The place mat is a favorite at many dinner tables: The often-whimsical plastic version catches the slip of spaghetti from a youngster's fork, while a nice cotton place mat elevates the dining experience just a little without having to set down a whole tablecloth.
There's something civilized about setting an individual dining place with a frame of sorts. An heirloom set of fine linen place mats are a quick and elegant way to dress the table. For something unusual, mats made of faux or real tropical leaves, lashed bamboo sticks, glitter, pebbles or squares of birch bark create a textural platform for plate and meal.
Place mats are a relatively inexpensive addition to dining-room decor, and can also be used on portable trays or big coffee tables if meals are served unconventionally.
Here are a few new spring options from retailers and designers:
• New York designer Sandy Chilewich continues to experiment with her woven vinyl material, producing an array of textured mats in neutrals, metallics and colors. There's a hand-silkscreened, brushed-dot pattern, a delicate filigreed foil mat, faux printed cowhide, and a hip mod croc pattern in red, black and tan. (www.chilewich.com for retail locations.)
• There are more woven mats at CB2: a selection of vinyl, basket-weave squares in on-trend hues like carbon, chartreuse, orange and white. Textile designer Liora Manne's signature felting technique of layering and interlocking acrylic fibers is used in two very different place mats. A sophisticated plaid mat in layered grays and lime yellow pops when set with white china. And her laser-cut, geometric Corte mats in peacock and fire engine red pack a playful punch. (www.cb2.com )
• Eco-friendly dyes are used to make two pretty, midcentury, patterned place mats at Crate & Barrel. Dax features a digital linear print in teals and greens, while Gus has a starburst pattern in muted sunset hues. For a more feminine look, there's Oona, an organdy and sateen cotton eyelet-patterned place mat, and the delicate Capiz shell mat, a luminous circle. (www.crateandbarrel.com )