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Center of attention
A winning tablescape sets the mood for entertaining

Photos by Dan Bishop

November 2012

At holiday time — and at just about any gathering of family and friends — the focus is on the dinner table where most of the festivities occur. Like a landscape, a tablescape creates the backdrop for your meal. "A tablescape should draw you in with a variety of interesting details," says Pam Stasney, photo stylist, set decorator and interior designer. "Start by finding something to inspire you — it can be anything. Your closet is full of patterns and designs; nature has an abundance of colors and textures," she says. "Maybe you have a favorite piece of art or, like me, you’re inspired by the architecture of the Milwaukee Art Museum. All of these can serve as a springboard for your table décor," she says.

Centerpiece Ideas

When choosing a centerpiece, make sure that it will add to the beauty of your table without overpowering it or blocking conversation. Fresh flowers in low arrangements are always beautiful, but don’t rule out new ideas. "Think outside the box. Use seasonal fruits or veggies to create a feast for the eyes," Stasney says.

Bill Johnston of Elegant Events likes to set a scene with table design. "Depending on the occasion, you can use natural elements like greenery, branches or shells you picked up on a family vacation. Make it something unexpected that will surprise your guests," he says. "For one Christmas party, I used old Tonka trucks as a table decoration and the guests loved it. You don’t have to buy something new. "

Candlelight is essential on any table, Johnston says. "It’s true that everyone and everything looks better in candlelight. It adds the element of romance," he says. Stasney agrees. "You can create a gathering of candles. Place candles on an elegantly framed mirror, and it becomes a lake of luminous reflections," she says.

Food Presentation

Create an eye-catching table with risers and pedestals for height with visual interest and maximum visibility. Use an assortment of levels to display the food you are serving, Stasney says. "Whether you use cake pedestals or create levels by covering boxes with fabric — whatever your method, having a variety of vertical levels on your table will make an amazing first impression. Of course, the food needs to be scrumptious to keep them coming back for more," she says.

If you have a small dining area with a table that leaves little room for serving pieces, consider presenting your entire meal on one large platter, Johnston says. "Place the meat in the middle and garnish with the vegetables. It can still be beautiful."

Be creative, Stasney says. "I live in a small condo and only have a small dining table. When I entertain, I break out my two 6-foot folding tables. When those unsightly tables are covered with a fresh, fun tablecloth or an elegant fabric, it’s like magic," she says.

The Table Eclectic

Having a large gathering? Don’t be concerned if you don’t own an entire set of matching china, Johnston says. "Choose items that complement one another, but this doesn’t mean that all items should be the same; just that they work together. Gone are the days when your place settings need to match. If you collect china, mix and match the pieces. If they are things that you really love, it doesn’t matter. You can make every other place setting the same, just try different combinations and different colors. Whatever you do, the decorations and style of your table should be a reflection of you," he says.

Look around your house and make use of what you already own, Stasney says. "Mason jars become flower vases, photo frames become serving trays. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create a ‘wow’ impact," she says.

Be Prepared

You will keep your stress level down and save your best self for your guests by prepping ahead. "The more you do in advance, the more you will enjoy visiting and feasting with your guests," Stasney says. "Give yourself time to play with your table arrangement of platters, bowls and serving vessels before your party. Once the food is finished you will know exactly each item goes on the table, and you won’t be scrambling for a serving spoon at the last minute," she says. "Leave yourself a little time for a cocktail or a taste test before the doorbell rings."



This story ran in the November2012 issue of: