by Jodi Kines
When it comes to hosting dinner parties and family holiday meals it can be easy to devote all your attention to the food. But one aspect that is often overlooked is the table setting. “Your dining table and how it is presented is the first impression of any dining experience. The presentation should have function with design impact. It is a blank canvas that allows you to create a vision for your guests for that particular occasion.” This perspective was shared with me by local entertaining extraordinaire, Luke Manlove, Director of Catering Sales and Marketing at Dean and Deluca in Charlotte; he was kind enough to share some suggestions and inspirations as the holiday season approaches and many of us begin entertaining in our homes.
A thoughtfully decorated table can be just as important in helping to create a memorable evening for your guests as the feast itself. The right table setting will not only complement the delicious dishes you have prepared, it is also one of the best ways to create the desired atmosphere for the evening. With a few clever accessories and a little creativity, you can create a whole range of strikingly different settings to suit almost any style of entertaining.
Dressing your table is much like decorating your home. An overall design concept and a little inspiration can ensure it appears effortless, remains budget friendly, and still makes a memorable impact on your guests. Luke shares, “The best table presentations “tell a story” in that the food selections, serving pieces, and decor offer an insight as to how and why you created the design. Whether the menu was inspired from an area of the world that you travel or the serving pieces were an unusual find off an unbeaten path, these details tell stories which foster an atmosphere sure to leave a lasting impression. If you lack the experience but want to learn creative ways to entertain, I suggest looking through design and travel magazines, and staying away from mainstream entertaining print. These magazines will focus more on design concepts and entertaining as the locals would in various parts of the world and will offer more inspiration as you put together your unique tablescape.”
Once you have an overall concept in mind and, ideally, some inspirational images, you can begin styling your table. You want the overall design idea to follow through all elements – from the menu and the placesettings to the linens and centerpiece. You want to layer textures and patterns, adding interest, giving your table personality, and allowing it to tell your story. Luke suggests, “…to “style” a table walk around your home and pull things out of cabinets, off book shelves, from walls and start laying them out on the table with your menu in mind.”
Linens are a wonderful way to add texture and soften a tablescape. Table cloths, runners, and place mats are expensive to purchase, rent and launder, so Luke suggests purchasing a yard of fabric and turning it into a runner or topper for your table without having to sew. For casual settings, you can use an old quilt as a table cloth, a burlap remnant for a runner or even inexpensive dishtowels as placemats. Luke and I both love the new trend of putting throw pillows against the back of dining room end chairs. It makes the setting feel more comfortable, casual, and welcoming to your guests.
Place settings are the next layer of the table that can add personality and even color to your design. Accent any basic, neutral place setting by adding chargers and accent plates; these can be family heirlooms (just use the salad plate from your grandmother’s china) or even pieces purchased at thrift stores, yard sales, or your local retailer. Add a personal touch to your place settings with small details at each seat. You can add menus, placecards, or a small surcee for guests to take home. This is also a great place to add small ‘themed’ touches like mini pumpkins at each place for Fall or a pinecone with a spring of spruce or rosemary for the holidays. These are inexpensive and festive ways to bring your overall design concept to each individual guest’s personal seat.
Possibly the biggest wow-factor of any tablescape are the serving and centerpieces. Luke recommends using unexpected items for serving such as old wood cutting boards, large chalk boards or even marble floor tiles. Layer these over a big mirror or even an old window placed in the center to add big impact and interest. Add in the ‘fun’ decorative items that you pulled from around your home; stacks of books, vases at varying heights, and unique souvenirs from travel as well as the more traditional candelabras and fresh cut flowers will give your table the ultimate personality. Keep in mind the overall scale of your table; while you want it to feel full and interesting, you don’t want centerpieces to overwhelm the actual place settings or be at awkward heights that make conversation hard for your guests.
Taking the time to ‘style’ your dinner table is a unique opportunity to showcase your personal style while really wow-ing your guests and making them feel special. Don’t let the task overwhelm you; this should be the fun, easy part of entertaining guests in your home! Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to take a design-risk! It’s just one meal, so you’re not committing to long-term design decisions; be trendy, be bold and be whimsical! Let your personal style shine & bon appetit!
by Jodi Kines