Ideas and Options for Setting the Table

Have you ever noticed that a well set table seems to make food taste better? Even simple meals can seem like culinary delights when served in an interesting setting.

tables101-1Matt and I have decorated countless dining rooms and kitchens. With so many tables under our belts, we’ve come up with some tips to consider when setting the perfect table. Obviously, table settings vary depending on the formality of the event. What is appropriate for a wedding would seem totally out of place at a barbeque. Nonetheless, the basic elements of both settings are the same.


Setting a table is, in many ways, a process of layering. Table linens might be considered the first “layer”. Traditionally, tablecloths were used only for formal occasions and were made of lace or silk damask.

Well, times have changed. While lace and damask are still appropriate for formal table settings, more often than not we are dining casually and all sorts of other options are now available.


For every day use, nothing beats placemats. They can be found in plastic, fiber, and fabric. In addition to being utilitarian, they add color and texture to a table setting. Because they’re inexpensive and take little room to store, it’s easy to change the look of your table with the seasons or holidays.


Informal tablecloths are also available in a variety of fabric types, colors,and patterns. It’s always a good idea to use a felt backed vinyl cloth under a fabric tablecloth. It will not only protect your tabletop from spills, it can also deaden the sound of cutlery and china, making conversation that much easier.

Unconventional table coverings can also be used to create an interesting table setting. Floor runners, antique quilts, and silk scarves, even large tropical greenery are all possibilities.


When choosing your table linens, don’t forget that napkins can also add to the décor of the table. I usually prefer cloth napkins, but there are numerous paper napkins which are also beautiful. Decorative paper napkins are especially useful for theme decorating.

tablesettings101-6The second “layer” of your table consists of your dishes, glassware, and utensils. To make your meal more festive, why not use the “good” china, even if it’s not a special occasion? What could be more special than sitting down to a meal with family and friends?


It’s also fun to mix and match different sets of china. You might serve salad on green dessert plates from one set, and the rest of the meal on floral patterned china. Or, you might use two different sets of china, alternating the dinner plates of one set with the salad plates of another.

Mismatched pieces of china can create a very interesting collection. Try finding a variety of pieces in as many different patterns as you can, but remember to select patterns in much the same way you would select fabric patterns for a room redesign. For help with this, check out our article on “How to Mix Patterns”. When you set your table with your collection, they will not only look great, but will also remind you of the fun times you had searching department stores, flea markets and antique shops.


Glassware can also add impact to a table setting. Colored glass is especially pretty, and can be found in a variety of shapes, styles, and patterns.


The accessories comprise the final “layer” of a table setting. Floral centerpieces, assortments of candles, or arrangements of fruit all help to make a visually appealing table. You can also use pieces of glassware to create interesting centerpieces. Try filling a clear glass pitcher with fresh blooms from your garden. Use compotes as bases for pillar candles and add a few fresh flowers. To make a unique centerpiece, fill a large clear bowl with water and float candles in it. If you add colored floral marbles to the bottom of the bowl, your centerpiece will be even more dramatic. 

I think that setting a beautiful table is worth a bit of extra time. A beautifully set table can turn an ordinary meal into a feast and leave a lasting impression on your family and friends.


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