Previously On View: October 5, 2018 through April 14, 2019

See exhibitions currently on view.

About the exhibition

Design has had an enduring impact on the rituals and customs of dining. The centerpiece for Tablescapes: Designs for Dining, which explores three distinct dining moments, is Cooper Hewitt’s magnificent surtout de table. On view for the first time in 30 years, this newly conserved masterpiece, designed by Pierre-Philippe Thomire for the stepson of Napoleon Bonaparte, Eugène de Beauharnais, exemplifies how dining in the highest levels of wealth and power in early 19th-century France was a theatrical performance, bringing architecture to the tabletop in an elaborate arrangement of vessels for food.

In the ensuing century, design for dining pivoted to embrace the casual lifestyle that emerged with industrialization and the rising middle class and will certainly change again in the future as contemporary design responds to emerging technologies and decreasing resources. To represent these shifts, the surtout de table is accompanied by an installation of Depression-era table linens designed by American textile designer Marguerita Mergentime, who blended bold colors, typography, and a fascination with American culture and history into her festive designs. And to suggest future directions for dining design, 2017 National Design Award winners Joe Doucet and Mary Ping were commissioned to envision a dining environment to come, one that is responsive to the needs of a rapidly changing world.

Also on view

To accompany Tablescapes, an installation in the Spoon Family Gallery of Marguerita Mergentime’s iconic textile, Americana, designed for the 1939 World Fair in San Francisco. Alternating bold Futura lettering with cursive writing, the entirely text-based design encompasses American phrases, organizations, foods, points of interest, and people in an all-over pattern. The textile is a red, white, and blue typographical banner of American values designed for a nation on the cusp of World War II.


Tablescapes: Designs for Dining is made possible by Anonymous. Conservation of the surtout de table is made possible by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee. In-kind support is provided by Shapeways and The Abadi Group.

This image features two candelabra, featuring a standing female figure of patinated bronze supporting branched gilt-bronze candle arms, each arm in the form of a winged female figure; the branches are surmounted by a patinated putto/faun standing on a column and holding an urn-shaped bobeche; square gilt-bronze base with a scene of Europa and the bull; a patinated winged female term stands at each corner. The female figures stand on a gilt-bronze plinth. Please scroll down to read the blog post about this object.
Luxurious Lighting
Today’s Object of the Day is on view in Tablescapes: Designs for Dining (October 5, 2018–April 14, 2019). These two candelabra in the neoclassical style, with their detailed sculptural work and multiple candle branches, would have undoubtedly brought abundant golden light as well as a sense of luxury to any early 19th-century interior. They were...
Image of Sarah Barak and Drew Anderson, conservation staff, inspecting the Surtout de Table
Conservation of the Surtout de Table
On view for the first time in 30 years, Cooper Hewitt’s surtout de table was recently conserved.
Cleaning the Gilding on the Surtout de Table
Jakki Godfrey, a contract objects conservator, uses a special solution to remove dirt, grime, and copper corrosion from 210-year-old pillars from the Pierr-Philippe Thomire surtout de table, which is on view for the first time in 30 years.
Surtout de Table: Sustenance of Political Power
From Cooper Hewitt's collection handbook, Making Design, the history of the surtout de table.
Photograph of Joyful Interiors Book Signing
Joyful Interiors: Rediscovering the Textiles of Marguerita Mergentime
Exploring Marguerita Mergentime’s life and career, reintroducing her ideas on modern design, informal dining, and joyful living.
Flat marli. Concentric bands, in gold: plain, advancing wave motif, and scattered stars; enclosing view of the Sèvres porcelain factory in colors.
Sèvres Self Portrait
From the archives, an Object of the Day post on a Sèvres porcelain now on view in Tablescapes: Designs for Dining.