For years, I had used an Ikea desk as a dining-room table, so when my husband and I found the dining-room table of my dreams — a Danish modern piece that we found in a vintage-furniture store — it took some adjusting. I wasn’t used to eating off nice things. Before we bought our house (or the table), renter me thought place mats were like wine charms, charger plates, and napkin rings: unnecessary table tchotchkes for the kind of people who own a wreath for every holiday. Now that I had a nice table, I could finally see their merit.
Soon after buying the table, we went on a beach vacation and stumbled onto a solution almost as magical as the table itself. By this point I had a baby, and we chose a rental owned by a food stylist and a photographer with twins. She and her husband had imported beans in the pantry, delicate gold jewelry in the bathroom, and Pendleton blankets artfully draped over the (Danish modern) furniture. They also had silky modern-twist place mats that looked like linen but somehow didn’t slide around or let spilled milk seep through. I coveted them more than the Kobenstyle saucepan on the stove and decided to buy a set when I got home.
After a little due diligence at Target, where the place mats were much cheaper and looked it, made as they were from either a scratchy, strawlike material, plastic, or fabric that I knew would wrinkle and fade after one wash, I checked online. While I did find a few other place mats made from the same soft food-grade silicone, they were for kids, and I didn’t want to look at a parade of laughing bananas three times a day. So I put six of the mats in my cart, despite the $20-apiece price tag, and placed my order.
The place mats’ crosshatch pattern is silk-screened by hand for a trompe l’oeil effect that looks like actual linen and has caused many guests to pick them up for a closer, admiring look. They’re dishwasher-safe, although I’ve never had to do more than wipe them with a wet sponge. They’re heat-resistant up to 425 degrees, which means you could basically use them like a Silpat for making cookies if you wanted to. They’re nonslip, even in spite of the best efforts of my toddler, remaining exactly parallel to and equidistant from each other at all times. (Did I mention I have moderate OCD?)
A few weeks after we stayed in that beach rental, our designer friends stayed in the same one. Their home looks a bit like a Schoolhouse Electric catalog. And you know what we saw on their table the next time they had us over for dinner? The place mats.
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