The Coziest Holiday Tabletop You've Had On Hand All Along

December 22, 2015

Or should I say "underfoot"?

When I first contacted Max Sinsteden—an interior designer who I first read about in a New York Magazine feature on his super-luxe dorm room in which layered family rugs butt up to walls painted "Ralph Lauren’s Tapestry Green"—it was back in spring. We were looking for some creative centerpiece ideas, and he sent back these pictures:

Irish lead glass, pierced copper planters, leaves, and whole fruits make up the autumnal centerpiece, and the china is a set of "Indian Tree" luster Spode—his mother's, which she inherited from her mom who in turn inherited it from a kindergarten teacher. "It's not really my favorite color scheme for everyday entertaining; however in the fall it just sings!", he wrote, and then almost as an afterthought: "I've taken a great antique Persian carpet and put it on the table." Wait, what?

Photo by Max Sinsteden

Max has been "occasionally" using rugs as tablecloths "for a decade or so," but he told me that it's actually been a decorative practice for centuries. "Everyone is such a neat freak/germaphobe these days," he says, bemoaning that reason it eventually fell out of vogue.

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Max prefers using antique rugs if he's going to put one on the table, as "they are rich in pattern and aging which I think is the whole point," but you could use any that you have in the house—he advises choosing one with an allover pattern rather than a center medallion design, and colors that are muted rather than brand new (we'd say the same about choosing a linen tablecloth). Give the rug a good vacuum if it's been folded up, and you can clean it yourself if it's been down on the floor. "Take it out to the backyard and hose it down," Max says, "that's the best way to clean a wool carpet!"

Photo by Max Sinsteden

To me, the effect is lush, cozy, and charmingly unexpected—which is pretty standard for the work Max does with his partner Catherine Olasky at their firm Olasky & Sinsteden. "I have a rug I call the Party Carpet and I bring it with me anytime I do an outdoor party, formal or informal, BBQ or picnic," Max carries on. "Just as a rug helps define a space in a room, I find that a rug out next to the polo pitch or in a park gives your event boundaries and a focus." Christmas dinner in the back yard, anyone?

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  • anne
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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


anne March 31, 2020
this is late, and unseasonable, but, I think that rug should be on top of another longer cloth, maybe a burlap or something? It doesn't fit that table well and having the jagged edge just hanging there, fitting poorly needs some softening. I like the idea, but maybe a little better execution would be nicer. Love the china pattern.
Sara P. December 22, 2015
Beautiful table setting! I believe the china, however, is one of Spode's versions of Indian Tree. Indian Tree in various colors was made by a variety of English manufacturers, including Wedgwood, Johnson Brothers, Spode and Coalport. To my knowledge, only Spode produced the pattern in the rust and gold luster colors. Lovely!
Amanda S. December 23, 2015
Sara, you're right (what an eye!)—I've adjusted above.
creamtea December 22, 2015
This was the traditional use for Persian carpets in Netherlands in the 17th century. I don't know if they were used for meals, but in elaborate still-lifes of the period, they are displayed with other ornate and expensive objects on tabletops. Incidentally, when I was in Iran in the 70s and observed the weaving of carpets in Isfahan, I learned from my hosts that the very finest Isfahan carpets (wool with the decorative motifs outlined in cream silk) are fairly thin and foldable.