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The artistic table: Your next dinner party could be a real masterpiece

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The idea of hosting a dinner party can seem daunting, and setting a formal dinner table can be even more overwhelming. Well, here’s the good news: It’s not as difficult as it seems. 

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From tradition to what’s trending now, there are thousands of routes to choose from. This how-to is about finding inspiration, not a bunch of antiquated rules. Transforming your dining room table into a work of art without losing the element of comfort is the ultimate goal and should always trump trying to impress with elaborate décor.

Long or short?

When deciding how to cover the table, consider seasonality.

“Summertime tends to be a little more casual while winter is usually more formal,” said Anna Fergus, director of event services at The Cliffs Resort in Pismo Beach. “You would never see a velvet table cloth in the summer.”

For a very formal event, there tends to be more coverage and a tablecloth will run all the way to the floor, while a more casual event begs for a shorter, spunkier cloth.

Forget your preconceived notions of plain, white tablecloths. Break the rules and get creative. Table runners have made a recent comeback and can create an eye-catching contrast.

“You can have anything from your basic cotton linen to different satin, silk, or sequins,” Fergus said. “The sky is really the limit.”

FRESH:  SLO’s Huckleberry Market provides all different shapes, sizes, and colors of flower containers to choose from. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN IRWIN
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN IRWIN
  • FRESH: SLO’s Huckleberry Market provides all different shapes, sizes, and colors of flower containers to choose from.

Your best wipe forward

Cloth napkins come in all different colors and can be folded into almost any shape. Heck, they could even be purple, adorned with golden tassels. Can’t fold a fancy napkin? No problem. Napkin rings are a great option: Just slide the napkin in and you’re done. But don’t get too carried away with style. After all, a napkin should still stand up to its practical use.

“You don’t want to have anything too silky or anything that can snag,” Fergus said.

The glorified placemat

Gone are the days of digging out the fine china. Unless you’re going for a vintage look, go with a plate that speaks to your personal style. A bright idea: Use a charger plate, which sits under your food plate, yet is never eaten off of. 

These plates come in all shapes and colors—you can even use more than one. Spray paint an old dish and make your own charger.

“It’s almost like a glorified placemat,” Fergus said. “I’ve seen people use a smaller charger for something like a shrimp cocktail on top of a large charger. You can stack them and then remove one after each course.”

Battle of the forks 

Here’s where things tend to get complicated. The easiest way to remember how to set flatware is to place them in the order in which they are used—from the outside in. Forks are placed on the left side of the charger plate with the salad fork on the outside (if the salad is served first) and the dinner fork on the inside. The dinner knife sits to the right of the plate with the blade facing the plate. 

SPLENDID TABLE:  Huckleberry’s custom centerpieces are known for having a more natural, gathered style. - PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN IRWIN
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF KAREN IRWIN
  • SPLENDID TABLE: Huckleberry’s custom centerpieces are known for having a more natural, gathered style.

If steak is served, the steak knife will replace the dinner knife. The spoon (if needed) will go on the right side to the right of the knife. The courses you’ve planned will dictate which utensils should be out. A good rule of thumb is to never place anything on the table that isn’t needed. Why add more confusion than necessary?

The main attraction

Centerpieces are the most eye-catching aspect of the table, bringing life to the space. 

Karen Irwin, owner of floral design studio Huckleberry Market in San Luis Obispo, makes custom centerpieces for both public and home events. 

“Now is the perfect time of year for floral centerpieces, with spring and summer flowers coming out,” Irwin said. “We are starting to use peonies and sunflowers.”

Beware: Centerpieces should never block anyone’s view from across the table. They should either be short enough to see over or tall enough to see under.

“For longer rectangular tables, we have long wooden containers to hold flowers,” Irwin added. 

Lanterns, candles, and stacked books offer a funky vibe. Note: With candles, be sure that they are contained properly so no one is lighting their sleeve on fire while reaching for the mashed potatoes. 

DIY

Most people associate table setting with old-fashioned standards. Luckily for you, it’s 2015 and breaking tradition is totally acceptable—in fact, it’s boring if you don’t. Today, apps like Pinterest are inspiring people to get crafty.

“Vintage is in right now,” Fergus said. “We are also seeing a lot more mismatched items, which is a part of the ‘Anthropology’ style that’s really popular.”

To achieve an affordable mismatched look, Fergus suggests going to Beverly’s, thrift stores, TJ Maxx, or even craigslist. 

“Just like in clothing—people have been a little more eclectic with mixing patterns, and that then translates into home décor,” Fergus said.


New Times Intern Kat Schuster can be reached at writerkatarax@gmail.com.

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