China, glass, cutlery (flatware) and overall linens together make up the overall look of any setting. On to that framework can be added candles and their holders plus the table decorations, which are the icing on the cake. These are obviously areas where you can add personal touches that may be quite different from anyone else’s, and not even very different each time you entertain. But with imagination and flair, you can be creative with all the elements that go into laying a table. Your existing tableware will have the greatest influence on the table settings you create. You will probably instinctively choose designs that suit the style of your home, whether it is elegantly modem, traditional or has a more relaxed country look. Given this starting point, however, there is no reason why your table has to look the same each time you set it. Of course, you may have a favourite look, and you may always want to re-create it. But there will be occasions, such as Christmas, Easter or at special celebrations, when you wish to make your table look more special than usual. The other main reasons for wanting to adapt the look of your table settings are that, as time goes by, fashions in home style change and personal tastes develop. You may want to reflect these changes in your table settings.
The art of successful table setting is to be clever with the crockery, so mix, match, adapt and adorn your dinner service to suit the mood and the occasion. The effective way to mix pieces from different sets is to link them by colour. So by collecting all white or all cream, for example, you can create a wonderful overall effect from pieces that were not necessarily designed to match. Another way is to collect two different but harmonious colours, black and white for example.
Under plates, too, provide a lot of scope. Buy brass to lend sparkle at Christmas or other celebrations, or coloured glass to add a new look on any occasion. Alternatively, you could put clear glass plates on top of those from the main set, with something decorative between, such as leaves, fabric or flowers that will show through and can be changed to suit the mood.
Whatever style of cutlery (flatware)you choose, a collection that complements the overall setting will enhance the look of the table.
Highlight the gold rim of elegant porcelain soup cups by contrasting it with brass. Even if your dinner service is plain, it will look richer if set on metal. Add a gold tassel and wrap party favours in gold organza for very special occasions.
Knives, forks and spoons can have a wonderful sculptural quality to them, which may be used in many ways in a table setting. The formal and obvious way is to lay them, in accordance with etiquette, soldier-like on either side of each plate. But try adorning the cutlery, tying it in pairs or threes with ribbon, raffia or string. You could also tie in a place card, or tuck in a flower, leaf or, if you wish, a chandelier crystal, a tassel or a shell for extra decoration.
Glass is so beautiful that it needs little decoration, but it is lovely to make something special of, say, a pre-dinner cocktail. Frosting the rim with egg white and caster (superfine) sugar is a traditional idea, and one that always delights. Tassels, ribbons, cords and beads can be tied decoratively around the stems of glasses, or golden wire wound around them in graceful imitation of Italian wine bottles.
It is not difficult to be innovative with linens. Napkins can very easily be equipped with unusual ‘rings’, embroidered or embellished with beads. Nor do table cloths necessarily have to have been purpose-made. Any suitable length of fabric — bedspreads, saris, sheeting or curtain lining — will do. When a fabric is not too expensive, you can embellish it with stamps, stencils or fabric paint; choose to appliqué or embroider it, or stitch on less obvious trimmings, such as buttons and shells, pebbles and even twigs.
Create a table decoration that is as simple as a few seasonal flowers in a vase or as elaborate as a formal arrangement. But the real creativity comes when you add your own flair, perhaps transcending the obvious. Wrap vases in almost anything from brown paper to string to give myriad new looks. Place flowers in vases, ready-tied to give them natural-looking support; if the container is glass, the securing string will add to the decoration. Gild flowers, foliage and berries, and add fruits or vegetables to a floral arrangement. Stand flowers with straight, sturdy stalks, on plates or in shallow bowls, tied to keep them in an upright position.
Fruits and vegetables make wonderful organic table arrangements. As well as the more obvious grapes, pears, figs and pomegranates, use pumpkins and marrows (squashes),perhaps decoratively carved and internally lit with a night-light. Gilding fruits and vegetables, or tying them up with string or raffia, adds the extra touch to make them different.
A witty reference to silver chain decanter labels can be made with a necklace. There is something sensuous about this one, made of chandelier crystals and feathers.
Evocative of American Indian dress, a leather thong bound round and round natural linen, then trimmed with a few game feathers, looks fabulous.