My friend Jonathan Preece's creativity never ceases to amaze me. A very talented designer on staff at Bunny Williams, Jonathan is known for creating the most amazing and theatrical tablescapes. I think that what fascinates me most about Jonathan's handiwork is that it's not just about striking colors, pretty linen, and fetching china. There is always an underlying theme that inspires the various elements of the table decor. And believe me, the theme is always well researched. When Jonathan tells me about his various inspirations, I usually have to visit Wikipedia to figure out what he is talking about.
A few years ago, Jonathan was responsible for decorating the Passover table for clients of Bunny Williams. The apartment was in the throes of demolition, undergoing a major transformation that was recently unveiled on the cover and in the pages of the February/March issue of Elle Decor. As Jonathan assisted Williams on this project, it was only natural that for the clients' Passover celebration, he would be responsible for creating some semblance of order and beauty in the midst of construction chaos. I'm sure that creating an elegant table in a demolition zone was a challenge, but I would say that Jonathan pulled it off with aplomb.
For this particular table, Jonathan combined traditional Passover symbolism with references to Spring, ones that were specifically inspired by the ballet "The Rite of Spring" (Le sacre du printemps). With music composed by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Nijinsky, the piece is one of the most iconic (and when it debuted in 1913, one of the most controversial) ballets of the 20th century. Jonathan's ode to Spring included many natural materials like moss, daffodils, bell flowers, lilies, succulents, and seasonal fruits.
Several long tables were placed end to end to accommodate around 40 guests. The table was set with plain bone china with gilded detail and pale green water and wine glasses. The ivory linen napkins were folded in what Jonathan calls the "traditional Bunny Williams Style." Covering the table was a wide striped linen fabric in shades of hot pink, orange, brown, and celadon. Jonathan also chose to use acrylic amber colored ballroom chairs so that when the sun set, the light would shine through them.
At the center of the table was a large painted driftwood plinth on which Jonathan placed a large date palm, one whose base was covered in chicken wire and sheets of Bull Moss. Jonathan repeated the use of white painted driftwood along the length of the table and incorporated different mosses, spring grasses, flowers, and fruit into the wood. The result, as Jonathan noted, was an above-ground surreal root system. A French Deco 1940's Aubusson rug with stylized pagodas and borders (part of Bunny Williams' extensive antique textile collection) was hung as a backdrop behind the table. This allowed a prep area to be hidden from guests.
Holding court at either end of the table were blanc-de-chine camels whose backs provided just the place for hammered copper bowls of Daffodils. The other copper bowls on the table held pyramids of clementines and lemons as did mercury glass compotes.
Nestled at the feet of the camels were pots of variegated foliage, spring grasses, and chartreuse potato vines.
White lacquered screens were employed throughout the space to partially obscure the guts of the construction as well as to help bounce light around the space. At each side of the room stood tall French metal garden plinths with craquelure celadon temple jars from Treillage Ltd.
In lieu of place cards, Jonathan chose silvered metal birds, fruits, and Mudras Hands which held each guest's name constructed of wire. The scrolls you see on each plate are vellum prints of engraved illustrations taken from an antique illustrated Haggadah, the book that sets of the order of the Passover Seder. The book is traditionally read throughout the evening's celebration. Each scroll was fastened with laser cut seals.
One of the Passover symbols that Jonathan incorporated into the "Rite of Spring" table was the plagues of locusts and frogs. Here, a locust (not a real one) is perched atop a clementine, while white painted frogs also make appearances on the table. Although not associated with Passover, white painted toy turtles and hummingbirds helped to celebrate the arrival of Spring.
In order to soften the space, the floors were covered first in plywood and then in seagrass. Colorful Moroccan rugs, borrowed from Bunny Williams, were placed over the seagrass.
Clusters and bunches of spray roses, Bell Lilies, and Hypernicum as well as birds nests made of moss feathers rounded out the Spring look. Within the mercury votives, electric candles gave off a realistic glow.
All images courtesy of Jonathan Preece, Elizabeth Swartz photographer.