What an American Transplant Has Learned About Hosting Dinners the Parisian Way
Ajiri Aki details her favorite life lessons since moving to France.
Published Apr 19, 2023 5:13 PM
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“There’s life, and then there’s the good life.” The first line in Ajiri Aki’s new book refers to the undeniable fact that the French have mastered the art of living. (And fashion. And food.) When Aki, the founder of lifestyle brand Madame de la Maison, moved to Paris as a career-obsessed New Yorker, she quickly learned that whether it’s treating yourself to fresh flowers just because or taking the time to source the best baguette, living well is all about finding joy in the simple things. Aki details all the fundamental lessons of this enviable European philosophy in Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life. Step one? Stop ironing your linens. She explains in this excerpt, below.
In the early days of my living in France, most of the Parisian dinner parties I was invited to featured tables set with linens. I loved the way they felt: so light and soft. It didn’t take long before I started spreading linen tablecloths of my own or tying napkins with twine or a ribbon to see how they changed the vibe of the table I was setting. It’s fun to mix and play with colors based on a theme or design idea.
Eventually, in 2017, I decided I wanted to start making my own table linens. I researched various textiles and went to fabric shows. Then a friend told me her husband’s family owned a flax farm, and she suggested I go visit. I’ve studied textiles, but I had never been to a textile mill to see the process. I jumped on this opportunity.
My son was only a few months old, so I strapped him to my body and roped my husband into a day trip to visit the Devogele linen farm in Chailly-en-Brie, in the Île-de-France. I walked through the flax fields and watched how the crop was processed and prepared. The Devogele family taught me everything about linen—and then announced that they had made lunch, so, of course, I stuck around to eat! The table was set with beautiful linens, and they welcomed me, a stranger before that day, to their table. Ever since, I’ve been hooked on linens and the role they play in bringing people together at a table—even strangers.
If you want to elevate any moment at a table, don’t forget the linens.
Shh! Here’s a French Secret
When it comes to using 100 percent linen fabric, some people are wary of the wrinkle factor. Personally, I find that it adds a nice texture to the table, but if you’re a purist (yet still want to avoid busting out the iron), here’s a little secret I learned from a French grandmother.
1. Wash the linen, remove it from the washing machine, and use your hand to smooth out the wrinkles.
2. Fold it while still damp and set it aside for an hour—or overnight if you’re lazy like me!
3. Unfold it and hang it to dry if still damp.
4. If it is warm outside (or in your apartment), you can spray the tablecloth with a light spritz of water while it is hanging or on the table. Then run your hands over it to smooth the wrinkles, and watch your tablecloth transform from wrinkly to wrinkle-free before your eyes.
Voilà! Your linen fabrics will be a little crisper and perfectly “ironed.” For a softer look or feel, before you use them, toss them into the dryer with a damp cloth for 15 minutes. (This is my preferred method because I like the textured vibe. It will give your table that “I just threw this together,” romantic look.)
Joie: A Parisian’s Guide to Celebrating the Good Life. Copyright © 2023 Ajiri Aki. Photograph copyright © 2023 by Jessica Antola. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.