There's a difference between eating and dining. Sitting down to a fine meal in someone's home or a quality restaurant satisfies more than just your appetite. If it's done right, a good dinner party nurtures your spirit, too. There's the great food, sure, but there's also good company and a sense of equilibrium with your surroundings. When all those things come together into a cohesive whole, it can be remarkable. Whatever the alchemy of a great dinner party happens to be, hosts aspire to it and guests crave it. It may be lightning in a bottle, and there's definitely some work involved, but if you've ever participated in an amazing evening sharing food, wine and conversation, you know it's worth the effort.
Let's take a look at five ways you can dress your table to add dimension to a party. Think of it as creating the perfect set design for your production.
If you have a Norman Rockwell sensibility, you'll appreciate the notion of dining in the dining room. Not every home has a dining room, though, and people who do may be using the space for something other than the occasional dinner party (think home office). The new rule is that you can set up your dining area anywhere you have enough space for folks to move in and out easily; just be sure to provide 42 to 48 inches around the dining chairs.
If you're using a makeshift table, don't despair. Once you have a nice tablecloth in place, no one will care. Just be sure to leave 24 inches from side-to-side for each place setting with about 12 inches front to back. Remember, you'll have a centerpiece in the middle of the table, too. These housekeeping considerations will make your guests more comfortable, and will work if you're setting up multiple tables in the backyard or just putting together a children's table in the family room.
Because your impromptu dining spot doesn't have all the coordinating niceties of a regular dining room, you can help integrate the space by extending the motifs you're using in your design to other areas of the room. If you're using candles, place them strategically throughout the room. Try to repeat the colors of the room's furnishings in your tablescape. If you're using fresh flowers, buy a couple of extra bouquets to place on occasional tables, too.
You may have spent a fortune on crystal and fine china, but expense is no guarantee of a lovely table. For that, you need to create symmetry. Sure, spending a lot of money on coordinated tableware makes the job easier, but it's not the only way to make your tablescape look great. When you think about the beautiful table designs you've seen in the past, symmetry is one thing they all have in common.
Symmetry in design is never an accident. Whether you're achieving it with precisely repeated stacked or fanned items, or eyeballing your placements and using experience as your guide, creating and repeating patterns is important for good table design. If you don't have enough of one china or crystal pattern, you aren't necessarily in trouble, either. You can alternate two similar patterns and pull everything together with your candles, centerpiece or tablecloth.
The secret to creating a beautiful table is to audition your elements beforehand to see how they'll work together. You may have to try a few different layouts before you find one that works. The last thing you want is to be so rushed you're trying to chop salad greens and set a fancy table at the same time. From the napkin rings to the salt cellars, assemble your materials and play with them until you find a combination that works. When you've achieved a nice balance, you'll know it.
The centerpiece is the focal point of your table design. It's front and center for everyone to see, and it should inspire appreciative comments. You can stick with a bouquet of flowers, but there are so many interesting options that you should never have to repeat the same idea twice. A bowl filled with shells, a set of three square lacquer boxes filled with herbs, artfully displayed blooming dogwood branches, a dish filled with autumn vegetables or a crystal bowl sparkling with Christmas ornaments will add something new and fresh to your table design. If your tableware is relatively neutral, your centerpiece can give your design a contemporary, classical, romantic or retro look that will make it look fresh and new every time.
Making your table look new and different for every season can be easy when you have lots of textiles to work with. Good china is chic, but fabric is fabulous when it comes to decorating your table. If you've had problems finding the perfect tablecloth, don't buy the same old thing everyone else has; make your own. Cotton fabric is inexpensive, washable and available in thousands of colors and patterns. You can find extra wide bolts more easily than ever before. At around 108 inches wide and as long as you need, that's large enough for most applications without additional seaming. If you're allergic to sewing, try the new iron-on hemming tape. It'll make dressing your table in the latest fashions fast and easy. (Oh, and it's great for creating no fuss curtains, too.)
You can have a sit down dinner but still make the proceedings a bit less formal and labor intensive by the selective use of your buffet server. An appetizer and beverage or dessert buffet can give your party some movement and a few unexpected design opportunities, too. It's also a simple way to make the beginning and end of the meal less stressful for you. If you have the buffet prepped and ready to go for dessert, for instance, folks can sample the offerings or not, without feeling pressured, while you're free to sit and chat. An appetizer buffet, on the other hand, is a great way to get guests mingling before the main event. Having a buffet set up to handle part of the duty is efficient and fun. If you have a sideboard, or even a conveniently located countertop, this is a do-ahead option you'll love.
In order to have a party, you first need to invite some guests. Here is a great way to personalize and hand-deliver your dinner party invitations.
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- AllRecipes.com. "Table Setting 101." 1/19/11. (6/13/11). http://allrecipes.com/HowTo/table-setting-101/detail.aspx
- Collins, Holly and Thommas Randleman. "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Entertaining." Alpha Books. 1996.
- Goode, Thomas. "Set with Style." Jacqui Small LLP. 2008.
- Taylor, Kelley. "Holiday Decorating with Tablescapes." (6/13/11). http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/holiday-decorating