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The Little Things - Picnic Baskets, Totes, and More

By Sarah Van Arsdale on July 10, 2009

Designer Monthly's Little Things column places a spotlight on those home accessories that are often overlooked, and we'll show how they can be improved to make a world of a difference. Our pursuit is to enhance the decor through economical yet aesthetically superior measures.

If you think of dining outdoors with a colorful spread on the grass as a romantic French activity, you’re right on the mark. The English word ”picnic” actually comes the French, ”pique-nique.” The original idea was something like what we would call a ”potluck” — a group gathering where each person brings a dish to share.

By the middle of the 18th century, French and English picnics among the ruling class had become de riguer, with servants bringing chairs, crystal, and loads of fine foods into the forests for an al fresco dining experience to be envied.

Today, our picnics are perhaps simpler, but they don’t have to be less elegant. Even a couple of sandwiches and a few oranges can be presented in a way that will recall a bit of the artistocratic forays into the countryside.

The savvy designer can see that even picnicking can be a well-designed affair; and a picnic basket can be much more as just a wieldy wicker hamper that’s hard to pack. And you can choose a basic that perfectly suits your needs.

We like the Pioneer Canvas Picnic Basket, which has the classic good looks we imagine were popular in the 1940s, when motoring into the countryside involved full-service filling stations and picnicking spots by unpolluted streams.

This basket is light weight, yet carries all the supplies necessary for a picnic for two, including two each of plates, wine glasses, napkins and cutlery. The blanket on which the picnickers can sit rides on the side of the basket.

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If you prefer a tote to a basket, we found several at Picnic Trend, including the Activo Iris Tote, which we liked for its simple, elegant design.

For hands-free excursions into the wilderness or onto the sand, we like the back-pack baskets. These are terrific if you’re going a little further afied, such as up a mountain to enjoy the view while you lunch.

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The stripes and pale green of the Avalon Deluxe backpack appeals to our design siense, and this backpack is as practical as it is pretty. It features a striped blanket, tablecloth, napkins, and full service for two.

Another stylish option made especially for the beach is the Zuma Beach Backpack, which comes in beige (which would certainly go with the color of the sand) and yellow or red (each of which would make it easy to find on the beach). It’s insulated to keep the cold things cold and has separate sections for food and dry goods.

When you’re packing up your basket, tote, or backpack, you’ll certainly want to consider the footprints you’ll leave on the beach — beyond the kind that fades as the evening tide comes up.

We know that the old one-use paper or plastic picnic supplies are passé, and yet you don’t want to schlep your china dinnerware to the seaside. Here’s a great solution: the goods from Preserve, where everything is made from 100% recycled materials, and it’s all designed to be thrown in the dishwasher and re-used again and again.

Another way Preserve products help protect the earth is one of those behind-the-scenes things: it’s all made in the USA, meaning that less energy is used in getting the products to you.

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And, they look good, too: we like the pretty, bright green, which is particularly good for the beach because it’ll be easy to spot as you’re packing up, so you’ll be sure to take everything back with you.

With the right accessories, a day at the beach can be, well, a day at the well-designed beach.


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