How To Set A Beautiful Table

You can never go wrong with hydrangeas

The word tablescape brings to mind images of overdone tables that are Sandra Lee-level complicated—you know, ones that don't leave any room for any actual food. But in reality, a tablescape is just a great way to set a table.

Here's a four-step guide to create a setting that elevates a meal—any meal, whether it's take-out pizza or an elaborate holiday spread.

① Start by choosing a tablecloth or runner.

Orlando-based event planner Jamie M. O'Donnell of Jamie O'+ Co recommends thinking of table linens the same way you do a suit or dress: "It's a foundation piece that sets the tone for the ensemble," she says. The hue you choose impacts the mood: Bright colors always feel casual, while crisp white creates a more formal vibe.

Keeping it minimal: Use a neutral runner (Ticking Table Runner, $35).

Getting creative: Try a bold-patterned tablecloth, like the shibori blue-and-white tablecloth spotted at Casa de Perrin.

② Select place mats, chargers or napkins.

These help protect your table while introducing elements of color and texture, but they don't have to match your linens. "The key to making it work is to find a thread of consistency in a color, shape or type of material," O'Donnell says.

Keeping it minimal: Fold neutral napkins (White Herringbone Napkins, $40 for eight) into rectangles and place one under each plate.

Getting creative: Purchase chargers in a muted metallic tone—gold or copper (American Atelier Sand Charger Plates, $40 for fourboth work beautifully.

③ Set out your plates, flatware and glasses. 

No upgrades necessary here—O'Donnell recommends using simple white plates, your daily flatware and clear glasses. Colorful glassware or interesting salad plates will give the table even more personality. 

Keeping it minimal: Layer a square white salad plate (Porcelain Square Plates, $10) atop the dinner plate.

Getting creative: Choose a salad or dessert plate in a bolder print (Iberian Journey Ceramic Dessert Plate, $35)

④ Accessorize with flowers and candles.

The main rule of thumb is to keep your centerpiece low; it'll look more sophisticated and make it easier for guests to chat freely. O'Donnell opts for hydrangeas, because they're voluminous and affordable. "I cut the stems short so the head of the flower sits right on the rim of the vase," she says. Then, surround the arrangement with plain white votive candles placed in short, clear glasses.

Keeping it minimal: Use a short, clear glass vase (Nambé Rose Bowl, $125).

Getting creative: Combine different-colored hydrangeas, like this centerpiece by Michael Devine (figurines purely optional).

Brie Dyas is a contributing writer for Tasting Table and an avid collector of your grandmother's fine china. You can find her occasionally sharing photos on Instagram at @briedyas.