First things first — no matter what kind of table you set, you must get the basics right. It’s so easy when you think of the Emily Post Institute’s basic table setting format. That is, think “FORKS.” This means place settings from left to right are “F”orks, round “O” plates, ignore the “R,” and go straight to “K” for knives, which leaves “S” for spoons. Then follow the usage plan, which means the first utensil that will be used should be positioned so the user will pick that up first. In other words, the salad fork goes on the outside of the large fork. Once you know this acronym, throw out all the other rules when it comes to creating a tablescape.
It’s always a great idea to start with a theme, whether it is a simple color theme or something more fanciful. Leave formal centerpieces for formal occasions, but with buds bursting and a generous offering of green leaves at beck and call, Mother Nature is a most affordable and accommodating foliage supplier. People often don’t realize how gorgeous a table setting can be with just greenery. There are so many different shades of green in our New England back yards that a few dark rhododendron leaves combined with light green and rainbow-colored coleus leaves will brighten any table. And don’t forget that some of those indoor plants that can add a touch of whimsy, like a spider plant cutting or a bright, verdant trail of philodendron. Consider a bouquet of different leaves at each table setting and watch the beauty of really going green charm your guests.
As for containers, well, that’s when imagination and fun kick in. Sure, you can use a vase, but a variety of miniature cups or cordial glasses filled with a few buttercups, dandelions or violets will surely have your guests smiling. For added interest, use those old souvenir cups or shot glasses you collected from around the country or the world, fill with baby’s breath, and add instant conversation starters as well as attractive accents.
You doesn’t even need a living centerpiece if creativity cranks in. Tag sales and flea markets, which are plentiful in spring and summer, come in handy when looking for the perfect jewelry box to take center stage on your table. Filled with faux strings of pearls or colorful beads piled high, this centerpiece will be particularly clever when paired with stretchy elastic bracelet napkin rings over pretty napkins.
Music boxes will certainly create harmony for the music lovers on your guest list. They come in all sizes and feature music of every genre. You don’t have to worry about blocking guests’ views of one another when using short items like these on your tablescape. Miniature books, art books, or stacks of same-colored books are also attention-getters when decorating a table. Just about every town has an annual book sale. Look for the minis or thematic subjects. If you’re having a mystery dinner, buy up some old mystery books. Paperbacks in good condition as well hardcovers with or without book jackets will set the mood quickly.
Bird lovers will have plenty to chirp about with birdhouses of various shapes and sizes on your fanciful summer table. Craft stores sell small wooden birdhouses just waiting to be painted your favorite color. You can even find authentic-looking faux birds for more colorful accents.
Don’t think that these ideas are too risky. In the heyday of the Newport mansion dinner parties, hosts and hostesses took great delight in coming up with novel tablescapes. One such hostess covered her entire table with pure white sand, and in addition to the forks and spoons on the table, each guest got a gold-painted miniature shovel. The guests were then encouraged to dig for real gems.
While most budgets don’t allow for such extravagance, setting a seaside table with everything from clam shells and scallop shells to iridescent moon shells will delight waterfront cottage renters and sailors. White rope napkin rings and a ship-in-a-bottle centerpiece can turn a table into a memorable nautical experience.
For an outdoor picnic, save those green plastic berry containers, line them with a pretty paper napkin and use in place of a bread dish. A warm muffin or freshly baked piece of bread tucked inside fit perfectly into the menu as well as the motif. With mason jars a current trend, add a string of tiny lights into each jar and light up your table as stunningly as any candle and as fanciful as a twinkling lightning bug convention.
Tablecloths aren’t always necessary for outdoor gatherings. A variety of placemats will suffice. However, an elephant ear leaf, faux lily pad or spray of fern will make a most natural looking placemat.
Whether it’s a floral arrangement in a boot, toy boats on a bright blue cloth, or a favorite collection of bells set on old sheets of music, use what you have to decorate your spring and summer table and reveal your creativity with panache.