An epergne is an Edwardian or Victorian vase-like arrangement for the centre of the dining table. It usually has several stems and allows for a kind of mass effect – utterly decorative and of no practical use.
I had been searching for one over the past few years.
I inherited a rather plain simple EPNS one from my mother but Douglas decreed this was too simple to have the desired panache.
We kept an eye on epergnes at auctions and in fact passed up on a milk-glass one, dimpled all over in the way your flesh goes when you have a cold swim.
Note: many epergnes are just plug-ugly. The Victorian and Edwardian era – pre modernism – was a riot of invention, you might almost say over-invention. Modernism brought back strict rules (and hence those yawnsomely stereotyped ‘Modernist’ inspired contemporary homes that fill design magazines.)
Before the iron curtain came down, the only law was invention: and epergnes, like flower buds floating on a stream, came into their own.
Often they were made of spun glass, and can have the same slightly sickening colours – yellow-green is a fave, as is pink-purple. They can be highly elaborate, multi-tiered or more basic.
Because of their delicacy the glass ones are often broken.
They seem surprisingly popular – surprising because they completely go against the convention of casual dining.
It is all about entering a room and inwardly gasping at ‘the look’.
You could put flowers in the epergne or, even better, fruit like grapes, mandarins – anything which implied a sense of careless excess.
In the end in the junk sale down the road this silver model came up. It was very basic, tarnished and we got it for not very much money at all.
One of the flower buds seemed slightly in the wrong place. When I cleaned the silver it suddenly came to life. The flower buds had been yellow and dirty but with a careful wash in sudsy water they came up clear. Then – disaster. In trying to twist the one flower back into shape I exerted too much pressure and the silver snapped at the base.
Suddenly the epergne which is made to be side 360 degrees lost one whole ‘side’.
I felt – well, not devastated – but disappointed.
Nevertheless for our midwinter dinner last night I decided to premiere the new (slightly wrecked) epergne. I ran out into the winter garden and picked winter roses. I tried them out first, without putting water in the glass flowers, to see what they would look like.
They looked fabulous.
Gorgeousness, in a word. The very motto of that curious tribe known as…decor extremists.