‘This setting features blue and white predominantly, because I love it,’ says Dr Reem. ‘I take a lot of inspiration from Chinese porcelain. I collect various pieces and use them in diverse configurations and add different elements. Here, for example, I’ve added the pomegranates for a pop of red. For us, pomegranates are a symbol of prosperity and abundance – anything that has many seeds is a life-giving symbol. But you can also use lemons for a bright yellow touch, or plenty of greenery, which really makes the blue and white stand out.'
‘I like the symbolism of fish, too,’ she adds, referencing the koi pond she has built under her front door. ‘I created the entrance to my home so that guests pass over the fish when they come in and bring in good luck, and then pass over them again when they leave to take good luck with them.’ With many emblems of fish on the table including the tablecloth, napkins and cutlery, she makes her guests feel very lucky.
‘I like the layers and organised chaos of this set-up. I use several little plates around one setting. You can start with dates, then have some hot water with rose petals, a bowl of soup, then sip green tea, juices and water from various glasses.’ Bread sticks, pastries and crackers are also served in small serving dishes for guests to nibble on. She creates height and interest with a variety of ornaments, lights and three centrepieces fashioned with greenery to represent lanterns, a typical emblem of Ramadan.
This setting focuses on greens and golds – think earthy jade, emerald and avocado shades paired with golden starlight twinkles. ‘Coming from an Iraqi background, the crescent moon shape is prominent in our iconography. I think it’s because we were ruled and influenced for so long by the Ottomans, but of course this symbol is also an Islamic icon, and prominent during Ramadan,’ says Dr Reem. She’s topped a tablecloth of off-white lace layered with a runner of gold calligraphy with silver teapots repurposed as quirky receptacles for bread sticks and dates. Dr Reem El Mutwalli is a private consultant on Islamic architecture, interior design, and Islamic and Arab Art. Born in Iraq, she moved to the UAE as a child with her family. After receiving a degree in Interior Design and Fine Art in the US, she later achieved a PhD in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of London. She started her career as a private art collector for the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi and has branched out over the last 30 years to establish fashion and interiors consultancies.
Clear glass jugs and votives add airiness to the setting, while tall cake stands and books create height and add context and visual interest. ‘I think it’s always nice to have different levels and in this instance the books can represent the Quran, poetry, and literature. I like to play with notebooks, folding back pages and creating artistic elements for the table. With the teapots, I like to use them for alternative purposes, to serve food or for flowers, for example. I also use green tinted glasses or clear glasses with green juices – so the table theme is further accented by what is served.’
Savvy table styling tips
- Plan your table in terms of layers – cloths and runners, cutlery and plateware, then ornamentation and centrepieces.
- Add visual interest through height: use hardback books in complementing colours to elevate sections and tall ornaments to create dynamism.
- Coordinate the food and beverages you are serving with your glassware and serve ware. For example, if your colour scheme is green and white, serve broccoli soup rather than carrot soup.
- Don’t be afraid to mix and match – not only the colours and patterns, but high-end setting pieces with artisanal souk finds.
- Have fun with your setting. The table is your centerpiece to gather around, sit with your friends and family, and enjoy a nice meal. That’s the most important part.
Dr Reem El Mutwalli is a private consultant on Islamic architecture, interior design, and Islamic and Arab Art. Born in Iraq, she moved to the UAE as a child with her family. After receiving a degree in Interior Design and Fine Art in the US, she later achieved a PhD in Islamic Art and Archaeology at the University of London. She started her career as a private art collector for the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi and has branched out over the last 30 years to establish fashion and interiors consultancies.
Styling by Dr Reem El Mutwalli
Photography by Stefan Lindeque