Setting The Fashionable Table

If you’re planning a birthday party or summer get-together, your mental list probably looks like this:

  • Guest list? E-mail invites already sent.
  • Menu? Delicious, but still deciding on dessert. (see our Summer Blondies story)
  • What are you going to wear? Working on it!
  • Decorating your table? Not so much . . . You want to do more than just pull paper plates out of the package when the guests arrive, but need some inspiration.

With a little thought and imagination, your table can look as good as you do and will help set the tone for the party.

In Winnetka, Ellen Holthaus, owner of Ellen’s on Elm, helped me set a table for a summer lunch for two. We decided the menu would be salad niçoise, bread and cheese—which inspired a French Provençal look for the table.
She had gorgeous blue-and-yellow plates, but they’re plastic, which keeps the vibe casual and summery. These plates—and they come in lots of colors—are perfect for outdoor entertaining or a big summer party since they’re indestructible, fashionable and reusable.

Once Holthaus knew the colors and themes, she brought out table linens, goblets (also plastic), a centerpiece and serving bowls.

“You’ll have a more interesting table if you vary shapes, heights and colors,” Holthaus says. She mixed in solid color plates to offset the patterned ones and used a tall centerpiece, but pushed it to the back of the table so it wouldn’t obstruct conversation.


Finally, add at least one fun element to your table.

“When we’re making displays, we talk a lot about ‘happy’ this year and especially this season,” Holthaus says. “Put something on the table that makes you smile. It can be practical or just for fun, but if it makes you feel good, you should use it.

“Here are a few other ideas for fashionable summer tables:

  • Start with a pattern, and build your colors off of it. You can use a tablecloth or china as your initial inspiration. Mixing patterns and solids always works. Pattern on pattern is trickier, but try it—the worst that can happen is you take something off and reset the table.
  • Your color palette could also come from the party’s theme: tropical colors for a luau or sophisticated white and silver for a teenager’s birthday party. For sit down dinners, think layers of color: Tablecloth, runner, placemats, chargers—each one can add texture, color or pattern, and if you stick to the color palette, layers will look interesting not random.For a buffet, use serving bowls, platters and linens that work with your theme.
  • Pedestals and footed serving pieces vary the height across the table and don’t be afraid to mix in metal, glass and white, the neutrals of table setting.Use lighting to reinforce your look:
  • Candles, lanterns strung across the patio or a disco ball glittering in the moonlight increase the drama.Use what you have.
  • Shop your house for items that fit your color or theme, but aren’t necessarily meant for the table. Use seashells to hold tea lights for a beach party, or fill clean paint buckets with ice and drinks for a casual barbecue. If it makes you smile, use it.

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