We’re all getting back to our dining tables and inviting friends and family over to celebrate anything from birthdays to well, just basically being able to gather together again. Table top decoration does have trends, and right now, I’m all about a table top that says CHEERS!
As you might have guessed, a recent trend toward bright color is sweeping the nation. Gone are the days of white tablecloths with white plates blending into the white candles in their crystal or silver candlesticks. We’re all asleep, I know. Take that white table look you already own and add a collection of neon colored candles. They exist, and they are fabulous. So do neon napkins. Now you’re cooking!
Giving the Classics a Reboot
A lot of us have a stack of dishes we somehow inherited and have never known how to integrate those plates into a fresh look. If you have a plate setting that's giving you Granny chic, take away those predictable chargers (chargers are a base plate that stays while all the courses are being served but never actually has food directly on it) and replace them with something fresh and unpredictable.
I love to put a huge flat leaf like a monstera or large fern under a plate instead of a charger or placemat. You can also use a paper cut out of a leaf and add a jaunty angle with it peeking out from your plates and serving platters.
A classic toile plate collection looks stunning with a bright opposing color table cloth. And gives this expected look and unexpected twist. The striking color difference will frame the plates and make a fresh statement. Send a few snapshots to that great aunt you got the plates from and make her day.
Family Style Service
Family style serving is all the food on platters at the center of the table with an every-man-for-themselves attitude on plating. Family style has even become a hot restaurant trend. It encourages a sense of sharing as well as reaching back in for seconds. It’s a casual style of dining that lets the hosts sit back and enjoy their guests while the guests double down on the iconic family recipe.
With family style serving, it’s fun to have all the serving platters, bowls, and any vessel holding a condiment or sauce matching or working in unison for its own support role to your food. Matching can mean it’s just in the same color story or have a similar pattern that compliments one another.
PRO-TIP: Please take those condiments out of their containers and into a vessel for serving. You are not an advertiser for your condiment maker. Ok, I do concede that hot sauces are harder to not only get into a vessel but also how to control how you douse that taco.
The cloth runner down the center of a table is a great look. It takes the place of the more buttoned up full cloth covering and makes a table more casual. The next level is a living runner, composed of live floral material. Garland style florals but laying down like a runner center on your table. You can even put down a runner, then layer your arrangement on top.
A manzanita branch can be a great base to wire florals into. Some blooms that do well out of water for several hours are; orchids, succulents, air plants, and of course, leafy greens.
If you want to use flowers that are less tolerant of being without water, you can use water tubes like these from Amazon to extend their glory. You can save these and reuse them in the future. Just dump the water out.
You don’t have to be a pro florist to pull this off, but a few tools the pros use will be helpful to have in your tabletop kit. I always have green floral wire, floral tape, a few blocks of oasis, and a good floral knife. Careful—these are sharp to help you get through a woody stem.
PRO-TIP: Soak your oasis submerged in your sink, so it's saturated with water. This will help your flowers drink and stay looking fresh. Use your floral blade to cut the cube after it’s absorbed the water to fit into your chosen vase.
A living runner can also be as simple as adding several small potted plants to your table scape. Succulents and herbs look smashing together and can provide additional interest with the pots they are planted in. Mix in some votive candles, and voila, your table is decorated.
Tabletop lighting goes way beyond a candlestick and your basic taper. Let’s lose the snore and get that table, and your guests lit in a way that makes them both look pretty.
Floating candles have such an incredible versatility in how you can integrate them into a tabletop display. I have a friend whose signature look is a large round clear vase, approx. eight inches in diameter, a couple bunches of long stem french tulips all draped over to one side of the vase and a few floating candles in the water.
The side drape keeps the tulips from getting caught in the flame and gives the flower a dramatic flair. Add a few smaller glass vases in a cluster around this look with just water and more floating candles.
PRO-TIP: Cut those candle wicks a bit shorter to help your candle burn longer. When you leave a wick long, the wax tends to tunnel. Tunneling happens when a wick burns down into the candle instead of creating an even melted wax surface. No one wants those candles to burn out before dessert is served!
If you don’t like to use candles or you’re sitting outside and worried about the wind blowing them out. There are all kinds of LED options for your tabletop. They even make some that are submersible so you can add them to your arrangement in clear glass.
Height is another way to layer your table scape. Think cake plates or risers that allow you to not only display the food or decoration but also to lay something below it. Helpful on a crowded table with a lot of sides or even those pizza parties with oh so many delicious pies to choose from!
