10 April 2010

ABCs of Tabletop Decor

Entertaining misses the bulls-eye without an eye to tabletop and presentation.  It is the “main stage” for the event after all.  But, we don’t necessarily have all the time, money or training to be Preston Bailey (well, maybe once in a while we come close, or at least think we do, but…)

So where to begin?   Keep in mind styling a tabletop isn't just about decoration ~ it's equally about function.  Let’s start with what we'd like to communicate to guests about our gathering through the tabletop style. 

~ Is there a theme or special occasion for the gathering?  Incorporating color or other symbolic accents should be part of the plan. 
~ What food is being served and how?  The place settings involved should be appropriate to the course of the meal and to the location where it will be served.
~ Are you serving different wine selections with each course or are you offering pitchers of ice tea or lemonade?  Appropriate wine glasses will need to be available or large pitchers in place to serve. 

A little thought to tabletop décor details (beyond the flowers) can go a long way to enhance your entertaining experience.  The ABC's of TableTop help every Savvy Host to easily keep tabletop styling priorities straight:
what decorative accessories can be included to accent your theme or any special occasion for your gathering?
what basic place settings (flatware, plates, glassware, napkins) do your guests need to enjoy any food and beverage planned?  How will these be arranged?
what is "on hand" that can creatively serve A & B?  Of course it's always possible to buy everything needed, but we like the creative challenge of repurposing what’s in the house and available.
A is for Accessories
What special touches can be added to your tabletop style to create a more personalized, and memorable, entertaining experience?  Think of the centerpiece and tabletop lighting (e.g. candles) as key accessories to the decor.  Also, consider where to add noticeable splashes of color, or other decorative elements to highlight your theme.

Savvy Tips:
~ For a dinner party with an eclectic group of friends, accessorize the table with items to keep the conversation rolling.  We love TableTopics – "questions to start great conversations" - packaged in sets of 135 questions in a cube or as placecards or in a mini-set of 40 questions "to go".  There are dozens of themes to go with so many different types of gatherings.  Highly recommended versions - Not your Mother’s Dinner Party and Gourmet
~ Limited on time or budget? Add color with cloth napkins, or enamel napkin rings or bright flowers in the centerpiece rather than investing in or having to coordinate all new table linens, glassware or dishware.
~ For different types of holiday gatherings, look to colors and/or symbols as accents (e.g. flags and red,white& blue for Memorial Day & 4th of July, red and hearts for Valentine’s, green and clovers for St. Patrick’s Day, etc.).
~ Need to create elegance and formality?  Add objects to the table that are gold or silver or crystal in appearance.  Tie napkins with gold ribbon or silver cord.  Use silver or silver-toned trays or bowls as the basis for your centerpiece.  And stay as monochromatic as possible with neutral color choices (white, black, grey, taupe) for linens and dishware.

B is for Basics
Tabletop basics should include the flatware, plates and glassware needed for the meal.  At the most formal, each guest’s place setting might look something like the diagram below (courtesy of a Savvy Host favorite online destination for tabletop décor, Replacements.com).  Each specific utensil, dish and glass is noted - placed to be available appropriately as each course is presented.

Don't despair!  If the gathering is less formal or is going to incorporate a buffet, simply scale back to use only the pieces needed. Replacements.com offers a few additional diagrams to help you decide what’s needed.  
BONUS - if you ever discover that you're missing pieces or parts of your china or silver settings, Replacements.com is THE place for (yes) REPLACEMENT settings.  Sign up for their free update service at no charge.

Savvy Tips:
~ Don’t have the picture perfect options for tabletop basics?  We are firm believers in creatively mixing and matching from what you have to provide what is needed.  This is the “C” in the ABCs – creativity.  If you have the time and wherewithal to buy everything needed, lucky you!!  But if you are short on time or budget, there is no reason not to put to good use the glassware, dishware, and flatware you already have. 
~ Don’t have wine glasses?  Try juice glasses in the style of an Italian Trattoria.  For the future, consider investing in all-purpose wine/beverage glasses.  We love Bormioli's glassware available at Savvy Host Market
~ Don’t have enough matching salad & dinner plates?  Mix and match pieces for every-other setting.  Play up differences in shapes, colors, and designs.
~ Don’t have matching barware or glassware?  Play up the beauty of eclectic shapes and colors in barware.  When we have a large group for brunch, we love serving mimosas in all different sizes and shapes of champagne flutes.

Aside from the dishware, flatware and glassware, there is the issue of NAPKINS.  On this topic, two words are key to a savvy host's entertaining – COTTON or CLOTH.  Try moving away from paper napkins - at least for the main meal - if at all possible.  An eco-friendly alternative, cloth napkins are infinitely more impactful and functional than paper.  Use paper whenever else you like, but for entertaining, whip out cotton or cloth napkins!

As an added benefit, cloth napkins can be folded and formed into interesting shapes ~ French Pleat, Rose, Opera Fan, The Flame ~ a highly functional way to add style. Take a look at these 5 online guides for Napkin Folding Styles:
How to Fold Dinner Napkins (24 options)
Napkin Folding Instructions: 27 Napkin Folds
Mrs. Beeton’s Napkin Folding Illustrations, 1923 Edition (from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861!)
Table Linens by Hilden (6 folding styles)
 Wedding Details - Napkin Folding Arrangements (11 styles)

C is for Creativity
Your creativity as a savvy host is key to your personal entertaining style.  It’s the fuel that fires up individuality and makes an event uniquely memorable.  A few ways to spark creativity in designing your tabletop have already been suggested.  But there are always more…

Savvy Tips:
~ Add seasonal elements - key limes, cranberries or kumquats for example - to a glass bowl as the base of a floral arrangement.  Not only will they help to hold the flowers in place, they add a seasonal splash of color.
~ Multi-task your glassware ~ use margarita glasses or martini glasses to serve dessert!  Perfect for chocolate mousse, individual tiramisu, or sorbetto/ice cream.  Also - use coffee mugs or tea cups for a 1st course soup.
~ Use seasonal fabric ribbon or raffia to tie napkins or bunches of silverware together.  Adds a splash of color and theme.
~ Build a centerpiece from small sets of planted herbs or small ferns or other seasonal greens.  Simply place plantings inside a long basket or terrine to cover their base.  Add stones or other covering as needed.
~ Instead of a central decorative element at the table, add the decoration per placesetting ~ a candy cane, individual flower, rosemary or eucalyptus branch, or mini-flag.

When planning your next dinner party or luncheon, whether at home or dining out, give some special thought to your TableTop Style and don’t forget to share your creative ideas!


Alan said...

This is a very interesting blog and so i like to visit your blog again and again. Keep it up.



the savvy host said...

Much appreciated the kind words! Thank you! We look forward to your next visit.

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