Last week, we were invited to designer Jan Roden’s house for lunch and to discuss an upcoming workshop she will be hosting at Monticello as part of the highly anticipated Heritage Harvest Festival. Spending time at Jan’s is always a treat; her home is a treasure trove of beautiful furnishings, antiques (her bird cage, which houses the happiest finches on earth, is one of our favorite pieces), and special touches like the cloche on the “snack table” under which she places a different delicious surprise daily for her grandchildren to discover.
Walking into Jan’s house on Thursday was even more delightful than usual. The aforementioned workshop is titled “Designing Your Holiday Feast,” and will entail Jan setting festive tables with antiques from Jefferson’s day and inspired by Jefferson’s tastes. In preparation, she had laid out serving dishes and accessories influenced by what would have been on Jefferson’s table, as well as seasonally appropriate fare for a fall feast. A turkey—procured from her son-in, law, Ryan Ford, owner of The Organic Butcher (and husband of TSG co-founder Christy Ford)—had been roasting in her oven since 7:20 a.m., making the already enticing space smell like Thanksgiving. Jan’s antique ironstone cake stands were laden with oranges (“It’s such a silly thing, but it makes me so happy,” Roden said of her collection). And, adding a whimsical detail to the mix, Jan’s granddaughter Tulip had been over the day before and arranged a smiley face out of peppercorns in the clam shell salt cellar.
After showing us what she’d pulled and explaining why—the covered dish was a reference to Jefferson’s quest to find a covered vegetable dish to bring home to the U.S. from Paris, the antique book was a nod to the books that Jefferson always kept on the mantel so he wouldn’t have to waste a moment idly waiting for dinner to be served—Jan started arranging a traditional iteration of a table, bearing in mind Jefferson’s tendency toward the understated. According to Jan, Jefferson was even criticized by guests for hosting dinners that were too inelegant! (Which leads us to wonder, if Thomas Jefferson gets snarky reviews, why should we worry what people think?)
Just before lunchtime, as Jan was styling, Christy arrived with her daughters, Ruby and Tulip. Proving that the design gene can be inherited, Ruby sized up the table and immediately suggested that a candelabrum at their house would look better than the one currently in use. She was correct.
After lunch, the traditional table was disassembled and Jan began her modern interpretation, incorporating Jeffersonian-inspired pieces with current trends in entertaining. Seeing her mix old pieces with new and arrange items in a manner consistent with contemporary entertaining was so inspiring.
Of course, once the table was set it was time to bring Jan’s cockapoo, Theodore, into the scene. What’s more modern than making sure your dog has a place at the table?
Those lucky enough to be in the Charlottesville area from September 10 – 12 should consult the Heritage Harvest Festival schedule to see the full lineup of events. And if you enjoyed this sneak peek of Jan’s talk, tickets to her workshop at 10:30 a.m. on September 11 are still available, so order yours now! The inspiration and education you’ll receive during the hourlong session will give you a new appreciation for Jefferson as a host, and plenty ideas for setting your holiday table.
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Photographs by Robin Verrier for The Scout Guide.