PRO-TIP: Make sure people can make eye contact when seated across from one another at your table. We’ve all been to that event where we’re craning our neck to have a chat with the neighbor down the way. Whether it be candles or florals, you don’t want to block the view of your guests from other guests. We want to see those reactions when they taste the delicious food.
A table cloth doesn’t need to come in the form of a classic cotton cloth. You can mix an unexpected material like burlap, or that textile you bought on vacation that's been in your closet waiting for a chance to show off. I once used astroturf for placemats for a summer birthday party. It was a hit and not too expensive if you buy it off the roll at a home store and cut them to size yourself.
Don’t Add a Scent
Flowers are an obvious choice to decorate any dinner table. Remember, food is an olfactory experience, and you don't just eat with your mouth, you also eat with your nose. Smelling our food stimulates our salivary glands and contributes to how we taste our food. So let the food and its amazing smell be the star, and don’t introduce a competing floral scent that will confuse the nose or your palette.
Stargazer lilies are a particular offender, while calla lilies are gorgeous with no scent. Stargazers usually land on your table because a guest brought a bouquet with them mixed in. While we appreciate a thoughtful guest, we don't want to automatically put their flowers on the dinner table. Add them to your entryway, living room coffee table, or bathroom instead.
PRO-TIP: If you’ve been invited to a dinner party and want to bring your gracious host a flower arrangement, avoid scented flowers and go ahead and put them in a vase, so they aren’t left with the task of finding a vase and arranging the stems after a long day in the kitchen. They’re busy receiving guests, you don’t want to put something else on their plate.
This rule includes scented candles. Please don’t use these even if they happen to be all you have on hand. Candles come in all sorts of shapes, colors and heights without scent. Save the scented candles for your powder room. Not only do scents compete with tasting your slaved-over meal, some guests are even allergic to certain fragrances and flowers. No one wants sneezing at the table.
Can I Eat the Centerpiece?
Yes you can! This is the perfect opportunity to let your imagination run wild and mix fruits, herbs, and veggies in with your flowers. Lemons, pomegranates, rosemary, artichokes, eggplant, basil, pears, pineapple, kiwis, shiitake mushrooms, peppers, baby pumpkins, persimmons, and squash. The list goes on. You can even find pink peppercorns still on the branch.
It’s always fun to head to the farmers market to add a seasonal selection to your table, both in the meal and arrangement! One of my favorites is fiddleheads, which are both delicious sauteed and striking in an arrangement.
Hydrangeas are a great base flower to add these edibles into your arrangement but adding a cube of oasis can help support the heavier fruits and veg. Add a few herbs like rosemary to your arrangement, but only if it’s a complementary scent to the meal.
I use floral spikes or floral tubes. If using the spikes, you can spear that pear, then cut the wood to the height, as you would the flower stem, and add it to the arrangement. Some of these fruits and veg look amazing cut crosswise to expose those pretty insides, like kiwis, for example.
Cocktail Party Looks
Now here’s where the extra fun is in table tops! We aren’t always in the mood to have a sit down event, and the hors d'oeuvre hour is a more casual way to get friends together and even include them in bringing their favorite nibble to the party.
This is the kind of entertaining that really lends itself to a theme both in the food and the tablescape look. Here, you can break the rules and do something unexpected.
Since people aren’t going to be seated across from one another trying to have a chat, you can really get some height on that table. Get those risers out and build that table up. They don’t just need to hold food, you can also do your florals with some wow-factor height. I’ve even used fishing line or monofilament to hang arrangements from the ceiling. Sky's the limit here, so get out of the box.
A theme for a cocktail party will get your guests in the party mood from the moment they get the invite. A signature cocktail makes serving drinks a cinch and can add to the theme. Margaritas served with taquitos and guacamole are always a hit.
Pre-mix your spirits and mixers in large clear pitchers with mint or lemon and lime circles to add visual interest. Add a few buckets of ice for the guests to add as needed. This way, you're not watering down the spirit as the ice melts.
Don’t forget the sweeties! People still bring their sweet tooth to hors d'oeuvre parties. Even something as simple as a strawberry you can dip in fresh whipped cream will work. When a guest asks what they can bring, they can stop by your local bakery and bring a selection of mini tarts or cookies. There are tiered dessert plates that make displaying these goodies their own eye candy.
The fun with tabletop displays is that it's a way to express your creativity as well as bring people together, and let's face it, we’re all in need of some of that right now!
Photo credits: Anaïs Rodgers
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