“There is a kind of appealing grace in having the end result of a project, food or otherwise, seemingly brought off without strain." Lee Bailey, (1926-2003) authority on luxurious lifestyles, cooking, and interior designer
Lee Bailey did not serve cheese courses, or even salad. Everything went on one plate. He kept table decor simple and delicious. But he did always set the table before his guests arrived. He was known for his interesting cloth napkins. In fact, his ideas for table linens were so attractive that retailing whiz Geraldine Stutz invited him to have his own home decor department, specializing in table decor, on the "Street of Shops" in the original Henri Bendels.( We've pasted a photo of Geraldine Stutz in front of the Lee Bailey table decor department on the circle of shops she created at Bendels below.)
Joan Kanner, the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, worked under Ms Stutz from 1967-1976 and said, "She recognized that fashion was more than just about clothing; it was about lifestyle and how one lives." Ms. Stutz and Lee Bailey are no longer with us and neither is Bendels but we hope we can call to mind some of the magic they created with our selection of cloth napkins. Geraldine was one of the first retailers to understand that things like food and table linens could be merchandised alongside clothing and cosmetics.
Lee knew how to create atmosphere when he entertained. He was the height of sophistication in that relaxed, unpretentious way that truly sophisticated people are. In short, Lee's table decorations were fun and accessible. In his cookbook, "Country Weekends," Lee has chapters like: "On the Deck" "At a Picnic" "At the Beach" "In the Kitchen" and "No Work Lunches." His entertaining style was easy going and relaxed but he wasn't going to ever put out store bought white napkins. As a writer in Saveur Magazine once said, "he was a pioneer in suggesting that a meal's setting was just as important as the food, that the way you layered sliced tomatoes on a plate mattered, and that a bandana might be used to cradle bread, fruit, and cheese on the way to a picnic, then do double duty as a place mat. He was, as The New York Times summed it up in his 2003 obituary, 'an expert in the stylish life.' Lee exalted the virtue of pausing to appreciate the little things—the way a napkin is folded, or how a crusty piece of French bread and butter can trump the most elaborate meal. It's a worldview on cooking and entertaining that continues to feel relevant and grounding."
Our cotton cloth napkins come in a variety of patterns that would work for many of Lee's settings and hopefully would be up to his standards for table linens.
Left: Bailey, at his home on the east end of Long Island, New York, in August 1984 | Right: Country Weekends, the first of Bailey's 18 lifestyle books, each one awash in his Southern charm
Among many other things, Nora Ephron the screenwriter loved to muse, or some would say obsess, about food, her neck, and entertaining. She once said, "I don't think any day is worth living without thinking about what you're going to eat next at all times." Nora credited Lee Bailey for helping her to relax and not obsess about food or table decor. She calls his style "relaxed."
Nora Ephon and Lee Bailey were friends. They were both home entertaining treasures and inspiration for all time. Fortunately both left great books on the subject of cooking, table setting and life behind. If you get to choose what famous hosts and hostesses throughout history to invite to your next dinner party, they would be wonderful choices. Have fun setting the table with some interesting cloth napkins and other non fussy table decorations before they arrive - and when it comes to entertaining, take a page from their book and don't sweat the small stuff, enjoy it.
At Decorative Things we do love decorative paper plates and party napkins but in today's modern times, using cloth napkins can be a refreshing, unexpected touch for table decor. And Lee and Nora, our muses, liked "unexpected." Our cloth napkins are freshly made by us right here in the USA. Hopefully you will use them for many years and make them part of your trademark entertaining style.
Cloth napkins don't just have to be used as dinner napkins for extra special occasions like Thanksgiving napkins or Christmas napkins. Sometimes it's fun to mix high and low table linens like taking cloth napkins on a picnic, or using cloth napkins with paper placemats. Linen napkins can add the icing on the cake for table settings. Speaking of cake, use cloth napkins for wedding napkins and then for many occasions afterwards.