No matter the event — a holiday, graduation party or an elegant dinner with friends — think of your tabletop as your stage. How you style your table sets the mood and makes your gathering memorable.
Using traditional china doesn’t mean your set table is destined to look like Grandma’s. Mixing in the unexpected modernizes the scheme. When you consider how you want your table to look, decide what you want to emphasize: A pop of color from your centerpiece or your table linens? The drama of metallics? A surprising accent piece? Once you know where you want your wow-factor to come from, you can build from there.
One of the best ways to make your tabletop shine is to look for unique items that bring a dose of the unexpected.
- Do go shopping in your own house. Those gleaming mother of pearl abalone shells could hold a name card.
- Do use heirlooms. Some of your treasures can find new life as they bring life to your table.
For a more elegant table, think layers for your linens. At Keith Watson, we always use at least two tablecloths to dress a table. Sometimes the second layer may be a square of antique fabric. A runner gives a great way to add color and texture. If your tablecloth or runner has lots of pattern or texture, then make your placemats and napkins a smooth, simpler fabric and vice versa. Contrasting elements boost visual appeal.
- Do press your linens. The extra effort is always appreciated.
- Do use a table pad underneath your linens to protect your surface.
- Do go bold with one element of your table’s dressing. It’s like having that one perfect statement piece in your outfit.
- Do go big. Make sure your tablecloth drapes at least one foot from the edge of the table all the way around. For more formal affairs, your tablecloth should graze the floor.
- Do mix and match tablecloths. Look for unusual fabrics, colors and textures. If you layer, choose ones in different sizes. For example, on a round table, use a round one on the bottom but top with a square.
If your collection of dishes, cutlery, and glasses are traditional or are antiques handed down through the generations, you may feel duty-bound to set your table a certain way. Ditch that thought. The trend now is to give your fabulous classics their places of honor while using chargers, accent plates (dessert and appetizer), napkins and other touches to modernize the scheme.
- Do add chargers. They frame your plates, setting it off like the perfect frame does for a fine piece of art.
- Do mix china sets. Everything doesn’t have to match perfectly. Remember good contrasts can look rich. Some of our favorite table settings have blended a cherished inherited china set with a modern one.
- Do add appetizer or dessert plates. Look for a set of antique glass or china plates or a modern set in an unusual color that ups the drama on the table.
- Do edit what’s on the table. The trend is to make the place settings a little less formal with home entertaining rather than having every single dish, cutlery and glass out at the beginning of the meal.
Pay attention to lighting. Candlelight adds a shimmering beauty. While you may choose to dim the lights in the room, make sure your guests have sufficient light to enjoy the beautiful ambience you’ve created.
- Do turn up the lights a notch. Atmosphere is great, but your guests want to see their food and each other.
- Don’t use scented candles. Again you want what you are serving to be the star, and besides, some people have allergic reactions to fragranced candles.
- Do use votive candles mixed with low arrangements on a long table.
Your centerpiece can be your star attraction. Fresh flower arrangements, especially with glorious in-season spring flowers, brighten any table.
- Don’t choose flowers that are heavily fragranced. You don’t want the scent emanating from your arrangement to compete with the fragrance of your food and wine.
- Do use lots of greenery so the arrangement looks lush.
- Do be careful that the height of your centerpiece doesn’t block your guests’ view of each other. Two trends we love: small arrangements at each guest’s place setting or miniature arrangements in small vases down the center of a long table.