Setting the table: Tips and basics

Table tips

Use rentals. Unless you love your table legs or your rug, rent a floor-length tablecloth – and perhaps seat cushions, too, Anne Berman says.

Repurpose items. Sascha Wolhandler lets oversized napkins stand in as runners. They give the table a feeling of luxury, she says, although she picked them up at a hotel sale for $1 each.

Sparkle and shine. Use plenty of glasses, says Wolhandler, because they sparkle so beautifully in candlelight. And they don't have to match, either.

Set your table early. So you can add to it, says Wolhandler. She picked up a pair of interesting loaves of bread to add to hers. In the summer, she might add corn, blueberries, peaches or cheese.

Be table-ready. Look for table elements at garage sales, thrift shops, estate sales and antique shops. Whenever you see spools of luxurious ribbon on sale, snap it up, says Berman.

Go for the charge. Chargers in metallic or holiday colors will pull your table together. Don't have chargers? Simply use a larger dinner plate.

Table basics

Plates. Stock up on at least a dozen white dinner plates and a dozen white salad plates, says Kevin Sharkey, Martha Stewart Living's executive editorial director for decorating. Two dozen if you can swing it. "That way no one will feel like the 13th person with the odd plate who probably shouldn't be here." White dinner plates show off food best, say our experts, while dessert plates are a good place to toy with color.

Flatware. "Flatware is more fun when it doesn't match," says Sharkey. Unearth your various inherited sets, bring on the fancy wedding gift sets, and pair it all with a few sale sets from a discount store. (It doesn't have to hold up to everyday wear and tear, so don't fret too much over the quality of your add-on sets.)

Glasses. "Find a glass that's all-purpose and inexpensive that you can use over and over and over," says Jen Aaronson, Martha Stewart Living's editorial director of food and entertaining, who prefers a something without a stem that works for wine, cocktails and water. If you're hosting a larger-than-usual shindig, consider renting your glassware. "I tend to rent mine when I'm having large cocktail parties," says Sharkey.

Linens. Keep at least two dozen cloth napkins on hand, says Sharkey, who is partial to linen, unless you're hosting more than two dozen guests, in which case he recommends paper napkins. "For me it's a luxury," he says. Napkins are a natural place to play with color and various prints, but Aaronson extols the virtue of white here as well. "White's going to go with any tablecloth or place mats, and even if you have different kinds — some cotton, some linen, some embroidered — all white lets you mix and match them."

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