Updated: Apr 11, 2019
Dress your table like a pro, with these helpful tips.
With the holidays quickly approaching, we are all preparing to organize some pretty elaborate family dinners. So as you may have already guessed, this blog is going to be all about how to set the perfect tablescape for those special meals. A lot of this is my personal opinion, rather than hard fast rules about the do's and don'ts of setting the perfect table, so you're welcome to take everything I say with a grain of salt. But, if you take a few of these tips and apply them to your own tablescapes I guarantee you will not be disappointed with the results!
(cut crystal: Lenox vintage Charleston pattern, gold rimmed Lenox Monroe pattern)
Dinnerware has been a passion of mine for a long time. And I have quite a bit of it. Lynda and I have been collecting for years, and with every new piece we get a surge of inspiration for a new tablescape ideas. All of these looks are made up of all of our own pieces. I do wish however that all of these looks were for real parties but sadly not all of them are. We love to display our arrangements (made for real events) in these majestic scenes to really showcase the florals. Even though most of these are photo shoots, each setting is completely functional!
Since there are so many elements you can incorporate in your tablescape to make it really special, this is the first blog in a series of blogs that will cover everything from stemware and flatware to candles and salt cellars. Each topic could probably be a whole blog in itself, but I offer this first part as a general overview that touches on some of the main . So as always, enjoy, if you have any questions feel free to write a comment below!
I am starting with this lovely setting for it has many of the elements I typically incorporate in my tablescapes. This particular setting is a Lenox pattern named McKinley, I set for my Green Goddess package in my Provident Collection. I you haven't seen the full look I've linked it here. What I love about this setting is that is in direct contrast to the florals which are very lose and full of greens. The plates are very formal, with gold and silver accents finished with a very posh crystal Gorham fruit bowl. Sometimes I like to work in contrast to the florals on the table. It tends to keep the look dynamic.
Keeping the look dynamic, I like to work in threes or fours. Typically three plates, including an underplate or charger, dinner plate and a salad plate. The fourth element is a wild card, it could be a fruit bowl like above, tea cup (with saucer), or even low champagne glass. There are no rules to how many layers you should use but typically the more layers, the more formal the look becomes.
Adding a bit of fruit to your tablescape can add a very organic touch to your look. I love doing this at any point in the year. Typically citrus fruits in the summer and fall, and fleshy fruits like peaches or grapes in the spring and for deep jewel tones for winter affairs. Again, this is just a rule of thumb, for this look I used nectarines in this old world fall look. So clearly I break this rule from time to time. Best results happen when you choose a fruit or veggie that compliments the colors and textures of your floral arrangements.
The setting is no named gold leaf charger, these are my favorite chargers. They literally go with everything. The dinner plate is again a Lenox pattern, and the white meat plate is a Italian earthenware brand Medici by Arthimino. For some reason this whole look makes me think of a Tuscan sunset. Incorporating the uneven natural lines of the earthenware keeps the whole setting from feeling too stuffy. Adding a little bit of charm are these adorable linen napkins with butterfly embroidery. Unfortunately, I don't know the make of the napkins, but they look handmade so its possible they are a one off.
How lovely is this, I love how it feels natural but still very elegant.
The cups are a Fosteria punch bowl cup, I also incorporated a bit of berries to complete the look. Also present is a dessert spoon, theoretically present for consuming the fruit on the setting. We will cover silverware in a bit but it's important to remember what you're serving and have those utensils available to your guests.
Candles are great accessories for your table. They certainly set the mood and provide a little ambiance. In you're setting the table for a day time meal, you may not need to include these in your table. Feel free to skip out on candles at brunch!
A few things about this tablescape, bother me. This is something probably no one would notice but it still upsets me a bit when I look at it. I forgot flatware! I set this look up the day before I delivered the florals to a wedding at Muriels in New Orleans. These are by far some one of my favorite florals I have ever done and they took me all day to make. By the end of the day I was in a rush to catch the light before it got too dark to take photos. So I forgot to place the flatware!
I talk a bit more in depth about this specific tablescape in a separate blog, and I have linked it here. But the decorative plate is HR Daniel Shrewsberry style antique dessert plate, Lenox McKinley dinner plate and a dollar store charger I spray painted black. I love to mix patterns, and often layer decorative plates, with simpler designs. I think it breaks up the look and allows the setting to compliment the table, rather than consume it. Plus its great for folks like me that don't have every type of plate in each pattern. When working with antique and vintage pieces, you often don't have the opportunity to collect a full set of any of your patterns, so be flexible and don't be afraid to mix it up!
(The tea cup and saucer are Kingsley by Lenox, salad and bread plates are McKinley by Lenox and the dinner plate is again Lenox - it is silver rimmed by I don't have the name of it).
I absolutely love blue, and so do brides but unfortunately florals in blue are limited. So I love to incorporate blue into the decor instead, my blue brides take note. For this setting I again forgot flatware! To be honest, I wasn't as seasoned in setting up these looks. It was one of the first looks I photographed alone. In prep for these shoots, I start several days if not a week in advance. I think about the florals and what I would like the setting to feel like. In this prep stage, I also give myself plenty of time to make sure I have all the little details are in place to set the table quickly. I don't like to take too long photographing my tables because the heat of our Louisiana days can turn the florals, which wouldn't be good. So proper preparation is essential. This also holds true for when you are preparing a large feast. On the day of, you will be busy cooking and hanging out with the family. So set up your tables a couple of days in advance. This really lowers the stress level of the whole day.
