The Inspired Table: 5 tips for designing a successful tabletop

January 22, 2014

by Amy Beth Cupp Dragoo of ABCD Designs 


I don’t know about you, but this stretch from mid-January until the first glimpses of Spring are always the toughest for me. This past Saturday we had a 30% chance of snow in the forecast only to have eight inches of white, fluffy snow fall by noon. It was at that moment I knew that I’d best lift up our spirits with a cheery tabletop at dinnertime.

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To keep the kitchen looking organized, I always keep a tray next to my kitchen sink that includes counter top cleaner, dish soap, hand lotion (Omgosh, how cool is it that Good Home Co. offers custom mixed products?!) and hand soap in it. Up until now, I have used a mishmash of products on my tray - but as of the last few weeks - I’ve been enjoying the new scent of Summer House upon my kitchen countertop. The new scent is so fresh, clean and hopeful during these long, grey days of Winter!

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I always say that inspiration is everywhere, so on Saturday evening I took a hint from the scent of lemon-verbena that Summer House provides and created a cheerful tablescape that chased our Winter blues far, far away - or at least for as long as our meal lasted. I served broiled grass-fed steak, crisp kale salad, and a sauté of vegetables which further set the tone for our “Summer” meal.

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5 tips for setting a successful tabletop:
1)Don’t be afraid to Mix and Match on your tabletop for a cozy, lived-in, approachable feel. Forget the “old school rules.” Gold and silver accessories look great together. Mis-matched goblets look super, as long as they fill the same visual space on the tabletop. Mix and Match until your heart is content, but keep continuity on the tabletop by selecting a color palette for the flowers and linens.
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2) Flowers: Don’t ever use Lilies on a tabletop that you will be dining at. They have a far too strong a scent. Think twice before introducing to much of any scent that may detour your guests from an enjoyable meal.

Depending upon where you buy your flowers, you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck if you purchase one kind of flower en masse, as opposed to trying to put together a flower arrangement full of a bunch of different varieties.

While I used a traditional rose bowl for my tabletop (I feel every household should have one of these in their vase collection) don’t be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to the container or vessel you are arranging flowers in. Big old bowls, water pitchers, galvanized metal containers, a collection of bud vases, glass bottles and china serving dishes can bring a lot of interest to a tabletop and help drive home the theme of your tabletop design.

When arranging flowers, whatever you use down low in the arrangement you should use up high. This pertains to both the color and the variety of flower. I’ve written a few tutorials on ABCDdesign that may give you helpful tips on flower arranging: Setting Up your Floral Design Tool Kit, How To Arrange Flowers in a Glass Container, and How To Arrange Flowers in Wet Floral Foam should get you started. The second two links give tips on creating a balanced, beautiful floral arrangement.

Don’t look past incorporating colorful, seasonal fruits and vegetables into your tablescape. They look great piled high in bowls, or incorporated into your floral design. The best part of having incorporated these colorful lemons into my tabletop this week means I’ll be making Ina Garten’s Lemon Chicken Recipe sometime next week – YUM! Win/Win.
decorate with fruits or vegetables photo 7 3) Keep your china simple. If I were to buy only one set of china, it would be a plain white china with a silver or gold metallic rim – it’s so super versatile! The fact is that you can change out your linen napkins, placemats or tablecloth in a heart beat to completely change the look of your table. Also, no matter what kind of food you are serving, it always looks far more beautiful on a white plate. Have you ever wondered why fine restaurants almost always have white plates?
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4) Look unexpected places for table top design inspiration. Thrift stores, junk shops and antique malls will allow you to add quirky, interesting one-off pieces to your tablescapes for a reasonable price. For instance: I picked up this flawless piece of remnant fabric from the 1940s last Summer at our local antique mall. Little did I know it would help set the tone for this tabletop design by becoming my table cloth!
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All of the drinking vessels on this tabletop are vintage finds as well. Whenever I find etched wine goblets at a good price I add them to my collation. And I didn’t know exactly how I would use them, but when I saw this set of six colorful crystal tumblers I knew they would regularly bring much needed color to my tabletop.
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5) And I know I said forget the “old school rules,” but there are a few traditions that I like to keep alive. Utilize place card holders and lots of candlelight to set a memorable tone for any meal, day or night!
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Determine where you want your house guests to sit for dinner by putting out place cards. This is an opportunity to liven up the conversation. Place them next to someone you think they will have something in common with, or who they have not met before. Put couples at least one party guest apart at the table – heaven knows they talk to one another enough when they’re not at your dinner table.

This is also an opportunity to ad an unexpected element into the design of your table. I’ve been known to wrap up little gifts as a party favor or make a itty-bitty flower arrangement in a bud vase with their name attached by a ribbon. In this case, I used the lemon-verbena scented clothespins (AKA the Summer House line) to hold the place cards.

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Enter #TheInspiredTable Pinterest contest hosted by Amy Beth Cupp Dragoo and The Good Home Co.!

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