Taking a few minutes to set a special table can add a sense of occasion – even if the actual occasion goes awry! You don’t have to be a decorating genius to put these ideas into practice. Home editor Virginie Martocq shares her top tips for simple table settings
Make a table runner with leftover pieces of fabric and iron-on hemming tape. Use a ruler to keep the edges straight and even. Here’s an easy trick to help minimize tablecloth stains: place runners horizontally under table settings. Update a white table linen set in less than 10 minutes with a colourful runner and new napkins. Inexpensive saris, silk scarves and blankets have all made their way onto my table in a pinch.
Buy lots of one kind of flower, and don’t be afraid to cut the stems short. Rather than an ill-conceived bouquet, a large amount of a single blossom will have a bigger impact. My favourite cheap cheats are carnations or less than perfect day-old roses, which can easily be packed into a low bowl. Individual flowers are also easy and quick, and an elegant touch. Place a large bloom (dahlias, roses or mums are a good choice) in a small, pretty dish either on the plate or next to the glass. Use your imagination and pepper the table with colour and texture, no floral savvy necessary.
Greenery and foliage also make a big statement, for little cost. Long, tall leaves are a great alternative to floral arrangements. To make sure your arrangement doesn’t interfere with conversation, make them either low enough so that people can talk over them, or tall enough so that people can talk under them. If they get in the way, take them off the table once everyone is seated.
Get creative with the centerpiece. Use unusual containers to display items- a rarely used soup terrine or wine bucket to hold fruit, a hurricane vase filled with holiday ornaments or walnuts- you can even stand pillar candles in colourful lentils. Breadbaskets can also hold fruit and flowers. Trifle bowls and footed plates are also great places to display ornaments or piles of sugared fruit. (DIY alert: Sugared fruit is easy to make and always impressive- simply paint fruit with egg white and roll in white sugar. Dry on parchment paper away from damp for at least an hour).
When it comes to candles, don’t feel you have to stick to candleholders. Try planters filled with rocks, sugar cubes, rice or dried beans to hold tall skinny candles. White or multi-coloured twinkle lights can be magical in a large glass container, or running along the table – hold them in place with invisible tape.
The possibilities are absolutely endless. Having a pre-arranged seating plan helps to avoid the inevitable confusion that comes from a crowd of people standing around a table. Making handmade name cards is a great way to keep children busy while dinner is underway. If you hate your handwriting, as I do, a ready-made template on the computer makes creating place cards a breeze.