Curious Seating Arrangements | Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

I think Downton Abbey, the famous TV series, worldwide famous British TV series has revived the good manners custom, sitting properly keeping good posture, and elegant dialogues where “vulgarity is no substitute for wit”, said Maggie Smith. The series has brought to light traditional customs of kindness, gentility, and elegance of movements to astonish the whole world that has watched the series with the face stuck to the TV for six years and still watching. I am one of them. I loved this program so much, that I bought the entire series since it stopped and watch it every year from October to January.

Watching the shows, I have been very attentive to details and never missed one.
I could not help noticing the seating arrangements for breakfast and dinner. At breakfast, Lord Grantham sits at the head of the table, but for dinner, he and his wife Ladyship Cora sit in the middle of the table. Those are the honored positions, only reserved for the hosts, the most important people sit on their right and their left in order of importance, the least important people end up far away at each end of the table.

Downstairs, in the servant dining hall, the butler Mr. Carson is the only one who sits at the head table. He is the authority in the management of the grand house and deserves respect from all the servants. It’s so very different being important upstairs and being important downstairs.

Back in time, at royal courts, Kings or Queens sat at the head of the table surrounded by the most important people close to them on both sides, the rest of the guests sat as far as possible in order of importance, the plebeians sat at the very end of the table, where they couldn’t be heard.

Today, the seating arrangements are slightly different from the Edwardian times of Downton Abbey.

In my native Italy and most of Europe, the host is the most important person at the table and he/she sits at the head table on a chair with or without arms. If an elderly person lives with the family, that person has the honored seat at the head table and nobody starts to eat unless the elderly start first, or say “Bon Appetit”.

In America, the head seat is an armchair, thus there are two on each end of the table.
My friend, an author, Teagan Geneviene, says: “I’ve heard those chairs called “captain’s chairs.” Maybe we Americans are always so contentious at dinner that we have to have someone be the “captain” with the role of trying to keep things civil so meals don’t become food fights.” So funny.

Formal Table Seating For Groups Divisible By Four

Formal Table Seating For Groups Divisible By Four

Anyway, in most houses, a sitting down dinner has pre-assigned seats with place name cards or the host will indicate where the guests will sit. Follow the lead of the host, eat everything in your plate, and when the host stops eating the guests should stop too, it’s just one of many well-mannered dinner customs. Ciao,

Copyright © 2019 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Val in a Hat Shop

It’s my hope that through my writing and my stories I am enriching your aesthetic sensibility towards design, style and inspiring you to live in beauty. I love to encourage my clients to show their personality through their home décor, or the clothes they wear. I have loved my profession as an interior-fashion designer since 1990. Consultations online are available. Check out one of my books on the subject of colors, ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors.


A Dinner Table Is Not For Royals Only | Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

During the holiday season everybody wants to celebrate something important, whether are the achievements of the years, religious events, or just the advent of a new year that will bring novelties, hopes and new perspectives.
As in all the celebrations, food is the center of the attraction and if we don’t indulge at least once a year, what’s the point?

“Do not worry if you have a few pounds on, you will have the eternity to have only bones” ~  my joke. You can take care of those few pounds after the holidays.

At the moment, I just want to give you some suggestions on how to set a formal, or a casual dinner table. The drawings are pretty much explanatory, but a few rules apply when sitting at a dining table properly staged.

Cutlery – The way the cutlery is set, will indicate which food will be served first. If there is a spoon on the right, you know that a soup is coming. The cutlery on the outside of the plate will be used first, work your way from outside in towards the plate. The silverware, fork and spoon, or just one of them, at the top of the plate is only for desserts and not for stirring drinks, or coffee.

Hands – Both hands must be visible on the table, but not the elbows. The body must occupy only the space that it takes.  Elbows must stay closer to the body when cutting the food and not hitting the next person sitting near you.

Napkins – will be folded in half and placed on the lap with the fold toward the waist. Gently dab the mouth with the napkin when needed, but never rub the mouth with it.

Plates – I like to place a charger plate in both casual and formal dinner setting, I think it decorates the table well. On top of the charger, place all the plates according to the sequence of food and how they will be served.

