Setting the Table

Sure, the title is a little simplistic; for most meals you will need a plate, some sort of utensil and maybe a napkin (unless you get delivery all the time and they are nice enough to provide you with everything in the bag, but for me, it never fails, I’m always missing my plastic silverware). That being said, if you’re having guests over, you may want your table to look a little nicer than usual.

Creating an inviting table can be done in 3 easy steps:

1.      Decide on your linens. There are a few options here: you can go with a full tablecloth, a runner, placemats or nothing at all under your dishes. Each approach has a different feel and some pros and cons.

a.     A tablecloth can feel more formal and less modern depending on the cloth, but it can hide your tabletop if you have some blemishes you want to cover. Likelihood of getting dirty and needing to be cleaned: high

b.     A runner is a little bit easier to manage and draws your eye to the center of the table. You’ll likely want to add a centerpiece for additional drama, but it will allow for the place settings to shine if you have some dishes you want to focus on. Likelihood of getting dirty and needing to be clean: low

c.     I remember when I was a kid having to set the placemats out before dinner, and now there are so many different placemat designs, it can be a great option. Placemats can feel formal since they give each person a designated space, but if you go with a fun print or material, they can feel more relaxed. You will also need one for each of your guests so you’ll want to make sure you know in advance who’s coming over…I mean no one wants to be the person at the end sitting in the hastily added spot with no placemat and a folding chair. Likelihood of getting dirty and needing to be cleaned: medium

d.     You always have the option of putting dishes directly on the table, an option I am a fan of. This can be great approach for an informal gathering where people will be getting food in one location and then going to sit in another, but it doesn’t offer any protection to your tabletop. Likelihood of getting dirty and needing to be cleaned: medium (if only because you’ll have to wipe down the tables)

e.     Your napkin choice will be guided by your choice above. You should definitely provide them to your guests (their clothes really will appreciate it), but it can be a great place to add a pattern or color if your inclination is to go more neutral or subdued with the majority of the table covering.

2.     Decide on your dishes, glasses and flatware. What you choose here will really be dependent upon how adventurous you feel like being. I like to choose dishes and flatware before deciding on a centerpiece because if you have multi-colored, multi-patterned and multi-textured table settings, your centerpiece should be less busy, and vice versa. I like being able to mix all of the above into one table, and you’ve got a couple of options for how you do that.

a.     Keep it simple. The most straightforward option is to keep you dishes all one color or from one set. White dishes are always a classic, as are any other neutral. If you have found a fantastic patterned runner, solid colored, matching dishes can really pop against it. You can always bring in different textures with this approach. For example, if you go with solid, white dishes, you can add some great textured glassware.

b.     Mix and match. Let’s say you want to do the opposite and use a crisp white runner against your dark wood table, and you are looking for some fun dishes to make a statement. To mix and match, you will need to choose if you want to stay within one color family (a good way to ease into a mixed set of dishes) or mix colors. If you stay within one color family, you can bring various patterns, textures and shades into the mix; if you want to mix colors, you should choose one dish color first and then go with complementary colors from there. For example, if I have found a great navy striped plate, I may choose to go with a yellow salad plate and a white bowl, since the blue and yellow are complementary colors. Keeping that in mind will help when you mix and match.

3.     Decide on your centerpiece. Similar to choosing your dishes and flatware, your centerpiece will be impacted by your previous choices and how busy, colorful or crowded your table already is.

a.     If you have decided to go with a tablecloth and white plates, you may decide to stick with a minimalist theme and go with one centerpiece. That is a classic, formal look that will definitely impress your guests.

b.     If you find yourself wanting to go more modern and informal, you may decide to do a collection of various items on the center of your table. If you take this approach, I would recommend keeping each item fairly minimal so as not to overwhelm the table with too much when you already may have placemats, multiple dishes, glasses, flatware, etc. going on.

c.     Most of your centerpiece choices will fall within the candle or flower/greenery variety. I would recommend choosing one to start with and then after a party or two decide how you want to mix them, if at all.

d.     A themed centerpiece is, I think, always welcome. If you’re at the beach, put some shells in a bowl. If you’re in the mountains, lay some pinecones on a tray. If you’re hosting a casino night, use some dice on the table. As long as you have removed any potential living thing from whatever you will be putting on your table, you should be good to go.

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