No formal dining room but you love to entertain? No problem — Dean Driver can turn your kitchen island into a showcase for great tabletop decor


Dean Driver can turn an ordinary kitchen island, above, into a stunning decorative tabletop, below. / Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones. Shot on location at The Beat Lofts.

By Arnold Wayne Jones

Watching TV shows like Downton Abbey, you may get wistful about an era when personal valets dressed you in a tux for a waitered service in a formal dining room. But the truth is, that just isn’t how we live nowadays.

But it doesn’t mean we have to forego elegance.

Dean Driver, owner of Consilium Lifestyle Collections, is experienced at bringing a sense of personal style directly to his clients. And his years in the industry have provided him with tons of advice for turning even a small space into a showplace.

Driver’s business involves making house calls on his clients and bringing countless options for tabletop décor into their homes. Not only does he represent most of the top manufacturers, it benefits the purchaser to see the product on their own table rather than imagining what it would look like. And he’s seen how even small apartments can be transformed. It’s something most people can do: We gave Driver an average-sized tabletop in a swanky apartment and let him at it. Here’s what he did.

First, there’s no reason you can’t cover the table to prepare it for a meal.

“You have no idea how putting a tablecloth onto a kitchen island can improve it,” Driver says. Don’t, however, grab a plain white tablecloth as your base — most plates won’t pop against a white background, and the cloth will show dirt more easily — and worse, make the china look dingy. Even an off-white, or something with a pattern or border, will provide a neutral palette on which you can paint your tablescape.

IMG_7216From there, you can work up from the surface.

“I usually suggest to people that they buy chargers — or what we now call chargers — because they can double as chopping plates,” Driver says.

Next, choose your plates.

“Chefs always want a white center to the plate because it shows the food better,” Driver says, “but how many of us compose the food on the plate? I like patterns.”

And don’t think place settings have to continue themes elsewhere in the house — there’s no reason they have to match the rest of the décor. In fact, something different can help it stand out. The biggest recent trend in dinnerware is for interesting glazes.

Another of Driver’s favorite trends? The wide-rimmed, slightly over-sized soup bowl. Its versatility makes it perfect for space-conscious living.

“You can use it for a composed place, and it holds sauces as well as desserts,” he says. It’s a workhorse.

Forget about over-formality, too — it’s simply not the way we live anymore.

“Nobody buys a five piece place setting,” Driver says. And you shouldn’t feel obligated to, either. “No one drinks coffee from a cup and saucer nowadays. People drink coffee out of mugs. And there are many manufacturers that are making great, elegant mugs.”

Elegant, however, doesn’t have to mean old-fashioned. Driver doesn’t know why, but many people conflate “contemporary” with “informal.” That’s just not the case.

That said, Driver is a firm believer in investing in high-quality china; it pays for itself in longevity.

“I recommend white porcelain even for everyday use — it’s the strongest,” he says. “Think about it: What do we make out of porcelain? Toilets and sinks. It’s not gonna chip the way earthenware plates will.”

Indeed, there’s no reason to “pull out the good china” only on rare occasions. You should live with the good stuff on a daily basis — after all, you paid for it. And there’s no rule that says you have to buy everything at once. Build up a collection — buy a piece here and a piece there. Most of us will never have use for a 16-piece service for a formal dinner. Most kitchen islands, surrounded by bar chairs, will seat four comfortably. (For gay couples planning to get hitched, Driver recommends registries that specify the pieces you want.)

Goblets for water and wine, side plates for bread or salad, sturdy but well-designed flatware and even a vase or two with some Gerber daisies in it will complete your tabletop. When you’re done, it’s not that your coffee table or island isn’t recognizable, it’s that your style stands out and makes a kitchenette as inviting as a formal dining room. And you don’t have to worry about an evil valet stealing the silver.

For more information or to set up an appointment, contact Dean Driver,, 646-496-5861.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 19, 2013.