I have regular emails asking me for tips on tablescaping and entertaining. Today, I thought that I'd note a few thoughts and basics.
I am definitely not the expert on tablescaping, but I do love this art. I've always loved a pretty table and we've always used placemats or tableclothes, but it's only been the last five years or so that I've been hooked on this little hobby. And to set the record straight, here's a few answers to questions I get often:
- NO, I do not tablescape every meal. We always use placemats and paperplates are a no-no because I'm married to granola-man who doesn't want to owe the earth apologies, not because I'm above them. I LOVE paperplates, especially on busy days, but they aren't something we see a lot of at our home.
- I do have a tablescaped table that is set and beautiful all the time ~ in the bay window. It is for looks only...part of my monthly holiday decor. Here's this month's.
- I do have a ton of dishes. I have one closet and two hutches that are filled with dishes. They can become very expensive, but, like most things I do, I do on a dime! Many of the dishes that I have were gifts, inherited or purchased on sale!
- I buy in twelves because that's how many I can seat at my table. Buying twelve gets pricey, so I don't buy much! I do buy odds and ends in twos for the window table.
- No, we never eat at the tablescaped window table. I'd have to dust it all before we could serve on it! Eewww.
- My best tablescaping tip is: Never buy anything at fullprice! Shop after-season and sales for anything you use on your tables. About every six weeks, I get a Kohl's $10 off any purchase giftcard in the mail. That's my "tablescaping gift card". I've purchased placemats, plates, napkins, candles and even a few holiday decorative table items without spending a penny out of pocket. JCPenney, ShopKo and a few other stores send these coupons, so take advantage of them.
Now, let's talk beautiful tables! You will need, to cover the basics of setting a beautiful table:
the tablecloth, runner or placemats
name cards and/or a favor, if desired
There is no jello sherriff who comes and gives citations for not having any of the above. It's your home, your party, your budget. Make it a statement and work with what you feel you need! These are the basics...
A tablecloth, runner or placemats. A simple white or solid colored tablecloth is the first step in setting the table. A runner or placemats add to the table. I've decorated many beautiful tables using one of the least expensive items in the fabric store ~ nylon netting (like used for ballet tutus). It can be purchased for $1 a yard and it is a wide bolt, so it goes a long way. Drape any color of netting over a solid tablecloth or scrunch it up in the center or make a "runner" by gently draping in through, under or around items that will be the accents on the table. Just make sure not to poof it up to the point that it's near any flames from burning candles. Another idea is to use 12x12 cardstock. It can be cut in circles as placemats, placed randomly or patchwork style. Imagine the possibilities!
Flatware... I have one nice set of flatware for 12 that is only used when I create a tablescape or we have company. It wasn't expensive. If I recall, it was $40 at Sam's Club. Then I have everyday flatware. The set of 12 is stored separately so that when it's time to set the table, I'm not missing three forks! If you can't afford a new matching set, then use what you have and keep matching pieces at each place setting, even if they don't match the setting next to them.
Dishes: You don't have to go out and buy a new set of dishes for every month of the year. Two years ago, my big girls bought me three sets of plain white Corelle dishes. I also have a set of sage green dishes, purchased on clearance and several other sets of fun dishes, but, I actually use the green or white dishes for most things. If you're on a budget, stick with the basics and "Fancy Up" the table with the accents. Also, if you are shopping for dishes, always do it after the season when they are on sale prices. If I could only have one set of dishes, they would be a good set of while or sage green dishes because theywork for winter, spring, summer and fall with the right accents! Again, chargers make a huge difference with any plate! You can also mix and match dishes to create a wonderful look.
Keep in mind that paper plates work well too! Paper plates make cleanup easier and there are so many wonderful choices out there, it's really a great idea. You can create elegant or a more casual table even using paper products! BUT, they can be pricey. Again, shop for paper goods after the season and save them for next year. Our Hobby Lobby had these beautiful plates below for 90% off two days before Thanksgiving. They went fast!
Glassware. Unless Martha Stewart is coming to dinner, one glass should work. We do not drink alcoholic beverages of any kind, so this isn't a problem for my entertaining. I wouldn't even begin to know which glass goes with which wine. But, you do need a decanter and something to pour your beverage into. Think out of the box... A dutch oven for a caldron, a punch bowl, a large urn...
I have several sets of goblets. Most were purchased at the dollar store! Friend, Vikki gave me a very lovely set of gold rimmed goblets a few years ago and I LOVE them! My one suggestion for glassware at a party is to consider who will be using them. For children, stemware isn't the best choice for children because you can almost count on a spill. For meals with children, I use cappacino cups, which are closer to a goblet but not so "topsy-turvy". For a meal with men, they want quantity, not cutesy. So, a larger goblet is more appreciated. For a women only party, go as frilly and delicate as you like! For the Witches Brew that I hosted last fall, we served our beverages in canning jars, since it was a brew. I used little metal-rimmed tags with numbers to identify the glasses since we were served buffetstyle and ate in the living room, not at the table.
