I hate to break it to you, but if you’re simply setting the table before your dinner guests arrive, you’re doing it ALL WRONG. We’re adults now (allegedly), which means we get a sense of joy from little things we might not have noticed when we were younger, like carefully curated tablescapes. (Did I even know what the word tablescape meant 10 years ago? Definitely not. But it’s v important to me now.)
As the pandemic continues to age us at terrifying speeds, dinner parties are more of A Thing™ now than ever, and it can be fun as hell to dress up both ourselves and our tables for the occasion. Because we love you and we want your table to be the chicest your guests have ever seen, we scoured the feeds of some of the finest party planners, interior designers, and lifestyle artistes (plz read with a French accent) for gorgeous table inspo, with tips on how to #GetTheLook, below. Think: changing up the cutlery, using produce as candleholders, adding some statement lighting, and so much more.
Scroll down for actually easy table decoration ideas to zhuzh up your kitchen, dining room, or backyard table, and prepare to have the most-’grammed dinner party your friend group has ever seen. You can thank me later when your hostess gifts start rolling in.
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I don’t know about you, but tablecloths seemed like something only grandmas worried about until I became an “adult” (quotation marks because that seems too impossible to be true). Now, I realize they can be game changers when it comes to a tablescape. Laying out a tablecloth just makes a meal feel infinitely fancier, and you can get super creative with colors and patterns. Don’t want to shell out $$$ to buy a new one? Try spreading out a cute fabric you already have, like a big scarf or bandana (like you see here).
Dining outside is one of the best parts of summer (and spring…and fall) so getting the perfect al fresco setup is ess-en-tial. Get some comfy chairs, or a cushioned bench, if ya wanna be like Camille Styles, and an outdoor blanket you don’t mind spillin’ on, and you’ll be ready to go.
Nothing says summer quite like fresh fruit, so why not decorate for your next sunny soiree with just that? Slice up some juicy grapefruits, lemons, oranges, and whatever else looks cute at the grocery store and use them to make centerpieces, decorate runners, and even garnish your dishes and drinkware.
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it a million times: Rattan is in, and it’s not going anywhere (anytime soon at least). Stay on trend and up the earthiness of your dining room by stocking up on rattan placemats, cup holders, table runners, and more. Bonus: the natural material looks great with damn near everything, no matter your aesthetic.
The holidays are all about eating, drinking, and hosting, so there’s no better time to make your tablescape feel extra festive. If you wanna go all out with the decorations, go right ahead, but personally, I think the subtler the better when it comes to festive fixings. Think little pumpkin figurines instead of massive plastic jack-o-lanterns, or neutral-colored nutcrackers instead of tacky blue “Let It Snow” napkins.
“You get a candle! You can a candle!” —
Oprah you when setting the table for your next dinner party. The more candles the merrier, duh, so popping one beside each place setting (like cutlery, but way more fun) is the perfect way to set the mood for a cozy feast. Uhh, just make sure you go with a less flammable tablecloth material like cotton when you set these candles out…
Invest in whimsical dishware.
Garden parties need dishes just like the ones you see here. Butterflies…flowers…pastels…the more fairy-like, the merrier.
Decorate with fresh florals.
There’s nothing better than having fresh flowers in your home, and what better place to put a brand-new bouquet than in the middle of your table, for all to see. Don’t have the capacity to take care of real blooms? Don’t worry, there are plenty of faux flowers that could fool even the judgiest house guest.
Stick to neutral on neutral.
So, we all know that red is a color that inspires people to eat, but sometimes red just isn’t the vibe. Neutrals never go out of style and they can set a calming mood—something that we can all use a little more of. Better yet, neutrals can be paired with so many other colors (especially other neutrals) so you can mix and match for endless options.
Spruce up the kids’ table.
Not all dinner parties can be adults-only, and the happier the crew at your kids’ table, the easier your night will be. Parenting expert Chrissy Horton (who also has a background in tablescapes!) recommends getting little ones entertained by covering your table with brown craft paper. Not only does it make clean up easier, but the kids can doodle all night long.
Just like in fashion, mixing textures is an easy way to add visual interest when you’re decorating a table. Try putting together dishes that didn’t come in the same set, or that you never would have thought of displaying side by side, and see how they look. Is the finished product overwhelming to the eye? Switch it up. Is it boring? Add another piece with a different texture. Sometimes you don’t know what will look chic AF until you try.
