If you’ve been to Maman in Soho, you know how adorable, elegant, and Instagrammable the healthy cafe is, down to the very last deliberately mismatched piece of China.
That probably has something to do with the fact that co-owner Elisa Marshall worked as a wedding planner for six years up until opening it with Benjamin Sormonte a year ago.
“I was always around beautiful table settings and design details, and I also know that a table can be boring without a lot of variation of textures and patterns,” Marshall says. “I like to be a little more creative and unique, and not always follow a typical style where everything is the same.”
And while you probably will never need to rise to Soho cafe level, when you do have guests over for cauliflower-kale pizza and matcha martinis, it’s nice to able to create the kind of enviable table settings you see on your Pinterest and Instagram feeds without having it become a second full-time job.
Below, Marshall shares her tips for creating a unique healthy dining experience that won’t break the bank or consume your whole life. We promise. —Jamie McKillop
1. Choose a theme. Find a common theme that represents your personal style and work within that. “Maybe it’s a color, or flowers, or blues, or stripes—pick one and build up your collection within it,” Marshall explains.
2. Mix and match items. Don’t buy everything from the same store. “I’ve always been on the lookout for great pieces, and it’s nice because you can tell a story for each item about where you got it, whether it’s from your grandmother or Spain or T.J. Maxx,” she says. “Just make sure everything sticks to a distinct vision and direction.” Marshall also recommends checking eBay and Craigslist with a specific search term like “blue floral plates.”
3. Get creative with your centerpiece. “You can be very resourceful, it doesn’t have to be a vase with flowers,” she says. Her suggestions are a bowl with fruit or vegetables that match your color palate, or a beautiful platter, or a table cloth with a contrasting runner.
4. Break with tradition. What your mother taught you doesn’t necessarily stand. “There are a lot of very formal traditional rules, like the water glass has to be 90 degrees above the knife and what side the cutlery is on,” Marshall laments. “As long as it’s functional, if it’s an informal intimate dinner party setting, you can get a little creative.” She likes unconventional touches like tying the cutlery together with a piece of raffia and placing it on the plate, or writing place names on packages of homemade cookies for guests to take home. “You’re not having the queen over for dinner,” Marshall points out. (Unless you are…in which case, maybe watch an episode of Downton Abbey?)
5. Write menus. “It’s always nice for people to see what they’re having,” she says, “and it adds another element of texture.” This is something you can do simply by printing a menu and folding it into the napkin, or putting one in a beautiful frame.
For more information, visit mamannyc.com
(Photos: Bridget Badore via Maman)