The Supper Club Diaries
13 Table Setting Ideas Sure to Dub You the Hostess With the Mostess
Katie Sweeney for Editorialist
From the menu to the music, there’s a lot at stake when planning a dinner party—including the decorations. Creating an inviting environment that transports your guests to party time is crucial to the success of every event. When your friends and family walk into your home for a celebratory dinner, they should know they are there to relax, unwind, and have a good time. One way to do this? By setting a beautiful and sophisticated dining table. An eye-catching table laid with wine glasses, multiple plates, flowers, candles, and placards is an instant mood and ambiance booster. To encourage you to take your tablescape styling to the next level, we’ve rounded up tips from our favorite hosts. Here are 13 inspiring ways to set the table that are perfect for your next summer soirée.
1) Fresh Flowers Are a Must
“When laying the table, you really can’t go wrong with fresh flowers,” says Alice Naylor-Leyland, British socialite and hostess who has a line of home goods and tablewares called Mrs. Alice. “It totally elevates the table. I would recommend going for what’s in season and to be brave. I love a peony with a dahlia or the combination of long foxgloves and little tulips.” Order arrangements from a local florist, buy blooms at Trader Joe’s, or cut wildflowers and greenery from your garden. If you like a more minimal look, get several stems of one type of flower and place a single flower in bud vases for a modern take on table setting.
2) Mix and Match Items
Don’t be afraid to mix and match colors, textures, and florals. J. Riccardo Benavides, the founder of Ideas Events & Rentals, a San Francisco-based company known for the city’s most luxurious events (the Opera Ball and Ballet opening), says he’s “all about the mix and match! For centerpieces and tablecloths, work with three or four different styles throughout the room–use different florals, heights, and fabrics. It makes each table unique and special, and the room is more playful overall. Use complementary pops of color to make their glances dance.”
3) Be Vibrant
According to Tamsin Lonsdale, the founder of The Supper Club, a member’s only dinner party club with outposts in New York, Los Angeles, Austin, San Francisco, and Miami, “everything is an opportunity to add texture and beauty to your tables, from the printed menu to the serving dishes.” Make sure that the “food and florals are a feast for the eyes so that guests are instantly drawn in and excited when they take their seat.” Another crucial element? Candlelight. “The number one secret to creating a beautiful tablescape is candlelight,” says Lonsdale. She recommends having three levels of light to create a warm and intimate setting. “Turn off the ceiling lights, dim the chandeliers, and light candles at standing eye level, seated eye level, and then on your table to showcase the gorgeous glassware, place settings, and cuisine.” An easy way to do this? Use pillar, taper, and votive candles to keep the lighting at varying heights.
4) Bring the Outside In
“I absolutely love laying tables outside when I can, either during our short British summers or when I get the chance to travel,” Naylor-Leyland says. “However, the weather in the UK does not always go my way. Therefore I am always striving to bring the outside in.” She incorporates green into an indoor setting by using Mrs. Alice’s cabbage ware plates and appliqué linen or adorning the table with preserved boxwood. Benavides is also a fan of bringing in the outdoors. “A bit of fantasy is always fun–and so many florists can feature real tree branches and a variety of leaves,” he says. “It’s a whimsical way to make a more stoic space have a feeling of natural freshness. For example, moss-colored velvet linen adds to the lushness of it all.”
5) Avoid Paper Products
“Resist the temptation to go with basic white linens or paper,” Liz Curtis advises. Curtis is the founder of Table + Teaspoon, a tablescape rental service that delivers everything you need for a perfect table (linens, plates, utensils, etc.) to your doorstep. Cloth napkins are an easy way to make a dinner feel more elevated. Adds Curtis, “the foundation of your table is the textiles you choose for the table covering and napkins. Everything you set on your table will go over the cloth, and the napkin will be in your guests’ hands the entire evening. For a truly exquisite experience, order a hemstitch napkin embroidered with each guest’s monogram.”
