Kitchens, dining and food play a significant part in life at Soane, with everyone working here congregating in the basement kitchen for lunch, delivered daily from specialist kitchens across London. Lulu Lytle, Soane’s co-founder and Creative Director, considers entertaining to be one of life’s greatest pleasures, with some of her most vivid memories being of meals and their preparation – whether a Scottish riverbank picnic eating freshly caught fish, a sumptuous candlelit dinner party or a simple family kitchen table supper. Like many creative people, she derives as much joy from the cooking, laying of the table and arranging flowers and candles, as from the actual meal itself.
On Lulu’s first visit to Egypt, tomb paintings depicting agriculture with characterful images of men and women tilling the land and harvesting the ‘gifts of The Nile,’ particularly resonated. She loved the atmosphere in these wonderfully detailed paintings of an everyday life abundant with date palms, plants, grains and vegetables. The Ancient Egyptians gathered to consume food and wine on religious days, royal occasions and at family events, from weddings to funerals. At the finely decorated tomb of Nebanum (a wealthy official who lived in Thebes around 1350 A.D.), a whole wall displayed a feast with wine, music and dancing in the man’s honour – an aspirational scene of his life after death.
The consumption of food and drink as an important social ritual was firmly established by the Romans, who enjoyed a rich and varied diet of produce cultivated across the Empire. The general term ‘convivium,’ – translated as ‘living together’ – was used to describe a banquet, feast or dinner party, with terms such as ‘epulum’ (public feast) and ‘comissatio’ (drinking party) for more specific occasions. Affluent families hosted dinner parties comprising meticulously planned and prepared meals with multiple courses designed to impress socially important guests. The dining room was a key reception space and decorated lavishly with floor mosaics, wall paintings and furniture. Typically, three couches (the term for a dining room, ‘triclinium,’ means ‘three-couch room’), made of wood or metal, allowed guests to recline around a low table laid with fruit, wine and bowls of water for washing hands between courses.
Exotic dishes were created both to satisfy appetites and provide a spectacle to reflect the host’s wealth. Wild foods such as pheasant, thrush, peacock, oysters, lobster, venison and boar, were popular – the more difficult to procure, the more impressive the meal. Petronius Arbiter, writing during Nero’s reign (54-68 AD), gave a fictional account of a wealthy man serving outlandish dishes that included a hare decorated with wings to resemble Pegasus and foods arranged in shapes of signs of the Zodiac. Tablewares similarly signified a family’s status, from the most expensive cups, bowls and utensils in gold, silver and bronze to simpler, yet still beautifully crafted, glassware and terracotta pottery. A trip to the British Museum to see such objects never fails to amaze.
At Soane, the sharing of food extends beyond everyday lunches to annual summer parties that have included a tented supper at Gifford’s Circus in Gloucestershire and a foraged meal at The Verulam Armspub in St. Albans. This year, punting on Oxford’s Cherwell River included strawberries and Pimms on the punts and a riverside barbecue. Fabulous feasts are often planned too – at Ben Pentreath’s recent book launch dinner at New York’s Institute of Classical Art and Architecture, Soane’s Seaweed Lace fabric made a delightful tablecloth and Amber Lights provided a warm glow. We love how botanical prints bring a joyful atmosphere to a table setting.
At Lulu’s home, a generously sized Fox Dining Table surrounded by Casino Chairs sits in a rich turquoise tiled kitchen located at the heart of the flat and is used daily for everything from schoolwork to vegetable chopping, from present wrapping to supper parties. Lulu’s favourite tables are oval and not too wide, allowing people to talk comfortably across the table as well as to those beside them. She also likes circular tables for their ability to accommodate various numbers without anyone feeling out on a limb. A particular benefit of Soane’s made-to-order production is that clients can scale tables up or down to suit specific room sizes and usage. Hand-made in a variety of materials at specialist craft workshops across the country, the forged metal, wood and rattan designs are available in a wide offering of finishes. Clients are able to create the perfect look, whether for a glamorous dining room, a relaxed kitchen or outdoor veranda and have an extensive choice of chair styles available to them in Soane’s Dining Chair Collection.
Here is a selection of our dining tables, including the newest addition to the collection, the elegant French Empire inspired Belvedere Dining Table with a curvaceous hand-beaten iron base created by an exceptionally talented blacksmith, here finished in luxurious gilt…
Top gallery: Lulu Lytle’s kitchen with The Oval Yacht Table and Casino Chairs by Soane Britain; The Lily Collection by Soane Britain; Soane Britain’s Belvedere Dining Table, Pavilion Chairs in Old Flax Checkand Monumental Scallop Hanging Light; The Oval Yacht Table and Opera Dining Chairs by Soane Britain.