Setting the Perfect Table

A perfect table is much more than the structure of its legs, the pattern of its boards, and the material of its build. A perfect table is defined as much by what is on top of it – its dressing and settings – as how it looks standing alone. Therefore, whenever you add a table to your space, you must consider what you will place on and around it to ensure it conforms into your desired style.

Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to set a perfect table. As long as your ambition is balance and beauty within your home, this guide will help you acquire the right pieces to make your table an impeccable success.

First, a Note on Table Etiquette | There is a long history of etiquette associated with table settings. Since the first humans acquired food, eating has been a sacred ritual. We have evidence of table setting customs dating back to Ancient Greece, and descriptions of well-set tables exist in Homer and the Old Testament. Emily Post – perhaps the most famous authority on all things etiquette – write extensively about table settings and manners, explaining variations on settings for different levels of formality. If you want advice on the official way to set a table, you can start there.

However, the perfect table isn’t so easily proscribed. Rather, the perfect table should match your home in style and function; it should be beautiful and practical for your aesthetic and social needs. While you can take inspiration from the etiquette books of the past, you must remember that an accurate table isn’t necessarily a perfect one. For advice on setting a table unique to you, you can continue reading.

Tableware | The most functional elements of your table are the most important. Though your guests won’t notice them right away – unlike linens, centerpieces, and other décor – plates, flatware, and serving dishes will be handled directly throughout the meal, which means they will define your table’s style more than more obvious decorative elements.

Before you start shopping for tableware, you should identify the style of your kitchen or dining area. The primary descriptors of your decorating style will determine the material, color, and shape of your tableware. For example, minimalist homes would do best with white porcelain or clear glass dishes – like this Simon Pearce bowl. Conversely, earthenware looks chic in rustic spaces.

Flatware falls into similar categories, and the differences between sets aren’t as subtle as you might expect: Compare Alessi’s KnifeForkSpoon cutlery with Michael Aram’s Cast Iron flatware. You might consider mixing pieces from different collections to add interesting diversity – or you might match your entire collection. In all, you should have enough table settings for at least 12 diners.

Linens | When many people think of table linens, their minds immediately jump to long, traditional tablecloths. While a tablecloth might make a gorgeous foundation to your table settings, it certainly isn’t necessary; however, you do need another form of table linens: placemats.

The most important feature of any table linen, be it long, flowing tablecloth or individual placemat, is its material. Any fabric in your home should be the highest quality available for your budget. Natural fibers are ideal for table service; cotton and linen are popular choices because they are both durable and soft, but many people buy poor-quality cotton and linen because they are inexpensive. Instead, you should look for options long fibers, like Egyptian cottons and Irish or Belgian linens.

Centerpieces | It is easy to go overboard with centerpieces because they seem to be the only decoration on the table. In truth, every item on your table adds to the décor. Still, centerpieces add extra excitement, so you should place something special at your table’s center. There are a few simple rules to guide you toward appropriate centerpieces:

  • Centerpieces should not block guests’ line of sight.
  • Centerpieces should not crowd the table.
  • Centerpieces should set the style.

A simple, traditional centerpiece option consists of lit tapers. The beauty of candles is their simple charm and flexibility; this Roundabout candleholder set from CB2 would be gorgeous in a minimalist setting, while this bronze candle tree from Crate & Barrel would be chic in a rustic home. For more drama, you can organize flowers in an eye-catching vase. Like candlesticks, vases come in all shapes and sizes – but you must be careful to harmonize the color and style of the vase with the flowers you place within. Short, squat vases are better for wide blooms, while tall vases better accommodate a few long-stemmed blossoms. As long as you follow the rules of centerpieces, you should finish your table setting perfectly.

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