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My favorite part of a dinner party at friends? The eye candy. Don't get me wrong. I love to be invited into the sanctuary of someone's home, to indulge in a deliciously prepared meal and linger over conversation and spirits. But I'm like a little kid when it comes to a beautifully set table. I marvel at the wonder of it, whether it's simple and understated, or over the top.
A FORMAL SETTING
Through the years, my approach to hosting dinners and luncheons, happy hour and galas at my home has evolved and changed. When we lived in our grand old home in Atchison, things were pretty formal. I relished the opportunity to do up my table.
With Dan in the kitchen, cooking away, or a caterer bringing in delicious cuisine, I was free to focus on crafting a tablescape. I got a kick out of seeing people's jaws drop when they saw a branch suspended from the ceiling, dripping with sparkling prisms, or a richly layered centerpiece reaching toward the ceiling.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Now that we are in our snug little cottage, we are more laid back, and our parties are much more casual. I strive for simplicity and style on the table and in the evening's menu. I'll pop into a favorite restaurant and pick up some carry out, like grilled salmon on a bed of fresh field greens and a side of crusty artisan bread and call it good. Sometimes, guests are greeted at the door with a glass of wine and an apology: You drove all the way across town for us to serve you pizza! Somehow, they never seem to mind that I didn't slave away in the kitchen. They know the joy of a meal is in the company. And, and my house especially, the food is just extra.
But as simple as I keep the menu, I still like to treat my guests to a wonderfully dressed table that shows them how very glad we are to welcome them to our home. In our fast-paced world, where we are always so rushed, the luxury of a dinner party in someone's home is a rare event. I want to let our guests know that they are worth a little extra time and creativity.
Lots of our customers tell us that when it comes to setting a stylish table, they don't know where to begin. Inspiration can come from lots of different places: Your dishes, the season, table linens, accents, a color palette you want to bring to life. Pick your muse, then start to play. If you have more than one set of dishes, mix them up a bit. We like to combine dishes in lots of different colors, styles and patterns.
Think about what you can use as a base for your table design, from table linens to chargers, to give your table character. I like it all, from a formal table covered in a traditional starched white tablecloth and silver chargers to unconventional table linens like seasonal dishtowels and trays used as placemats.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE CENTERPIECE
The star of the show is often the centerpiece. You can make yours elaborate, or wonderfully simple.
Right now, my bliss is filling three blue and white planters with potted flowers, lined up down the center of my table. No matter what you do at center stage, think about adding candlelight. It just makes everything seem special. And, when you get to a certain age, you are thankful to be bathed in its forgiving light!
This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at www.nellhills.com