How to dress a dining table
Simple table dressing ideas for every occasion and every season...
Memories are made around the dining table – time spent with friends, family, and loved ones, sharing good food, conversation and laughter provides some of the most enduring. ‘Our family dinner table was my first platform – every dinner was all about sharing stories and jokes and points of view,’ says Phoebe Waller-Bridge of Fleabag fame.
Day to day, most of our effort goes into getting food on the table at the right time, filling up after a hard day at work, or feeding hungry children. Dressing the dining table may be the last thing on your mind. But one or two simple touches – a few seasonal flowers or sprigs of greenery in a small glass or ceramic vase, a single candle and linen napkins – can make a mid-week supper special, without any extra washing up. If you’re planning a more formal occasion, such as a weekend dinner party, you’ll want your table setting to do justice to your menu. A thoughtfully dressed table – it doesn’t have to be elaborate – provides the perfect context for good food and is guaranteed to please your guests.
One of the best things about a reclaimed teak dining table – see the Raft range here – is that it lends itself to any occasion and any style, whether you’re aiming for pared-down rustic look for an informal supper, planning a vintage-themed tea party, or organising an evening of fine dining.[caption id="attachment_2916" align="alignnone" width="700"] Image: Back Porch Musings[/caption]
Start with a theme
By far the easiest way to plan your table setting is to begin with a theme: season, colour or cuisine, for example – and everything flows from there. Today’s table settings make a point of bringing the outdoors indoors, using flowers, pot plants and greenery to reflect the theme and to create a more natural look, even for formal occasions.
Dressing a dining table, the essential elements
However you plan to dress your table, you’ll need to think about:
- place mats
- napkins (essential) and runners or tablecloths (purely optional)
- decoration – including flowers and greenery, candles or tea lights
A table for all seasons
For a winter occasion, you can’t beat a Scandinavian theme, using a colour palette of whites, greys and dark greens. Add plenty of candles or tea-lights (in jam jars for an informal supper), with pine cones and sprigs of evergreen or ivy along the table. A glass-topped table (very Scandinavian) like this round-topped version from Raft, lends itself to the maximum candle effect.
Celebrate spring with plenty of bright flowers, such as daffodils, narcissi and tulips, as a large centerpiece, or primrose and snowdrops in small individual glass holders by each place setting.
In summer, make the most of sumptuous, full blooms in stunning colours: roses, peonies, dahlias, and ranunculus.
Autumn lends itself to yellows, rich golds and warm browns – sunflowers, chrysanthemums and golden roses and dahlias. Individual pots, like Raft’s hand cast concrete pots, filled with succulents are a great feature and, as it’s harvest time, think about bowls of fruits, nuts and berries, with seasonal greenery. Add golden-hued English beeswax candles, like these, from Honey Bee Candles, for the finishing touch.
Match the table dressing to the menu
You can go to town with this. We’ve listed a few examples but the approach works for any type of cuisine: Moroccan, Indian, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Malayan – take your pick.[caption id="attachment_2919" align="alignnone" width="700"] Image: Modern Wedding[/caption]
Planning a Mexican supper? Channel your inner Frida Kahlo and go for hot, intense, vibrant colours: brightly painted crockery, chunky green recycled glassware, pots of cacti and succulents, hot pink roses and blue hydrangea, or take a trip to your local garden centre for some eye-catching house plants.[caption id="attachment_2923" align="alignnone" width="700"] Image: Vincenzo Dascanio[/caption]
A pizza and pasta supper for friends? Think Italian colours: pots of red and white geraniums or gerberas with their deep green leaves would be ideal. Rustic tableware such as Raft’s Nordic Sand range – see our Accessories section – includes dinner and dessert plates, a salad bowl and espresso mugs in neutral tones, and sets off the richness of Italian food perfectly.[caption id="attachment_2929" align="alignnone" width="700"] Image: DigsDigs[/caption]
For a formal dinner party, you can pull out the stops, with tapering candles and candleholders – maybe even a candelabra or two – white linen napkins and possibly a plain linen runner along the centre of the table and a sumptuous floral centerpiece, or small vases, with single roses, by each place setting. (If you have a Raft dining table, you won’t want to hide its striking grain and patina with a tablecloth.) And why not greet your guests with champagne or a pre-dinner cocktail, served in Raft’s distinctive Smoke flutes or cocktail glasses? You’ll find them, together with the full Smoke glassware range, which includes wine glasses and tumblers, here.[caption id="attachment_2918" align="alignnone" width="700"] Image: Kara's Party Ideas[/caption]
If you’re planning a tea party, follow the Mad Hatter’s example, with plenty of mismatched vintage porcelain cups, saucers, plates and cake stands, cottage flowers, and glass jugs filled with home-made lemonade or Pimm’s for a summer party. This might be the one occasion for a tablecloth – plain white or embroidered linen.[caption id="attachment_2934" align="alignnone" width="695"] Image: Sunny Coastlines[/caption]
A current culinary vogue in France is the apéro dînatoire; we’d probably just call it a buffet supper, with finger food, but that doesn’t sound nearly as enticing. The aim is to relax on the sofa, or amble from room to room, while eating. Whatever you call the occasion, your dining table is going to be covered with dishes and bowls but you can still add a finishing touch with some distinctly Gallic decoration – scatter springs of mint, rosemary, sage and other herbs, single flowers or tiny fruits around the serving bowls and dishes.
Our top tips for budget-friendly table accessories
Candles – we love scented candles and they’re perfect for creating the right atmosphere either before or after a great meal. For the table itself, we recommend eco-friendly unscented soy or beeswax candles or tealights, as they won’t overpower, or clash with, the aroma of your delicious food.
Cutlery – if you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need a set of cutlery with at least six place settings. Good cutlery isn’t cheap but this selection featured in the Independent won’t break the bank. If you’re set on silver plate (EPNS) or silver and happy to choose vintage, eBay has some bargains, as recommended back in 2011 by style guru, Liberty London Girl. One of her followers promptly snapped up a mahogany canteen of 80-year-old Oneida Adam silver plate, with 12 place settings and serving spoons. ‘The design itself dates from 1919, so more or less the same age as our house,’ said the happy buyer. ‘It has the original owner’s monogram, has obviously been well looked after, and is such a pleasure to use. We love bringing it out when friends come for dinner – it’s always a talking point!’ Prices have gone up on eBay but there are a few bargains to be had. Check with local auction houses too, as they often have bundles of silver and silver plate cutlery.
Napkins and table linen – look out for Fairtrade table linen, in neutral colours, like these ivory napkins from the Little Market, which are made by women artisans in India. If you’re keen on recycled goods, local charity shops (and their eBay outlets), and local auction houses often have vintage tablecloths and napkins. Keep an eye out for colourful hand-embroidered examples – perfect for traditional tea parties. And don’t forget the vintage china while you’re there.
Placemats – choose natural fibres and fabrics, like raffia, rattan, cork and linen, in neutral colours. They’re inexpensive, work well whatever the occasion, and will protect your table.
Platters, bowls and serving boards – for the rustic look, choose teak or ceramic. The Raft range is stylish enough to leave on display all year round; it’s not just for mealtimes or special occasions.
If you find yourself becoming just a tad obsessed by table settings, you might be tempted by a visit to Stockholm’s Nordic Museum, which has an entire exhibition dedicated to the subject. You can drool over Swedish table settings and see the way that fashions in crockery, cutlery and glassware evolved from the 16th century to the 1950s.
At Raft, we are the one of the world's largest retailers of 100% recycled teak, which we turn into stunning and enduring furniture for the home and workplace. We also have a full range of stylish accessories that you can browse here.