Drinks – are always placed at the right, butter plate on the left.

Bread and Butter – In different cultures you might see the breadbasket in the center of the table, which will be passed around if guests ask for, or you might not see a butter plate at all. If you are the host setting the dinner table, make sure you know the preferred customs of your guests.

How to serve – In a formal dinner, never serve the entire dinner in one plate, it is a good practice to change plate for each course. If you are the host and serving the food as well, please know that the rule is to serve from the left and pick up empty dishes from the right of each guest.

Dessert and Coffee – Dessert is usually served at the table with coffee. Invite the guests to the sitting room, or living room for a taste of spirits, such as digestive, cognac, port or sherry.

I hope this simple guideline will make a great dinner experience for you and your guests. May your table be blessed with healthy, tasty food and pleasant company.

Blog of the Year Award 5 star jpeg

A big thank to Rebecca of for awarded me with the fifth star of The Blog Of The Year 2012 Award. I love her strong character. It is refreshing to read her blog on social issues. My stats as of now, show I have received 4,149 visitors to my blog site today. I am ecstatic, cannot be happier than this. This is a load of fun! I take my  hat off to everyone who is passing through, leaving a comment, or awarding me. Thank you.

Need to know more about this award? Check out the FAQ page:

And the award goes to:

Tom – – he fell in love with my Italy and writes about the pursuit of happiness from within the borders of Italy and, occasionally, beyond.

Cristian – – A writer and author from Romania. Don’t ask him to sing.

Tina – – She writes about astronomy, very interesting subject.

Leanne – – Very nice and attractive  photography.

Let’s start celebrating. Ciao,

Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

PrintValentina Cirasola has been a lifetime designer in fashion and interiors. Her extensive knowledge of colors and materials led her in both directions successfully. Vogue Italy  featured her as the guru of staging a home in the theatrical way. Among designing and remodeling homes, designing custom-made furniture and writing books, Valentina is now teaching etiquette, table manners, table setting and life style. Check out her latest books ©Red-A Voyage Into Colors on the subject of colors, available on



I Was In A Comedy Dinner For Six | Valentina Cirasola | Author and Designer

It’s Friday evening. I am dressed to the teeth, ready to enjoy a formal elegant dinner in a private home. One of the women in the group won the ticket for a dinner for six at a private home at a charitable event and chose five people of her liking to appear in this charade dinner. I was one of them.
In the casual Californian atmosphere, I am already wondering how this formal dinner will be conceived, nobody organizes formal and sitting down dinners anymore, especially in California. For this occasion, the wife is the chef, the husband is the waiter dressed in total black with a white napkin neatly folded over his right arm, playing the part to the letter. They are travelers, I wonder if they learned that in Italy?

The dinner table is elegantly made in a 1930s style: crystal glasses, silver tableware, embroidered tablecloth, and fabric napkins. I counted the plates and there are six place sets, but we are eight counting the hosts. “There is something wrong with this picture” I am starting to ask myself. I didn’t know the people offering the dinner as an action item are not supposed to sit down with the guests.
The small cup style champagne glasses really caught my eyes, so dainty, well-etched, so different from today’s fluted glasses and so short. One sip and the champagne is gone… and so is the mind of some of the guests….
It took only a few bubbles to lose composure. Oh dear, non-senses are already spoken and we are only at the hors-d’oeuvres. What is it going to happen until the end of the dinner?

The hosts invite us to sit down.  I didn’t know anyone in the group, except the lady who invited me and was excited to meet new people. Neither did the hosts know anyone. Apparently in this type of style dinner, the hosts cannot sit with the guests, only serve them.
I truly felt awkward being served by an older couple and not having the pleasure to converse with them at the table. In my native Italy, this will never happen.

Seven courses are waiting to be consumed. I glanced in the kitchen, the portions are very small, but some of the women felt intimidated when they heard about several courses coming and felt stuffed before even trying them.
In one of the many forums I belong, it was said that seven courses are too much to offer, considering that people don’t eat that much anymore. How do we explain so many overweight people in our society? Perhaps, the large portions eaten mindlessly are the fault. The women in the group were no small examples either.