6) Personalize Something
Like Curtis, Naylor-Leyland is a monogram lover. “Whatever your surroundings or occasion, I think personalizing elements of the table will always delight your guests. Ribboning napkins with little name tags or monogramming your linen with guests’ initials can be a lovely gift for everyone at the table.” Etsy has all sorts of fun options for place cards, but if you are pressed for time, write each guest’s name in your best cursive on a small piece of paper. Place it in between the tines of a fork next to the spot where each guest sits.
7) Rent What You Don’t Have
If you don’t have 12 champagne flutes but want to pour sparkling wine with the first course, rent flutes. Elise Etem, the managing editor at Social Studies, a company that offers rentable party kits, says there is no shame in renting. “Use a rental service that provides pre-curated tablescapes such as Social Studies, so you can focus on connecting with your guests instead of planning.” Other rentals that can make your life easier when party planning? Tents, tables, chairs, helium tanks (to blow up balloons), and votives.
8) Establish a Theme
Whether it’s an all-American vibe for the Fourth of July or the color pink for a baby shower brunch, use the table to establish a theme. The theme can be whatever you want—Parisian nights, Pride, strawberry season—make sure it’s carried throughout the entire event. “Themed placemats are perfect for bringing a touch of elegance to an otherwise more bare place setting,” Benavides explains. “Use a thick rope one for a rustic or nautical tablescape. Simple and elegant, fine china sets the stage for a food-focused fete. Porcelain plates are perfect for any sized crowd. Different from a charger, these add glamour–plus, fine china rings of luxury.”
9) Pattern Play
When it comes to tablescapes, prints are your friends. A patterned tablecloth is better than a plain tablecloth because you don’t need to add much to it to make it feel festive. “If I am short for time when laying the table, I always turn to patterned linen as my savior,” says Naylor-Leyland. “Using napkins and placements with a print such as our Sibyl Chintz makes the table pop even when using plain crockery and glassware.”
10) Supplement Florals With Nature
Looking for something to take your table to the next level? Walk around your backyard and see if anything catches your eye. Crystals, stones, fresh fruit, herbs, and feathers are playful additions to a setting. “Pull from your surroundings by incorporating items like sage bundles and baskets with fresh fruit as a substitute or supplement to florals,” Social Studies’ Etem explains.
11) Skip the Courses
If serving a multi-course meal sounds intimidating, don’t do it. Set up a grazing table instead. “Nix the formal seated dinner in favor of a grazing table,” Curtis says. Here’s how you do it: set a pretty table with candles, place settings, and flowers. Then place large platters with ready-to-eat items down the center of the table. “You can up your guest count while still providing an elevated affair by choosing fine cheese, charcuterie, bread, nuts, and fresh produce for your guests to feast on as they please throughout the evening,” Curtis explains. “What makes a dinner party go from average to extraordinary? It’s not a painstakingly complex menu or the finest French champagne. When you entertain, you are opening your home to the people you love. Provide them with an unforgettable experience rather than being too focused on the details to enjoy the evening—because this feeling is what they will remember. Entertaining is about the thought, not the execution.”
12) Select an Unexpected Location
A dinner party doesn’t always have to be in your dining room. “Head to a park or a waterside dock for a change of scenery and fun al fresco dining experience,” says Etem. Set up a table on your balcony or rooftop. Pack all your table supplies and transform a park picnic table into the dinner party of your dreams.
13) Embrace a Color Scheme
Like a theme, a color scheme can bring a party environment together—and it doesn’t have to be a bunch of different colors; it can simply be one hue. “If you are nervous about using lots of different colors, I would recommend picking a single color and running with it,” suggests Naylor-Leyland. “Start with the color of your favorite plate or linen, and then pick flowers and glassware that match. Focusing on one hue pulls the table together, and you can never be too matchy matchy.” Etem is on the same wavelength. She says, “Combine patterns from the same color palette for a uniform and lively look.”