How to set a beautiful table

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4th of july table setting
Use a theme, layer elements to design beautiful tables
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If you know how to set a beautiful table you can transform an ordinary setting

For most of us, setting the table involves plopping down some plates, adding some silverware, and topping it off with a paper napkin. Boring, right?

It's not that people don't want to do more to make it attractive. They just don't know how to set a beautiful table, or they think it's something that takes hours of preparation.

Of course, you could spend days planning your table setting, but you can create a beautiful table for any day of the week by taking it step by step.  Ready to create your first tablescape? 

Pick a theme

Keep this simple and basic like "Summer" or "Vacation".  If you pick complicated themes for everyday dinners, odds are you'll get overwhelmed before you start.  Other easy themes are a book or movie, a color or even a favorite animal.

The theme will guide you in the rest of the table plan.  If you're worried about your table setting becoming too forced, remember that your choice doesn't have to be something obvious to your guests.  For example, a theme of "Sparkle" could guide you to select a tablecloth with silver trim, glasses with light-catching detail, napkin rings made of crystal and a centerpiece with candles reflecting in a mirror. 

You'll know the theme, but what your family or guests will see is a beautiful, coordinated table.

Add in your dishes

People like the blogger in "Between Naps on the Porch" who created the tablescape in the image above may have dozens of sets of dishes.  But in most cases you can create a great tablescape with the dishes you already have.

If you have more than one set of dishes, decide which one goes best with your theme, and use that one. Or, if the budget permits, treat yourself to the perfect new set of dishes!

Tip: If you want to try something a little more unique without a big investment, head to your local thrift store and look at their selection.  Mix and match to get the look you want, without spending a fortune on a new set of china.

Start from the bottom up

A lovely tablecloth is a great way to start your table setting.  Use solids that coordinate with your dishes for a simple base, or opt for a pattern to add interest from the start. 

Tip: Don't limit your tablecloth choices to "official" tablecloths.  Quilts, scarves, sheets, fabric, woven mats and even thin tiles can also become "tablecloths" if you choose!

Dress the center of the table

Let me start by saying that centerpieces are not limited to stuffy bunches of ugly flowers in a big bowl or vase.  This is where you can really get creative with your table without spending much money.

Go back to your theme.  If it's summer, a big colorful bowl of summer fruit dotted with fresh flowers might be perfect.  Or turn a sand pail and shovel into a centerpiece by turning it on its side amid sea glass and shells (both are available at craft stores!)  Interesting boxes, piles of big river stones, or clear glass vases filled with vegetable or fruit are all options for a creative, simple centerpiece.

Consider the people-space

If there's room around the plates, consider adding detail to each place setting, too. Little favors that match the theme are fun.  Seashells, little notebooks and tiny pencils, mesh bags filled with treats like candy, potpourri, little toys or even marbles might work, depending on your theme. Tiny candles in votive or tealight holders above each place add light, interest and beauty. 

Name tags or place tags to tell people where to sit are another special touch that's easy to do.  Tiny frames with each guest's photo are wonderful for gatherings of family and friends, while an autumn dinner might look welcoming with names written on little pumpkins.

If table space is at a premium, place favors in little bags and tie them to seat backs.  You can do the same with place cards or decorations, and expand the beauty from the table to the chairs.

Don't neglect the napkins

If you're trying to set a beautiful table, the paper napkins need to take the evening off.  Instead, use a cloth napkin that works with your dishes and theme.  Linen or damask napkins are classic choices, but cotton napkins are another popular choice for a more casual look.

Napkin rings are another opportunity to add color and interest to your table.  Use store-bought rings, or create your own with vines from your yard, twine, wire and beads, cloth, ribbon or even hardware items like large metal washers.

As with the tablecloth, you can get creative with the napkins, too. Consider bandanas for a summertime or western theme, large monogrammed handkerchiefs (new of course!) or even pretty dishtowels (IKEA has them for under a dollar.)

Let there be light

The final element in your table setting is light.  Dim overhead lights for a softer look.  Or turn off room lighting and use table lamps, candles or directed lighting to highlight centerpieces, food, or each place setting.  Strings of fairy lights (white Christmas lights) can be clustered under netting or tulle for a magical lighting effect.

Start simple, then add

When it doubt, start with a simple table setting, then layer elements.  Take chances and think outside the box.  A beautiful table will be your reward.

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