The picnic, if you ask me, is the simple, nostalgic summer pleasure. Design-wise, it couldn’t be easier: All you need is a cloth, maybe a few utensils or plates, and something to eat (or drink). But carry it outside and spread out your cloth, and the experience—eating outdoors on long, languid nights (or afternoons or mornings)—feels so much more special than eating at the kitchen table. Somehow everything tastes a little better, too. In the strange, distanced times we’re living in, the spirit of the picnic—attainable but a little bit special and thoroughly outdoors—feels like something we all could use right now.
For years we’ve featured table-setting tips from designers, shopkeepers, and makers. But this summer, we thought: Why not take the tabletop outdoors—and take on picnics instead?
To start, we turned to Daniela Jacobs, the New York-based designer and ceramicist behind ARC Objects, whose Instagram feed has captivated me for a while, filled as it is with gentle, thoughtful still lifes that incorporate her curvilinear ceramics and offer glimpses of her life split between New York and Mallorca. She is interested, according to the ARC site, in “the beauty in small, transient moments in the everyday”—evident in the way she captures picnics of all sorts.
First and foremost, she says, “the beauty of a picnic is its inherent simplicity.” Also, it needn’t be outdoors; she often lays out a cloth for a picnic in her own apartment. “I’ve always loved indoor and outdoor picnics,” she says. “I think the indoor picnic thing first came to be when I was little, and we had planned a picnic but it started pouring so we decided to have one inside on the floor instead. The concept still delights me.”
Here are a few of her tips for picnics indoors or out, for a few friends or just for a change of scenery.
Photography by Daniela Jacobs.
Use the cloth for transport.
“Try to avoid using disposable anything,” says Jacobs. If your picnic is outdoors: “I like to wrap the cutlery in one of the cloth napkins and place it on the bottom of the bag or basket I’m using to transport everything in. That way a sharp knife won’t be floating around. I use other cloth napkins and the sheet or scrap of fabric that will be the picnic blanket to help safely transport anything else breakable or fragile, like glass cups or ceramic tableware.”
Use the good plates.
Don’t use paper products or plastic. For the sake of the earth—and for the sake of wonder—use real ceramics and glassware. “Yes, I really do use ARC plates at picnics!” Jacobs says.
Consider your containers.
“Try to think creatively about what you will need at the picnic to avoid wasting or awkwardly scrambling when you get to your destination, in the case of an outdoor picnic. For example, container lids make excellent plates! Jar lids make perfect receptacles for olive pits.”
Make the food part of the design.
Whether it’s a glass of wine and cheese or a more full meal, “leave as many finishing touches for the last minute so things taste (and look) as fresh as possible,” says Jacobs. “For example, if you’re using a fresh herb as a garnish, just bring a sprig of that herb and adorn the food with it when you get wherever you’re going so that it hasn’t wilted or disintegrated into the dish by the time the meal starts. If fruit is part of the meal, wait to slice or cut open it til you’re about to eat it.”
Left whole on the cloth, it adds a particular sense of summer lushness, too.
For more airy summer still lifes, follow Jacobs on Instagram @arc_objects. And see more table-setting ideas here:
- Steal This Look: Dinner in an Artist’s Atelier
- Expert Advice: How to Set a Table the French Way
- Steal This Look: Parisian Oyster Party