day, you couldn’t put gold in the dishwasher. We now have 18 place settings and all the service pieces after my husband, who used to travel quite a bit, brought home boxes and boxes from a trip to Europe.” 

Gerry Lester, Magnolia Springs Wedgewood Runnymede Blue

Real-life friendships

In addition to sharing their beautiful tables, thrift store finds and family stories, Beautiful Table Settings sometimes even operates as a network for like-minded collectors to help one another find rare pieces. Online friendships have turned into real-life friendships as collectors connect over a shared passion. 

Member Ann Walker tragically lost her grandmother’s china after a tree fell on her garage, and she found a set of the same pattern for a great price on Facebook Marketplace. The problem? Walker lives in Montgomery, and the china was in Decatur, Georgia. The seller needed it gone quickly. She asked if anyone in the group lived near Decatur and would mind picking up the china for her and holding onto it until she could make the three-hour drive. Within minutes, a member who lives 2.8 miles from the location of the china volunteered to pick it up. Turns out, the seller was a member of the group, too.  

In another post, member Janet Stough Eldridge of Prattville posted an incredible Goodwill find — 64 pieces of Royal Albert Kentish Rockery for $49.99 — and asked for ideas to accessorize a table using the pattern, which features delicate, detailed garden scenes. She received 908 comments. 

“I am a rural Alabama lady and live in an A-frame home,” Eldridge said in a follow-up post. “I feel these belong in a mansion after your responses. It is intimidating for me to even think about creating the tablescape to post on this site. I have no idea of the accessories, but found it very encouraging when one suggested to keep it simple and let the china speak for itself.”

“These patterns came from my grandmothers. I am only 30, but I love china. I don’t think of it as something old. It’s funny how both sets of china really remind me of my grandmothers and match their personalities.”

Allison Woodham, Castleton Turquoise and Spode Florence

A Touch of Spring

MB’s garden party look takes its cue from the Castleton Turquoise dinner plates of Loxley’s Allison Woodham, using wood and straw to balance the fussiness of flowers and butterflies.

How We Got the Look

Plucked from the Garden
Anna Weatherly Green Charger – Zundel’s Jewelry 
Anna Weatherly Spring in Budapest Dinner Plates – Zundel’s Jewelry
Anna Weatherly Spring in Budapest Lace Dessert Plates – Zundel’s Jewelry
Anna Weatherly Morning Glory Bread and Butter Plates – Zundel’s Jewelry
Anna Weatherly Morning Glory Ruffle Cup and Saucer – Zundel’s Jewelry

Natural Texture
Baja Natural Placemat – Wildflowers
Vietri Oak-handled Silverware – The Ivy Cottage 
Michael Michaud Clover Napkin Rings – The Ivy Cottage
Wicker-wrapped Water Glasses – Wildflowers

A Fresh Breeze of Pink Roses, Ranunculus and Cabbage Rosettes – The Shade Tree

Rounding it out
Stripe Ruffled-edge Napkin – The Ivy Cottage 
Sferra Green Cocktail Napkin – The Ivy Cottage 
Silver Candlesticks – Louise Doggett Antiques
Green Taper Candles – Wildflowers
Seersucker Fabric – On Loan
Antique Green Crystal Wine Glasses – Louise Doggett Antiques
Reed and Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Footed Bowl – Louise Doggett Antiques

Sweet Treats
Vegan Vanilla Mini Cupcakes with White Chocolate Swiss Meringue and a White Chocolate Covered Cherry – Lindsey Bakes
Vegan Caramel Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream Topped With Lemon Curd Macarons, White Chocolate Dipped Cherries, and Edible Butterflies – Lindsey Bakes
Vegan Lavender Macarons- Lindsey Bakes

Locals join in

The Beautiful Table Settings group is worldwide, but over 2,000 of its members are Mobile and Baldwin county residents.

“I don’t even remember who invited me to the group, but I joined at the very beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 when there were just 8,000 members,” says Ginger Taylor of Point Clear. “This group has just been so uplifting. It’s such a happy thing — everyone’s dreaming of future dinner parties together.” 

Tammy Thompson of Mobile also joined Beautiful Table Settings in March 2020 and said it’s been cathartic for her as she continues to work from home a year later. 

“I love entertaining and always have a big spread and invite a bunch of people over for Easter. I host Christmas parties, bridal showers and baby showers and always enjoy creating tablescapes for these events. Now, none of that is happening. My dining room table is currently my office. It looks like the tornado scene from the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ ”

Thompson says she appreciates the diversity in the group — some people post incredibly elegant table decor, while others share paper plate place settings they put together for a casual event or cute plastic tableware they find at Dollar Tree.

“People aren’t embarrassed to show simple, comfortable things that just mean something to them. Either they have an emotional attachment or family connection to something, or maybe it just appeals to their aesthetic. There is something very lovely about that. Everyone’s not just trying to re-create something they saw in Architectural Digest.”

Beautiful Table Settings, Thompson says, inspired her to get her mother’s china out of storage and find a way to display and use it. 

“It’s not my favorite pattern, but it was my mother’s. I have just seen so many people sharing stories of how they got their china and how meaningful it is to them.”