Napkins ~ I own four sets of linen napkins and use them reluctantly. (Mr. GranolaMan loves that I don't owe the earth another apology when I use the linens.) BUT, they have to be pressed and starched. I love paper napkins because they come in every color and pattern imaginable. AND they can be tossed out with the trash! Last fall, I decorated for a stake Relief Society social and kept things so simple but the paper napkins, paper plates and scrapbook paper made the plain white tables pop!
Make sure to use dinnersize napkins for the meal. Smaller napkins are fine for desserts, but most people appreciate a "real" napkin. Especially men. (Or they can always use their pants leg.) Napkins can be a fun accent if you make them so. Tie something themerelated around the napkin as a napkin ring. Fold them as a fan and put them in the glass to make a statement. These Independence Day napkins were actually dollar store dishtowels. To this day, one of my favorite Napkin statements!
Accents ~ the fun part! I literally lie awake at night dreaming of tablescapes. Most important...use what you have on hand! Never spend more on the table than you do the party! There's no need to. Decide on a theme for your tablescape. Go shopping through your house and see what you can use. If the table is going to be greens, pull everything green you can find and put it all together by the table so that you can pick and choose what works well together.
Choose a theme and go for it! You can decide on a color theme or a topic theme.
A few hints:
- Do not create a centerpiece so tall that the guests can't see eachother over it and if you do, plan to have something to replace the big opening in the center of the table in it's place once you remove it.
- A string of Christmas lights run through a garland makes an amazing statement and is a very inexpensive way to brighten things up. Those white lights could be used during any season placed under any kind of garland.
- Work with what you have. When I was serving in our LDS ward working with the Senior Singles, I hosted this Harvest Dinner. These seniors were tickled to see a table set with fresh veggies from the garden and canning bottles filled with more from the garden. It brought back many memories of the years that they grew and preserved their own foods. This tablescape was didn't cost me a cent!
- Choose one item to be the focal point and then work from there. The table below was filled with tiny Christmas trees. Again, nothing spent on the table!
- Use lots of candles! Candles don't have to match, nor do the candlesticks and holders. Be creative. And even though you serve a candlelit dinner, it's a good idea to have a soft lamp lighting in the background. People appreciate seeing what they are eating, no matter how romantic it is.
- Think about related accents and touches to create a pretty visual pattern throughout the whole table. Tiny votive candles at each individual setting or between each two settings add to the ambiance.
- Use fabrics and different textures to "lengthen" the tablescape. Garlands, pieces of fabric, toille, ribbons work well for this. Twist two very unlike garlands together... a fabric and a foilage or a tinsle star with netting...
Favors ~ Favors are just the final little touch to the meal that says you care, that you welcome your guests into your home. That little "extra mile" makes a statement! Favors can be a replacement for namecards, if it matters where guests are seated. I like to use namecards/favors to determine where guests will sit beforehand so that you can make sure that no one end up feeling uncomfortable, sitting by someone that they'd rather not. It's alway a great way to generate good conversation. This is especially helpful when guests may not know each other well. (Seat the talked next to the listener, the book readers near each other, the sports addicts together, the world travelers, people in the same occupational field...)
Again, you don't need to spend a lot on favors. Buy a package of Hershey Bars and create a quick and easy label to rewrap around it. At the dollar store, you can purchase little satiny wedding bags 8 for $1. Fill those with M&Ms and nuts. You can see other ideas in most of these photos. Print out a quote and tie or staple it to a cello bag filled with taffy or Kisses. Below, these little cups, filled with Tootsie Rolls were all the kids could talk about at their Thanksgiving table.
If I opt to not have favors, I always have a few "treat" options on the table.
Whenever we host any kind of sit down gathering, part of the evening includes "Tabletalk". This is a list of questions that I prepare in advance, cut into strips and have waiting for after the meal is served. It's amazing how much you can learn by asking a few specific questions about each other. For some tabletalk question ideas, check my cooking blog.
Back to the treats... the reason that I like to have the treats is that we've often never left the table after dinner and dessert because we are so into listening to the tabletalk. It's nice to have a few treats on the table and guests will help themselves if they are there in sight. Try to have something salty and something sweet. Nuts and chocolates, hot tamales, tootsie rolls, burnt peanuts (those ugly red candys)... and there's always kisses and bliss bites. OH YES!. Make sure to have them at each end of the table. People are uncomfortable "grazing" on treats if they have to ask "Please pass the candy again." If it's at both ends of the table, they can discreetly be snacked on without anyone calling attention to the fact they are eating their fifth mini-snickers bar! But, who's counting?! ;)
Every table doesn't have to be elaborate or fancy, but, for me, it is the little extras that show your guest you really care. A few years ago, an acquaintance dropped by while I was setting a tablescape, commented that I "need a life" if that's all I could find to do with my time. I didn't take offense. This person doesn't get me at all and I really don't think that they would understand that this isn't about trying to impress. It truly is one way that I can express my love for family and friends who come into our home. It's my gift to them, from my heart. I have one relative who comes into my home and wants to look at the table and take it in from every angle to appreciate the effort that went into it. She oohs and aahs and expresses her appreciation for the hours that I've put into it. She gets it. I did it for her. That makes it all worth the effort! Enough said.
Love as if you were to die tomorrow.
Cherish your loved ones as if you were to live forever.