For the setting, I have stuck to the layer rule we spoke of earlier, but I added a bread plate to the setting. you can either top your setting with the bread plate, verse putting it off to the side of the forks or above like you see here. If you are tight on space, place it on the top of the salad plate. I opted to put the bread plate on the side because I have incorporated tea cups and saucers here as well. For functional use, you may want to prepare two settings for your meals, one with the first course items (bread plates, salads, and dinner plates) and the second for the dessert and coffee/tea service. When having a large meal such as Thanksgiving, you may run out of room on your table to incorporate everything in one go so splitting it up can save you a lot of hassle in the long run.
This tip is on your tables floral height, knowing how your table will be laid out is important to know when you are making your centerpieces for your table. Low arrangements are often preferred for your tables because you are able to look over the piece and speak to other quests at the table. This arrangement is taller than what I would recommend typically, however I was able to get away with it because I had a significant gap in the setting spaces which left room to add a piece with a bit of height.
For best results if you are looking to use tall arrangements, build your arrangement in thin stemmed, or clear vase with height. I also love to incorporate smaller low arrangements below so you get the best of both worlds. See the blue table setting for reference.
(dinner and salad plates are Coconado by Edelstein, Bavaria, Maria-Theresia from Germany. The pattern number is 19241)
You may notice, I do not have an aversion to mixing metals. Some theorize that this is not a good policy and keeping everything consistent will keep everything easier to match. Which is true, but I believe using both gold and silver can elevate your look and keep it from looking too gaudy. I would love to do a couple of looks using bronze and gold, that combo would look amazing with the jewel tones that are so great for fall and winter.
(This pattern is my grandmother's china, its vintage English Wedgewood)
Looking to add an extra level of sophistication to your meal, pair each course with a different wine or spirit. The more courses, the more flatware and stemware you will require. Since these two categories are so extensive, they will require their own separate blog for instructions. In one meal you have the ability to use up dozens of separate setting pieces, so strap in for a lot of information.
For now I will cover the most common types and where to place them. If you have ever set a table, you may have heard the quick tip of starting on the outside and work your way in, typically smallest to largest. Forks are to be placed on the left and spoons and knives are on the right. Salad or luncheon forks start out a two course meal nicely, followed by the dinner fork. Fish and seafood forks (shrimp cocktail) are to proceed the luncheon fork on the left hand side if those courses are offered. On the right, your tea spoon and soups start the row, followed by the dinner knives. Disregard this setting for reference, I switched the spoons and knives here because I thought the spoons were more decorative and I could only fit so much in the shot.
For stemware, I really don't ever stick to the proper setting techniques and just do what feels right. The proper edicate is to put the stemware on the upper right hand side above the silverware. I'm not a stickler for things like exact spacing between each piece, or how to exactly place the stemware. I just follow this simple rule, typically you would have two or three pieces, and I place the taller pieces behind the shorter pieces. All of my settings have a water glass, because, well water is essential. The rest is left up to your meal and the wine you are going to serve.
(Meat plate is again Medici by Artimino, and the base plate is a plate we picked up from Tuesday Morning)
To top off your look you will need a napkin. Linens are one of my favorite things, I collect most of mine from antique shops and estate sales. I can not tell you how many beautiful napkins, runners and tablecloths I have bought from estate sales for nothing. I sometimes place the napkins below the base plate, or under the salad plate. Though you can place them on the side folded or with a napkin ring on the top of your first plate. For this tropic theme, I used these cute little shell napkin rings to complete the look.
Garlands are very popular lately for table settings, and but all rights they should be. They are a lush spread of gorgeous florals or greens, but they do impose a small problem if you are hosting a large meal with lots of guests. Garlands are lush, but they also take up a considerable amount of space on a table. They also eliminate the ability to have an end place setting on either side of the table. So keep this in mind when you are planning your dinner party. Smaller individual arrangements may suit you better if you are tight on space.
(Sherbert glasses are a silver-rimmed Gorham pattern)
(Colored glasses are novist and no named, bought from Dillards ages ago).
Another great way to add a bit of whimsy to your tablescape is to add some colored glasses to your look. I chose these pieces because they complimented all the great rich colors in my centerpiece. A little orange, a little green, and you have perfection. Colored glasses can be both formal and a bit more casual, so don't be afraid to play around and figure out what feels best for you.
(Setting is Rutherford's Birds)
Ok we have talked about settings, stemware and other table accessories, what about placemats? When should we use them, can I pair them with table cloths? The answer here is there is no right way, but here are a few guidelines to follow if you are having trouble. When you have a tablecloth, a placemat or charger isn't necessary. However, if you would like to add one, choose one that is a different texture than the table cloth below. This allows for the placemat to have dimension rather than just blending in with the linen below. If you do not have a tablecloth, consider a placemat to protect your finish on your table. A charger would work as well, just keep in mind that your table will be exposed to food particles left over on your guests utensils.
As we have touched on already in this blog, the formality of your event will also determine the settings and the accessories you will need to complete the look. Not all settings have to be formal or set with fine china, you can have just as gorgeous of a look with a casual setting with paper dinnerware. As you see here, the place settings and napkins are all paper. I did opt for real stemware for the water glasses, but hey, I try to be as conservative as possible and I already had the glasses! For more on this look, you can check out my garden party blog linked here.
All right, well there you have it a few tips to setting the perfect tablescape for your next party or event. I hope you all enjoyed reading it and are looking forward to the future instalments. My passion for table settings may only be matched by my love for florals, so naturally I have much to say on the matter! Y'all have a happy Thanksgiving. Please let me know if you employ any of these tips for your lovely dinner.