The Lost Art of Table Settings
There is nothing better than sitting down to a lovely meal served on a table fit for a King or Queen! A meticulously prepared table sets the tone for a meal and shows that the host or hostess has placed some effort into making his/her guests feel welcome and special. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows I love my grand table settings for holidays and well...just everyday! I have studied a lot about French culture and gastronomy over the years. It's a hobby, what can I say! The French do not believe reserving their fine china, silver, and best table linens for special occasions. Nope, they use their best every day. Why? Because they believe in living every day to the fullest, and that they wholeheartedly believe they are worth the effort. After all, tomorrow isn't promised to any of us. So how do you make that ordinary table look its best for your hubby, children, or guests? The process is simpler than you can imagine.
If you are lucky enough to have your own fine China (Lenox, Wedgewood, Valleroy & Boch, Royal Albert, Waterford, Noritake, and so on), than by all means, use it, but everyday dishes like Corningware, Phaltzgraff, and Fiestaware, will do nicely! I'm a Lenox gal, myself. My pattern is Charleston, and I purchased it before I was married for my Hope Chest (yes, I really had a Hope Chest!). My fine China pattern consists of subtle blues, pinks, and greys set against that classic iridescent Lenox ivory background. It looks lovely in candlelight or bright sunshine! Your china or dish colors and patterns will make choosing table linens and napkins a breeze. So let's start with selecting table linens.
Table linens come in a variety of materials, colors, and patterns. I like to use cotton, polyester, or lace. I am partial to my lace tablecloths. I have them in Battenberg, Heritage, Vintage and other lace styles. They are, in my opinion, the classic tablecloth that is perfect for everyday or special occasions. On any given day, you can walk into my home and you will find lace tablecloths in my dining room and on my kitchen table. I just LOVE lace! But I digress, just choose a table linen that compliments your china or dinner plates. Use colors and patterns that are of contrast not conflict. Make sure that you have cloth napkins that match or compliment. Now, my mother as of late has taken to using plastic table coverings. She is 90 so I will let this go! In my opinion, plastic tablecloths are NEVER a good idea. Yes, they are convenient and easy to clean, but so are paper plates and I wouldn't serve a meal to guests on those. Please...use table lines made of a quality material and just say NO to plastic. Save that for your picnics! Also, please iron your tablecloth before placing it on your table. Wrinkles can ruin an otherwise perfect table. If you have a vintage or Battenberg tablecloth, then make sure to send it to the cleaners to be professionally steamed so it looks clean and perfect.
Now that my table cloth is on, I begin adding my center pieces and arrangements. The sky is limit on your creativity here! This is where you can go wild! I have used candles, candelabras, twinkle lights, lite pumpkins, gourds, trees, branches, fruit, fairy lights, lanterns, and fresh flower arrangements to create a middle masterpiece. Pinterest and Google have a myriad of ideas for creating great, eye-catching arrangements if you are not the creative type. Note that if your guests are allergic to scents or have breathing issues, you may wish to avoid scented candles. Either opt for the unscented variety or try using another low lighting source to create ambiance such as fairy lights, small oil lamps, or lanterns. Just remember to not leave the burning in an unoccupied room. A fire would not be a welcomed guest! If you are using flowers, make sure they are fresh and in season. Roses are always a classy touch with greens and baby's breath, but seasonal flowers with greenery make amazing arrangements. Just make sure that your centerpiece does not block the view of guests from one another. Nothing is worse than trying to talk to someone while trying to peek around a large bouquet for flowers!
Next, I select a Rounder or placemat that compliments my China selection. Rounders can be glass, plastic, decorative, or printed. They can be round or square and they make a lovely background for fine China. Again, if you are using placements, ditch the plastic Dollar Store ones for fabric or natural materials such as bamboo or a twine weave. Place your dinner plate directly in the center of the Rounder or placement. From here, we will begin building our masterpiece table setting.
Add your other pieces of china including cups and saucers, roll and salad plates, and soup bowls (if serving soup). Then add you silverware or flatware making sure that every guests has the proper eating utensils they need for the entire meal. This includes knife, fork, salad fork, steak knife, butter knife, shrimp fork, shell fish extractor, dessert fork, spoon, etc. I have included an example here of the proper layout for your table setting. As a note, you can lay the forks with tines down for a European flare or tines up for a more traditional American look. I've added the proper place setting guide here to help you properly arranged your dinnerware, glass wear, and flatware.
Now add your napkins. Napkins can be arranged in several lovely patterns. I learned a variety of folding patterns like swans, Japanese Kimonos, envelopes, etc. by reading lots of books on the subject. I found it amazing what one can do with a simple napkin. Also, if you plan to make one of these cloth sculptures for your guests to enjoy, invest in some starch. A starched cloth napkin is easier to work with than one that is floppy with no shape or structure. The stiffer the better for designs like swans. If you are not feeling that creative or are crunched for time, the classic napkin ring will save the day. I have a variety of napkins rings for all occasions and they look lovely on my table. I simply lay the napkin flat, pinch it in the middle, pull it up letting it hang, then apply the napkin ring. This creates a nice bouquet flourish that looks great sitting in the middle of the dinner plate.
Before your guests arrive, dim the chandelier, if you have that option, and light your candles or fairy lights. Create a soft, inviting ambiance for your guests as they enter. I even have soft dinner music playing in the background that puts my guests at ease when they enter the room. YouTube Café selections are fantastic and Pandora also has a nice variety of dinner music channels. Instrumental music is best. Save the vocals for a party.
Also, make sure that the room in really clean and that you have vacuumed. Crumbs or dust seen by guests while eating is unappealing and makes them wonder what else is not clean!
Don't be afraid to mix and match your dishes too. The French like to mix the plates and stemware for a non-traditional look. As long as the patterns and colors don't clash, you are good to experiment with this free style. Feel free to add Grandma's silver butter dish, an antique pair of salt and pepper shakers, a dinner bell, or other pieces that will make your table look complete. If I am serving a large group, I even use small decorative frames for nameplates. I print their first names on my printer using a fancy script. It looks lovely and helps seat guests in appropriate areas.
If you are serving wine or champagne for dinner, pour it in advance of your guests being seated. Make sure to use a tea towel around the bottle's neck to avoid drips and spills on your tablecloth. Always place the bottle in an ice bucket or, if you don't own one, take the wine back into the kitchen and refill glasses as needed. Be the perfect host or hostess and it will pay off.
And that's how you create a beautiful table setting. I love when my guests are pleasantly surprised when they enter my dining room. I often get compliments on the way my table looks. I think it's because the art of table setting is a lost practice for the exception of Hollywood, the White House, and Buckingham Palace. A great table setting is the sign of a good host or hostess and shows that your guests were worth the time and effort to make your ordinary table extraordinary. 💋