Set the perfect table with the wares you have now

Start with basic white and add color and dimension

Published: December 12, 2014 09:00 AM

The holidays are the one time of year that you probably worry about setting your table. Store displays make it look so easy. How do they do it? It’s not about loading your table with lots of bright and shiny new stuff. According to design experts, there are lots of ways to dress up a table using settings and servers you already have, and adding a few strategic pieces to make it really pop. No nice dishes? Pick up an inexpensive basic white set and you can dress it up or down. Here’s how.

Pick a color palette. Everything on the table—linens, plates, glasses, and platters—should work together. So build your scheme around colors plucked from any of those objects. Don’t go overboard; two hues and a third for an accent is plenty. Play off the tablecloth and plates to create your color scheme.

Lay the groundwork. The easiest way to add color, texture, and/or pattern to a table is with table linens. Again, don’t overdo it; if you have a patterned cloth, balance it with plain napkins that pick up one of the colors in the pattern. And don’t forget to use runners or place mats on other surfaces, such as sideboards.

Mix plain and fancy. Whether you prefer simple or ornate, don’t set the table entirely in the same style whether it’s too minimal or too fancy. Mix it up by blending plates and glasses that are more streamlined, for example, with flatware that’s more formal, and vice versa. You’ll also set a more interesting table by mixing shiny and matte finishes.

Vary shapes and heights. To set an even more eye-catching table, use square chargers with round plates, or vice versa, and vary the size, height, and materials of your serving pieces. To create a focal point, use higher pieces in the center of your table.

Create a stunning centerpiece. You can’t go wrong with flowers, but objects and collections you already own can stand in for centerpieces. Large bowls, platters, and even cake stands topped or filled with fruit or shiny ornaments can look stunning. Or instead of one or two centerpieces, group a bunch of candlesticks for more impact.

Add statement-making pieces. For big-deal dinners, use sparkle and glitz more liberally. Gold is currently the trendiest metallic hue. And don’t forget the extras: Great trays, platters, bowls, beautiful candlesticks, or a candelabra can fill in empty spaces with lots of style.

Tablecloth tricks

Hide stains on a tablecloth by strategically arranging two or more tablecloths on top of each other. You can place them at angles to cover spots. Layer a patterned square over a solid oblong for a striking effect. Then cover the table with serving dishes and cocktails.

Look for an easy-clean tablecloth. Some party stagers recommend getting a white tablecloth in a poly blend over cotton or linen because stains are easier to wash out, and you might even be able to avoid the iron. Use white all year and just change the napkin rings for different occasions.

To avoid stains, spread out coasters on tabletops so guests are more apt to use them. And when serving buffet style, put messier foods, like dips and gravy that can drip, toward the outer edge of the table so that they have less distance to travel. After dinner, use top-notch detergents for cleanup.

Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative

Best laundry detergents from our tests

Liquid: Tide Plus Ultra Stain Release
Powder: Tide HE Plus Bleach Alternative
Packs: All Mighty Pacs Oxi

Best dishwasher detergents from our tests

Packs: Cascade Complete ActionPacs
Powder: Cascade Complete Powder
Gel: Palmolive eco+

—Adapted from ShopSmart

Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide

For more planning tips check our Holiday Planning & Shopping Guide. You'll also find plenty of gift ideas for products that performed well in Consumer Reports' tests.


Bonus tip: How to remove white haze from your good dishes.


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