“I love this pattern so much that I painted my dining room to match it.” 

Tammy Thompson, Mikasa French Embassy Red

Luxe Tropical

Hot colors are just that! Combining bold reds, like this Mikasa pattern from Mobile’s Tammy Thompson, with fuchsia, orange and gold make a tablescape that feels like traveling to exotic destinations. 

How We Got the Look

Bold Color
Monogrammed Pink Linen Napkins – Bobbins
Hot Pink Taper Candles – Wildlfowers
Antique Green Crystal Wine Glasses – Louise Doggett Antiques
Caspari Peacock Blue Acrylic Tumblers – Wildflowers
Juliska Green Straw Placemat – The Ivy Cottage

Pop of Pattern
Tropical Managerie Plates – The Ivy Cottage

Plenty of Gold
Royal Crown Derby Aves Gold Dinner Plate, Cup and Saucer – Zundel’s Jewelry
Antique Brass Candle Sticks – Louise Doggett Antiques
Square Glass Plate with Gold Trim – Zundel’s Jewelry
Small Gold Bowl – Zundel’s Jewelry

Rounding it out
Whiting Lily of the Valley Sterling Silver Placesettings – Louise Doggett Antiques
Vietri Contessa Wine Glasses – The Ivy Cottage
Handmade Otomi Throw – On Loan
Burgundy Silk Fabric – On Loan

Sweet Treats
Vegan Vanilla Berry Floral “Baby Cake” with Vanilla Bean Buttercream, Filled with Raspberry Prosecco Jam – Lindsey Bakes

Ravishing Florals
A Jeweled Palette with a nod to the shops and markets of Morocco, featuring Roses, Scabiosa and Tulips.” – The Shade Tree

Leslie Anne Tarabella, an author and humor columnist who lives in Fairhope, joined Beautiful Table Settings in October 2020. Tarabella writes about Southern culture and has written several stories on the art of entertaining. 

Tarabella’s feature “It’s How We Love You” was inspired by a post in which a woman shared how her friends replaced her fine china with paper goods while she was out of the room to save her from “going to all that trouble.” For many Southern women, Tarabella says, setting an appealing table is an act of love and care. 

“When times are tough, we need a hug, and a good meal is the way we hug you,” Tarabella writes in her column. “Not just the food, but the entire table, including the little pinecone turkeys, crystal goblets and glitter encrusted snowmen … Love is expressed in different ways, and it’s not up to the recipient to scold or shame the giver. Appreciation and grace are the best thanks of all.”

“I have collected Liberty Blue piece by piece for years. It was originally given away in banks during the Bicentennial in 1976 when you opened a new bank account. Each piece depicts a different historical scene. Independence Hall is on the dinner plate. The luncheon plate is the saddest of the bunch—it feels a little wrong eating your chicken salad looking down at the starving soldiers at Valley Forge.”

Leslie Anne Tarabella

Ladylike Chinoiserie

The Liberty Blue plates from the collection of Fairhope’s Leslie Anne Tarabella inspired MB’s classic table with blue and white for days and touches of peach for a springtime kiss. 

How We Got the Look

Blue and White
Spode Blue Italian Dinner Plate – Zundel’s Jewelry
Mottahedeh Indigo Wave Dessert Plate – Zundel’s Jewelry
Herend Chinese Bouquet Mini Scalloped Dish – Zundel’s Jewelry

Peachy Keen
Bodrum Peach Linen Napkins – The Ivy Cottage
Scalamandre Fabric Tablecloth – on loan

To Die-For Silver
Reed and Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Placesettings – Louise Doggett Antiques
Reed and Barton Francis I Sterling Silver Footed Bowl – Louise Doggett Antiques
Sterling Silver Water Goblet – Louise Doggett Antiques
Sterling Silver Pin Dish – Louise Doggett Antiques

Rounding it out
Vietri Contessa Wine Glasses – The Ivy Cottage

Sweet Treats
Vegan Lemon Sponge “Baby Cake” with Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue, Organic Blueberry Jam Filling, Topped with Fresh Fruits and Vegan Macarons. – Lindsey Bakes

Ravishing Florals
A Baroque-inspired Design of Juliette Garden Roses, Anemone and Queen Annes Lace – The Shade Tree


Bobbins Designs |
Lindsey Bakes Vegan Treats | [email protected] | @lindseybakes_
Louise Doggett Antiques | 93 North Sage Ave., Mobile. 471-6700.
The Ivy Cottage | 9 DuRhu Drive, Mobile. 345-1731.
The Shade Tree | 455-7218.
Wildflowers | 50 South Church St., Fairhope. 928-6200. 
Zundel’s Jewelry | 3670 Dauphin St., Mobile. 241-5439.

On Location

Our tabletop dreams came true at The Fort Condé Inn. Housed in a Southern manor dating back to 1829, it is surrounded by historic cottages and homes all restored to modern luxury and AAA Four-Diamond status. If the inn makes a lasting impression, that’s because it’s been centuries in the making.

Fort Conde Inn | 165 Saint Emanuel Street. 405-5040.

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