If the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a placemat is Tuscan-style leaves on durable vinyl, tacky seasonal vignettes, or monochromatic table settings for Very Fussy People, you’re not alone. Though the drawers of my antique buffet are filled with pricey linen napkins and even a few vintage tablecloths, until very recently, I didn’t own any placemats, and I can’t recall the last time I encountered one in the wild—at least one that didn’t feature a kid’s menu or Chinese zodiac chart.
Years ago, a childless me thanked and kissed goodbye an unused handed-down set in one of my manic KonMari-inspired purges. But after noticing the cumulative scratches and stains where my toddler sits at our custom-made wood table, I thought about bringing placemats back into my life. And once I started shopping for placemats (and more closely examining my entire tabletop), I regretted not using them all the time.
Like formal dining rooms and fine china, placemats have mostly fallen out of style in favor of more minimalist, casual table settings. It makes sense. After all, they’re just one more thing—to store, to set out, to wash, and then to put away again.
Maybe this is me officially turning into my grandmother, but now that I have a kid and grown-up furniture, I can see the appeal. It turns out that in addition to being kinda pretty, placemats are incredibly practical. They don’t take up much space; they protect your table without fully hiding it; and they’re easier to shake off, wipe down, or throw in the wash than a tablecloth. Plus, with all the gorgeous styles and materials available today, they’re a great way to add warmth and texture to modern table decor.
Look at it like this: If you love your pants enough to protect them with a napkin, why not show your table the same love with another little piece of fabric?
Here are a few placemats that are far from formal or fussy:
Muted and Moody
$20.00, World Market
A Pop of Color
$13.00, West Elm
$8.00, Crate & Barrel
Originally Appeared on Epicurious