Last year, Megan and Nick Allen hosted both of their families — 19 adults and five children — for Thanksgiving dinner at their small condo near the Country Club Plaza.
That would be a feat for anyone, but Megan and Nick are in their mid-20s and had never hosted a Thanksgiving.
As part owners of Bella Patina, a First Friday warehouse market in the West Bottoms, the couple are also in the home decor business. So putting a turkey with the usual fixings on the table and calling it a day wouldn’t suffice.
“I wanted to do something grand,” Megan Allen said. “I wanted to do one big, long, family-style table. Nick and I are both Italian, so that was important. And I wanted to do candles, lots of candles, because I love them. So we came up with the idea of doing clear bottles for candleholders.”
What they did next is a testament to the beauty and affordability of flea-market style. It requires time, planning and, sometimes, a willingness to get down and dirty.
The Allens figured they would need several dozen bottles for such a long table. But from where?
“Nick came up with the idea of dumpster diving. So we grabbed a laundry basket and went and found a bunch of glass recycling bins,” Megan said. “We cleaned the bottles by putting them in the bathtub overnight, which also soaked off the labels. Our tub would not hold 60 bottles at once so we had to do it several times.”
Thanksgiving day came, and the Allens moved furniture from their living room into a bedroom to make room for extending the table. Nick shaved the ends of all 60 candles so they would fit in the bottles, lined them up down the center of the table on burlap runners and lit them.
The candlelight literally and figuratively warmed the room. The Allens dimmed the lights and welcomed their families.
“Everyone gasped when they saw the table,” Megan said. “They were captivated by the flickering of the lights.”
Flea-market style is hot right now, as evidenced by the proliferation of vintage-inspired retailers, the ubiquity of burlap, and the crowds that flock to the West Bottoms on the First Friday of each month.
Nick Allen said the shoppers at Bella Patina have been surprisingly eclectic.
There are the 25-year-old hipsters who want to decorate their lofts, the Johnson County homemakers coming with their friends and multiple generations of one family.
“This style has obviously gained popularity and not just in the counterculture and with antiquers,” he said. “Even in the mainstream, you can go into the Plaza, to Anthropologie, and buy stuff like this. But it’s produced in a factory, where ours are true antiques. It’s been sitting in barns, attics and Grandma’s house and has nostalgia and a history. You can tell a story about the pieces, rather than I got this item out of a cardboard box and assembled it.”
The Allens helped us create a table top similar to their table last year, only embellished with other items from vendors at Bella Patina.
They started by placing a vintage lace curtain combined with a burlap runner down the center of an old wood farm table. Then they topped it with the clear bottles and candles as well as old brown bottles.
Each place setting included a piece of gold-rimmed floral china, heirloom silverware, a distinct silver-plated platter that served as a charger, a vintage amber-colored goblet, a vintage napkin and a brooch.
“I wanted a napkin holder, and I just love brooches. I think they’re so fun,” Megan said. “So it just came to me. I went around to different vendors and collected them. I love that they are all different. It gives every table setting a little different flair.”
The Allens also used tiny brown bottles that cost $1 a piece as place cards by painting a swatch of chalkboard paint on each one and writing guests’ names.
“There’s so much you can do with those,” she said. “I’ve seen customers spell out autumn or harvest or Thanksgiving and line them up along the table.”
This year, Megan Allen’s mother will host Thanksgiving, which is fine with Megan. But she and Nick are ready to host again after last year’s success.
“We blew out the candles after the meal then walked down to see the lights at the Plaza,” Megan said. “Our bellies were full, and our hearts were full, and we were so thankful to be with both families. And we’re Italian, so to see everyone at the same table was really special.”