Did I see a pair of shoes loose under the chair of the woman on my left? Oh my, this is really promising! The woman directly across from me, an artist, asked the hostess in which order to use the flatware. Clearly, she eats with plastics every day.
Then, like in a comedy film, I incredulously saw everyone turning the plates over to see the trademark and where the dishes came from. I tried to stop them by talking about the design on the front of the dishes. It seemed very much a John Sanderson’s design, neo-classic fretwork of the middle 1700s, perhaps a copy. Well, the two women on both sides of me, just came out with a simple “really?” and still looked at the backside of the dishes, the rest of the guests were in their own “cookie wonderland“. Hard to make conversation with shallow people, I thought.

(Pumpkin Photo: BHG)

A cute starter of small baked pumpkin filled with mozzarella cheese opens the banquet and libations. The woman next to my left, after the first course, unravels the layers of her clothes. She would have taken off her bra if she could have, she admitted.
I asked her what she does when she eats in restaurants, but I received no answer.
I am envisioning this dinner as the same version of the funny film Hollywood Party with Peter Seller. I don’t know if I am amused or disgusted. I cannot get up and leave. I am beyond being offended already, so I observed in silence, thinking of what other mishaps I am in for.

The highlight of the dinner is the changing of wines with each course. Strange as it sounds, I like this old fashion way of pairing wines with food. Those women, not being wine connoisseurs, can only flash heatwaves on their skin, with increasing bawdy attitude and loud talking. To think they started the conversation in a softly and lady-like manner. What happened to their initial gentleness?

In the next scene, one woman tips over the wine glass full of white wine over the embroidered tablecloth and another one pins her long hair up with a huge clip looking as she just came out of the shower. This disaster dinner is really getting good!
The palate cleanser arrived, a well-balanced peach sorbet. Oh yes, some of them thought we are having a dessert and questioned where did the rest of the courses go. They expected to see a 6-course dinner since this affair was won at an auction.

The conversation is boring, I am a spectator in pain and amused at the same time. Dinner was prepared in a simple way, even though seven courses sounded heavy and complicated, but it was not. It went on as the host planned it, I enjoyed every bite, appreciated the host’s culinary efforts and did not exclaim “no food for me for the next three days!” as some of the women did.

This comedy is winding down with the doggy bag shocker scene. You heard it right. A few of these “classy women” are asking for a doggy bag for their leftovers. Clearly, they have mistaken a private home for a restaurant. Once people learn bad habits, they repeat them to the nth power.
The women present at this dinner were not professional actresses, they just made their own funny and impromptu comedy. I would have liked to record it for my amusement later.

Lessons learned:

1. Never go out to dinner with unknown people, unless you make an effort to get to know them before the event, which is not always possible.

2. If you are hosting a sitting down dinner party, never serve more than four courses. Not a good idea to keep guests prisoners attached to the chairs, forced to listen to unpleasant shallow people.

3. Wines do not need to be paired with each course. Find one red wine for meat and one white wine for fish and vegetables, or find one that can be served interchangeably with all the food and stay only with those two choices.

4. Offer well tasted and liked recipes by previous guests in previous parties; offer food in the right quantity to avoid the “doggy bag” situation. No more than 1500 calories should be served all together through the entire dinner.

5. If you can, distract guests from turning over the plates, with a talk on the special dishes designs, or table setting decorations. Witty conversations are of great help in keeping the attention of guests and drive them to more proper behavior.

6. Make sure there is fresh air circulating through the dinnertime.

To me, breaking bread with people is an honor, having good manners at the table shows respect towards the hosts, the food so well prepared and the guests.

If I were a TV producer, I would have turned this dinner into a funny comedy, but I hope to have amused you for now. Ciao,

Copyright © 2012 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola has been a lifetime designer in fashion and interiors. Her extensive knowledge of colors and materials led her in both directions successfully. Vogue Italy magazine and many prominent publications in California featured her work. Among designing and remodeling homes, designing custom-made furniture and writing books, Valentina is now teaching etiquette, table manners, table setting, and lifestyle. Her new book Red-A Voyage Into Colors is about how colors affect us in life. Get your copy on

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