7 Basics for Setting a Beautiful Table

I  often get asked how to set a beautiful table.  Today I decided to share 7 basics for setting a beautiful table.  These are just a few ideas for getting started with tablescaping.

1.  The flatware goes where, and what flatware do I need? 

You only need the flatware (also known as silverware) that diners will need to consume their meal.  For a casual dinner, that might mean just a fork and a knife.  Keep in mind, the more formal your table gets, the more confusing it may get. Since this is just about basics of tablescaping, the basics are that the silverware is placed in the order of use, from the outside in. The other basic rule is to only set the table with silverware you will be using. Not serving soup? Don’t use a soup spoon.

2.  Know what a charger is and how to use them.   

A charger plate is a large decorative base on which you place your dinner plate.  Chargers set right on your tablecloth or placemat.  The charger can stay on the table until you clear your main course plates.  Chargers are a great accessory to dress up a table with additional texture or color.  

3.  Napkins should be cloth, not paper.  

Paper napkins are fine for everyday, but if you are going to the trouble of setting a pretty table, go for cloth napkins.  Cloth napkins are actually better on the budget and on the planet!  I actually enjoy using cloth napkins all of the time.  My children got used to that growing up and still do that with my grandchildren today.  

4.  Centerpiece do’s and don’ts. 

Don’t use a centerpiece that is so large that your guests can’t see one another across the table.  Don’t use flowers with an overwhelming fragrance.  You don’t want the fragrance to compete with the lovely scent of your meal.  Personally I am a big fan of the garland kind of centerpieces that trail down the center of a table. Everyone gets to see the centerpiece, it adds decoration to the entire table without being too large.

5.  Everything doesn’t have to match!

There are no rules about your salad plates matching your dinner plates or the pattern on your stemware matching your silverware.  Your dinner plates don’t even have to match each other. Pick colors and patterns that complement one another, but don’t worry about being matchy, matchy.  

6.  Candle etiquette for the table.

Traditionally, candles on a dining table are only lit when it is dark OR after six o’clock in the evening.  You may have candles on your table, but don’t light them until then.  Don’t use scented candles on a table for the same reason you don’t want to use heavily scented flowers.  

7.  Break the rules.

Yes, I said it.  I am a firm believer in breaking rules. I style tablescapes not just for family dinners, holidays and dinner parties. I style tablescapes for fun. I like to be creative. I love to style a table that I dub a ‘fantasy tablescape’. That means my centerpiece might be crazy big. Yes, I might have to move it for dinner so we can see one another across the table. I may not put the napkin to the left of the place setting. I might use an outrageous napkin ring just for the sake of decoration. So, yes, there are some basic rules, but I believe in following your own style and creativity as much as following rules.

There you are, 7 tips to get you started to set a beautiful table for any occasion. 

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  1. Chloe, I just love your tablescapes! I had a smile on my face the whole time I was reading this – thank you for your wonderfully creative tables!

  2. I so want to be your neighbor. I would love to see your tablescape as they’re being created! Retiring in a few months, and tables like these are my goals. Thanks for the inspiration!

    1. Thank you so much Barb! I would love to have you as a neighbor! It would be fun to have you come over and hang out with me while I set tables! You would be surprised that sometimes I start in one direction and the table style goes a different direction!

  3. Chloe, while this may seem old hat for some of us (except we love your tables) , there are young women who didn’t grow up with the ‘tablescape’ who will really appreciate this information. Sometimes basics are important.

    1. If it is a family dinner, and not a kid’s party, I would expand on what the boys like. For example, if they like western things, I would use a pair of cowboy boots for a centerpiece and use bandanas for cloth napkins. Think along those lines for whatever they are liking at this time.

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