Thanksgiving guests at the home of Julia Berger and Marc Fleishhacker will find a table and feast where tradition is turned upside down.
Each place setting will be completely different. And the meal itself forgoes the old New England staples of mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and candied yams, in favor of small plate dishes from around the globe, from an Israeli lamb curry on a bed of eggplant and hot Japanese soba noodles to stracotto beef slow cooked with wine and potatoes.
For this Healdsburg couple who love to cook, the menu may be as diverse as the tableware. But the spirit of the day remains intact, a chance to share a slow feast over conversation and laughter with friends and family.
Not only will the meal be home cooked by Berger and Fleishhakker, but the linens, china, crystal and flatware, are all designed by Berger, adding a new level of meaning to the idea of homemade. In fact, Berger even designed the dining table and sideboard. They were crafted from a single heritage oak that fell at Green Gables, the fabled old English-style country estate in Woodside built by Marc Fleishhacker’s great grandparents, the San Francisco philanthropists Mortimer and Bella Fleishhacker.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is when I do this with friends and guests who come and eat with us, they love to choose where they’re going to sit based on what tablescape they like. It’s musical chairs at the table, which is really nice,” said Berger of her unconventional practice of mixing more than matching.
Each place setting will feature a different china pattern and different linens.
Of course, that comes easily to this designer and purveyor of bespoke home goods. Her Julia B. line, which has been featured in a plethora of design and lifestyle magazines, from Elle Decor and Veranda to House Beautiful, Town and Country and Architectural Digest, includes 15 different china patterns, each painted by hand in places like Portugal, Italy and Morocco. Those, and the fine linens created by small mills in Europe and the exquisite crystal hand blown and etched in Bavaria and Czechoslovakia, harken back to an era when things for the home were made and purchased to last not just for a lifetime, but to be passed down through the generations.
In fact, some of the items in her Julia B. collection were inspired by the heirlooms stored in cupboards and drawers and closets at Green Gables, where a fourth and now a fifth generation of Fleishhackers gather for the summer and family occasions.
For her Thanksgiving table, Berger has chosen plates and linens in earthen and jewel tones. These are not your expected oranges and yellows found on most turkey day tables. Instead, they are fresh shades of marigold, kiwi green, navy blue, cranberry and light neutrals like oatmeal.
“Everything is a mixture but it was all obviously with a color harmony, with autumnal hues and deeper jewel tones,” she explained.
Not everyone will have 15 different sets of dishes in their hutch. But a host can still borrow from the idea. Many people now have multiple sets of china and dinnerware, from sets they have bought for themselves to formal china they may have received as wedding gifts or inherited from a mother or grandmother.