Creating and printing out a menu for an event—even if it’s just a regular girls’ night in—just makes things feel extra special. Go all out and get them done and shipped to you on a site like Shutterfly, or design a lil something on Microsoft Word or Canva and print them out yourself (slash go over to your parents’ house because who owns a printer anymore?).
Give it some Old Hollywood flair.
We can’t all be invited to the Oscars…but we can throw a party that looks like we were. Go big on Old Hollywood glam with a color scheme of gold, white, and black, plus a little sparkle here and there. The more candles and champagne flutes, the better. Ahem, and the award for best dinner party goes to…
Put down some pillows.
Dining outdoors is supposed to be joyful, and no one is joyful when their booty is in pain. Pop a fun patterned pillow on each seat, whether you’re sitting inside or out. Only problem: No one will want to leave at the end of the night.
Bring golden hour inside.
We could all use a little more sunshine in our lives, so why not make your tablescape match the happiest hour of them all: golden hour. Yellow candles? Check. Gold silverware? Check. Bunches and bunches of honey-colored florals? Check, check, check. *Cue “Golden” by Harry Styles.”*
Bowl up some fresh fruit.
You’re not a fully formed adult until you have a fruit bowl. That’s just #facts. Pop ’em in a ceramic bowl on the table and you’ll have a) fresh and colorful decor and b) grab-and-go healthy snacks.
Bring in a bit of the beach.
Nothing beats a day at the beach—so try to bring the beach home with you! If you live in a coastal town (or just want to change things up for summer) try decking out your dining room with some nautical-inspired decor. Take to your table with seashells, rattan, sand-filled jars, and more for a beachy look that’s subtle but seaside chic.
Change up the cutlery.
News flash: Your cutlery doesn’t have to be boring silver. Ditch those hand-me-down forks and knives your parents gave you when you went off to college and invest in something a little more exciting. I love changing things up with colored cutlery—specifically gold and matte black.
Don’t be afraid of color.
Sure, neutrals may be in (yes, neutral-on-neutral is still a thing) but sometimes you just need to bring in a little color, baby! Don’t shy away from the bold and the beautiful—stock up on dishware, decor, art, and florals in shades of yellow, orange, pink, green, purple, and red. Neutrals may instill a sense of calm, but a pop of color can bring a sense of joy to the party.
If you’re hosting a meal for a ~special occasion~ like holidays, birthdays, or engagement parties and want to kick your entertainment game up a notch, think up some creative trinkets you can add to each seat. U.K.-based event designer Fiona Leahy, for example, loves adding crackers (no, not the edible kind) to each plate—even if it’s not December. “My favourite pastime is making crackers, and I never limit them to Christmas,” she captioned this shot on the ‘gram. “Who couldn’t do with a cracker right now?” Retweeeeeet, Fiona.
Swap in a woven runner.
Sure, you could roll out a linen or cotton table runner, but wouldn’t it be more fun if it was a little more ~unique~? Weave in some woven elements by adding a macramé runner—the more fringe, the better. I personally love this handmade one from a small business owner on Etsy!
Give your candles a twist.
Every good tablescape includes a candle or two. But if you ask me, those candles are better with a twist—literally. Twisted candles are all the rage right now—available in dozens of shapes, sizes, and colors—and look so cool it hurts. Buying from a store can also hurt your wallet, so try this tutorial for DIYing ’em.
Make it monochromatic.
Blue on blue? Love it. White on white? Spectacular. Pick a color and stick to it. I promise it’ll look super put-together, and it’s just so. damn. easy.
Old-school picnic blanket, but make it chic. It’s hard not to channel your inner child when you’re surrounded by gingham, and with the right accouterments, the print can be simply stunning. Pair it with some plaid napkins and neutral tablewares (as seen here), and it’s a part-ay.
Turn your produce into candleholders.
Bet you never thought to stab a candlestick in an artichoke, did ya? Me either, but after seeing Laura Jackson do it, I’m about to turn allll my fruits and veggies into candle holders, especially the ones that are just about ready for the compost (We! Love! Sustainability!).
Channel a hot Italian summer.
