It may be time to up your game.

February 5, 2020

IN 1600, the wedding of Marie de’ Medici and Henry IV, king of France, became the stuff of legend—and not simply because the epic banquet encompassed 50 courses. The real surprise came when the nearly 300 guests in attendance picked up their napkins and, in each case, a songbird flew out from beneath the folds. Read more, ‘The Truth About Posh Table Settings.’

Centuries later, the idea of unleashing starlings and swallows on your dinner guests may sound like cruel and unusual punishment (or at least an invitation to a lawsuit), but the instinct to charm your friends with a dramatic table setting remains strong.

If you’re still relying on your standard strategies—votive candles and a bunch of white lilies —it may be time to up your game.

Recent years have seen the rise of elevated entertaining —redefining the very idea of a table setting. After all, creating a conversation-starting place setting can be a cure for the too-many-iPhones-at-the-table conundrum as well. 

Master the Art of Layering

When it comes to putting together any party, the starting point is the table setting. It’s about bringing beauty to the table. We’re always inspired by the place. We see what we can find in the garden, or what’s around and in season, and build our scheme around that. Stick to natural materials, such as wicker and rattan, then turn our attention to the plates, napkins and tablecloths, building layers of pattern and print, or contrasting dark shades with stronger colours — for instance, Indian pinks on a navy base. You want to keep it whimsical and fun and not take things too seriously. Read more, ‘Tricks of the Trade: Throwing A Large Dinner Party.’

You can use flowers and citrus fruits with lavish gilt and chandeliers.

Cover the table with lemons, some loose, some tumbling from bowls and some hanging from verdant citrus trees. Bringing fruits to the table — whether they are lemons, oranges or green apples — adds a wonderfully fresh feel. Though there’s no room for half-measures: “It’s not simply about adding a couple of lemons. You have to do it boldly. Going halfway just won’t work. It has to have an impact.

Get inspired by your surroundings. Stay as local as you possibly can

Repurposing things in ways that they aren’t meant to be used can add depth to a table. Incorporating elements of nature into your setting also adds theatricality without devolving into gimmickry. Nature is so varied. It’s an endless source for a table of excitement that works in any country, any city, any climate. Get a branch from outside. Get leaves from a tree. When you’re at the beach, get a stack of rocks. Put clamshells all around the table.

Go for colour and fantasy

We recommend tablecloths as they make everything feel fresh and create a good landscape for the table. Don’t be afraid to mix strong colours. The flowers should be kept low which is why we love using vases of all sizes which you can dot around the table. You can mix your flowers creating a sort of “mixed border”. Candles or hurricane lamps are of course a must. We also like using small side tables which are very useful when you have too many dishes. Read more, ‘How To Host A Sparkling Dinner Party.’

Make The Table A Canvas

Use things from around your home. A house is like a museum of you — the places you’ve been, the things you’ve collected or inherited — and the table is a microcosm of that. Read more, ‘Buon Appetito: Taking An Italian Approach To Entertaining.’

It’s somewhere you can reflect your personality and your heritage.

The more personal the table the better. adding generous sprigs of English rosemary or mint to the table or pile aubergine on trays and rhubarb in jugs.

Keep it Informal and Free-flowing

In the summer, set up long tables made using trestles (which you can store in your garage between use) under a tree if you are fortunate enough to have one. It keeps the mood informal and free-flowing. Cover the tables in reclaimed French flax or linen sheets, adding lots of Georgian and Victorian candlesticks — in brass and silver and filled with candles from the hardware store or supermarket. Read more, ‘An Entertaining Plan to Maximise Mingling.’

Be Disciplined

The one thing to watch out for is overindulgence. Be disciplined. You can’t throw everything you love into a pile. And keep it lighthearted.

There’s nothing like a wonderful dinner party to make you feel happy.

Embrace Nature’s Imperfections

The aim is to create a table display that’s earthy and elegant and looks real. You don’t want anything too fussy or contrived. Gather any vessels you can find — old silver cups, soup terrines, cream jugs, serving bowls, stoneware jars and classic boat vases — they’ll fill them with peonies and roses in a mixed palette of pale pinks and bright oranges, then loosely arrange them along the center of the table. “We never use anything too high,” says Elworthy. “There’s nothing worse than not being able to see the person in front of you.” At a dinner where platters and serving dishes need to be accommodated, it can be useful to stick to single-stem vases that can easily be shifted around. Those without access to a garden should find a local grower. Floristry flowers are pumped full of unregulated chemicals. When you’re putting flowers on the table it’s imperative that they’re organically grown. Read more, ‘How To Entertain Australian Style.’

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