Mim Finkelstein

In this fun series, we’re taking a look at how our customers entertain and gather. Check out these party-perfect table ideas, then shop the looks below.

For this edition we’re visiting with Mim Finkelstein, an avid observer and critic of table settings since childhood. “Ask any student in any of my classes over 45 years of university and college teaching how often I would stop a video of Pride and Prejudice or Age of Innocence to call attention to a table setting,” Mim said. “Clearly part of my students’ education would have to include instruction in the etiquette of proper dining.”

How do I love china? Let me count the ways. It is true, I do!

From the time I was a small child, visiting B. Altman’s china department on Saturdays with my father, followed by lunch at an aunt’s home where butter balls, made with little wooden paddles, sat on elegant, tiny butter pats, I became both an observer and critic of table settings. My family’s plain, mismatched dishware held no sway over my imagination by comparison to the wonderful Blue Willow pattern of my neighbor’s table, where I frequently volunteered to wash dishes. Tea parties for my dolls became extravaganzas of beautiful china cups and plates filled with crepe paper food.

Ask any student in any of my classes over 45 years of university and college teaching how often
I would stop a video of Pride and Prejudice or Age of Innocence to call attention to a table setting. Clearly part of my students’ education would have to include instruction in the etiquette of proper dining. Once, I even brought in a place setting, complete with all the plates and silverware to explain to a baffled student why it might be necessary to know something about the order in which to use what knife or which spoon. I hope when my students are dining at Chipotle or McDonald’s some of these early lessons will come back to them.

We have a wonderful old house with large living areas and a very tiny kitchen. We have hosted parties as large as 70 guests and as small as four. Despite the size of the kitchen, we do all the cooking. Even the kitchen has its display of green Depression glass.

Before I start planning a dinner, I decide on the table setting. If the dinner is formal, I use Wedgwood Flying Cloud with Heisey New Era glassware or Rhythm by Rosenthal-Continental. Sometimes I try to match dishes to the food I am serving. For example, Stangl’s Orchard Song looks great with pot roast while Blueberry is perfect with egg cups and muffins. I also like American 50’s dishware like Vernonware’s Gingham and Organdie – both look wonderful on a picnic table. I mix glassware, linens, different flatware… even Stangl Birds are part of the table setting. Anything that makes me smile, I use. I mix in some plastic too, if it fits what I am doing. I want the table always to look welcoming to let friends know I appreciate their company.

We have several annual parties. One big one is held during the December holidays, where we invite neighbors, friends, students, faculty, and staff from my college and all the folks who have done work on our house. Also, there are summer parties out on the deck. China plays a big role in all the parties, but I have to admit I use paper plates when the numbers grow. But no matter what I am doing, the table setting is an important part of the party.

I keep notes about menus I have used, mistakes I have made. Ina Garten’s wonderful advice about keeping things simple is always in the back of my mind. I try to think through each step from the moment the party begins to the end when I will send home food with guests, and what special needs guests may have: e.g., no scented candles if someone has an allergy. It is great fun, like writing and staging a play. When the party begins, I almost wish I could just stand to the side and watch it all unfold.

I also follow Julia Childs’ advice about how to save a dish you have just ruined. One time, just before the big holiday party was to start, my husband spilled hot water over the stove top and the stove just quit! At that same moment, someone, lighting the fire in the family room fireplace, forgot to open the flu and the house was filled with smoke. For a minute I thought of leaving a note on the kitchen door saying we had gone to the movies and everyone should just come in and have fun without us. Then I remembered all the wire holders for buffet pans we were going to use to keep things warm, so we covered all the pans with foil, lit the burners earlier, and continued cooking dinner. Aside from a slightly smoky, rather romantic scent in the air, everything went off fine!

No matter what, if guests are happy the party is a success!

We look forward to our annual visits to Replacements and seeing our wonderful friend, Dan Ingle. Replacements has allowed me to fulfill so many earlier dreams. Sometime after graduating from Smith College, Wedgwood issued a pattern using scenes from the college. At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy it. Years later, I have, thanks to Replacements, and I was able to host a luncheon for a brand new Smithie who had just received her acceptance letter. Also, when my wonderful stepmother left me her Heisey collection, quite stupidly we left some of it behind when the moving people came. But a visit to Replacements solved all that! I love going there, talking china and other stuff with Dan, looking at the marvelous displays, and just filling my soul with beautiful china to my heart’s content.