Mary Jeanne Kneen and guests
Mary Jeanne Kneen raises a glass to her guests, who were carefully assigned seats at the table. “I always set place cards and I never put couples together,” she says. Photo Gallery »

Mary Jeanne Kneen is not above serving her family pizza on Nymphenburg porcelain. “I like to elevate the everyday,” says Kneen, who has plenty to choose from as the owner of Kneen & Co., an upscale tabletop company that represents (among other lines) Nymphenburg. But for special occasions she pulls out all the stops—as she did on a recent evening in her Lincoln Park condo. Pizza was not on the menu—though fine china definitely was.

Mary Jeanne Kneen and John Kneen
The hostess and her husband, John Kneen Photo Gallery »

Kneen asked her friend Jonathon Wells, an interior designer, to help her realize a long-time dream: to put together a tabletop pleasure garden—complete with Nymphenburg figurines—modeled on a similar tableau created for the wedding of the Bavarian Princess Maria Anna in 1755.

Kneen and Wells built a tiny white-gravel garden surrounded by hedges and flowers to serve as a stage for the figurines, adding porcelain candlesticks in the shape of branches and also some real branches, painted gold, for drama. Using branches is one of Kneen’s favorite tricks. Sometimes she surrounds them with white porcelain birds and votives; one time, she created a jungle theme with porcelain animal figures.

Dinner was served on Nymphenburg china in complementary patterns. Kneen likes coordinating—not matching—pieces from her multiple sets: “I generally keep serving platters in one pattern, and add a new pattern for the dinner plates,” she says. For this party, Kneen used chargers with rust-red rims instead of placemats, and dinner plates with a floral design.

While Kneen likes to set a proper table with crystal, silver, and linen napkins, she’s not a stickler for certain formalities, like using a tablecloth. “I like the wood; I want it to show,” she says. She also cuts loose at dessert. “I bring out a completely new pattern—and even use multiple sets, without worrying about matching,” she says.”

Get Kneen’s chocolate pavlova recipe »

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Photography: Bob Coscarelli