Entertaining may have become more casual over the last couple of decades, but it doesn’t mean that the fun has gone out of setting a beautiful table. Interior designers and party planners love to create “tablescapes” that set the mood for a dinner or party, however, it doesn’t take a design degree to create a beautiful table that will complement the food and celebrate the moment. And best of all, it doesn’t take a lot of money to do it, either.
Start with the plates
First and foremost, it is about the food and it is about the company. You start with the plates, glassware and utensils and make sure they serve a purpose. If you are serving soup, you will need soupspoons; if steak is on the menu, then steak knives will be appreciated. The utensils are there for the comfort of your guests and the job of the host is to make the guests comfortable.
Whether it’s a backyard party with plastic cutlery or a more formal affair using Grandma’s old world silver, the concept is the same. It’s okay to use paper and plastic for picnics and backyard events, although silver ads an unexpected twist, but never use them inside the house. These days, it’s fine to mix and match china and silver and use unmatched serving pieces. It’s more about feel of the pieces, not that they are all flawless and matchy-matchy. Unmatched hand-me-down pieces and those found while treasure hunting at flea markets have stories to tell and are always appropriate.
Choose linen and cotton
Tablecloths and cloth napkins are a must for indoor dining. Of course, it’s quicker to just toss out paper, but washing tablecloths and napkins isn’t really all that tough either. Cotton and linen textiles wash well and are a snap to iron if done while still slightly damp. Cotton/poly blends are less likely to wrinkle, which can be a big time-saver, and white linens can easily be bleached clean – it’s why hotels always use white. Tablecloths are also great cover-ups for tables that have some wear and tear. If you’re lucky enough to own a beautiful dining table, using elegant placemats instead of a tablecloth is a nice way to let the finish shine!
Once you have the basic serving pieces set, it’s time to add the pizzazz! Candles are a great addition to evening events as they add a warm and flattering glow. Long tapers are always elegant, but shorter votive candles scattered across the table can have a whimsical feeling. Generally, designers would say that there can’t be enough candles, so don’t hesitate to really load up the space, but remember to always use unscented, dripless candles. Scented candles interfere with the enjoyment of the meal itself and many people are allergic to the scents.
Guidelines for centerpieces
Floral centerpieces are, of course, a time honored part of the dining experience. As with scented candles, it’s best to stick with blooms that have little scent. Always make sure your arrangements are set either below the line of sight for all guests, or are set on tall pedestals that raise them above the eye. The goal is to not block guests from being able to make eye contact across the table. Arrangements from the local florist are always nice, but you may find what you need in your own backyard as well. Small vases, which don’t have to match, filled with greens and local wildflowers will make wonderful arrangements. If you’re hosting a fall meal, such as the Thanksgiving dinner, you can make great centerpieces from the “bounty of the season” such as hollowed out gourds filled with chrysanthemums, or stalks of wild corn tied together with a beautiful ribbon. Even simple glass apothecary jars filled with acorns or small pinecones will be elegant and eye catching. Anything that shows a little creativity and flair is always a hit.
A designer’s job is to make the best use of a given space, make it comfortable for everyone who uses the space and to make it beautiful. These are the same concepts employed when setting a beautiful table. Make it useful, make it comfortable and make it beautiful.