I mean…tell me you don’t see this picture and instantly think of Positano. It just screams “the best pasta you’ve ever had in front of the best view you’ve ever seen.” While you may not live in Italy, you can enjoy la bella vita from home—just channel your inner Nonna and cook a delicious (aka cheese-filled) meal served atop a striped tablecloth with fresh blooms.
Set out some name tags.
Events feel infinitely more important if you know a seating chart was arranged for the occasion. So adding nametags can make a brunch, lunch, or din feel ~exclusive~ even if it’s just at your house and you ordered a buncha takeout. Plus, they look cute, and I don’t even need to explain how much we deserve cuteness for the sake of cuteness in the year that is 2022.
I mean…f*ck social norms, am I right? Grab your boldest and brightest dishes, tablecloths, and drinkware, and put together a tablescape Anna Wintour would turn her nose up at. Maximalism is in, baby, in! Bring on the neon!
Pay attention to the details.
Size may not matter when it comes to table decor, but details definitely do. Make a dinner party extra special by adding little touches that your guests won’t be able to help posting to Instagram. For your Etsy wishlist: personalized drinkware, themed napkins, hand-written thank you notes.
Make “dinner for one” extra-special.
Who says you need a partner to have a date night in? Dining for one just got chic as hell, so light a candle (or five), arrange some flowers from Trader Joe’s, and bust out the fabric (*gasp*) napkins and fancy silverware. Table for one, s’il vous plait.
Your guest’s presence is a present, so why not wrap their place setting up in a bow? It has Madeline (IYKYK) vibes all over it, and I’m here for it.
Make it “go” but not “match.”
Despite what your grandma might say, things don’t have to match perfectly. What matters is that they “go,” ya know? Feel free to get creative with your tableware—mixing and matching colors, patterns, and brands—just try to have an overall vibe in mind when you’re putting it all together. Pieces can still look great together even if they aren’t purchased in a set. (And honestly, most times they look even better that way.)
Match the cake to the tablescape.
This is definitely *a choice* but it’s a choice I am allll about making. Just think of the photos. And why stop with the cake? Match the tablecloth to your outfit! Or your outfit to the floral arrangements! Even the floral arrangements to the scent of the candles! We love a theme and we won’t apologize for it!!!
If Shea McGee from Dream Home Makeover on Netflix says decorating your table with moss is cool, then it’s cool. No further questions. Throw some live moss in a cute bowl for a low-effort centerpiece, or check your local craft store for preserved moss, which takes absolutely *zero* effort to keep alive. They give off the same good green vibes as a bouquet of flowers, but stay alive for waaaay longer.
If you’ve got a few different dishes that deserve to go on display…go ahead, show ’em off. Stack your plates on top of each other—in descending size order, of course—and prepare to feel like you’re about to indulge in a tasting menu (even if you’re about to crack open some takeout containers).
Take the florals skywards.
Okay so maybe this isn’t something you’d do for a casual Wednesday night dinner, but for a special occasion…I’m simply obsessed. Pick up a few bundles of fake or live flowers and string them upside down above your table for an absolutely dreamy display, like this seaside wedding in Italy. Even if you can’t do a whole sea of blooms, even a hanging centerpiece can add some floral flair.
String up some lanterns.
Whether you’re dining instead or out, hanging lanterns can add a subtle glow and up the ambiance. They’re basically the string light’s cooler, more cultured older cousin.
Let the runner run wild.
I’m obsessed with this idea for engagement parties, bridal showers, and even weddings. Treat your runner like a veil and let the train trail off the table and dance in the wind. Breezy white fabrics encouraged if you are going for a wedding look!!!
Switch up your seating.
Who says your dining chairs all have to match? Throw a little curveball and mix and match your seating setup—because the more fun chairs the merrier, right? But actually, lots of designers are doing this now, playing up different textures and colors to tie a room together. Try switching up the chairs at the heads of the table (like you see here) for a fun change that’s not toooo funky.
Hang some statement lighting.
Nothing adds some oomph to a space quite like great lighting, and your table deserves the chicest of all the spotlights. Investing in a timeless statement piece (like the one seen here) can totally change the look and feel of a room—and let you see your dinner guests in a better light!
Associate Lifestyle Editor
Hannah Chubb is the associate lifestyle editor at Cosmopolitan, covering all things home, travel, food, health, career, and more.
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