How to Set a Dinner-Party Table That Looks Chic, Not Cluttered

Updated 04/08/19

Jenny Siegwart/Courtesy of Homepolish. Design by Caity Hall.

Whether you’re an amateur chef or a takeout queen, half the fun of throwing a dinner party is dreaming up a new, Instagram-worthy tablescape. (The other half is shopping for wine, naturally.) There are so many pretty things to pile on, from graphic runners to metallic chargers, vintage china to sleek modern candlesticks. The key is knowing which to choose and when to stop, assuming your desired look isn’t “Home Goods blew up in my dining room.” Whether you’re hosting a holiday feast or a girls’ night in, these five guidelines from Homepolish designer Amy Courtney will help you set the scene without going overboard.

Make the plates a clean slate.

The average dish set offers plenty of circular objects you could scatter in front of your guests, but before you try to squeeze that cute little bread plate in, consider this: Leaving a little negative space around each place setting often looks best. “Don’t overcrowd the table with a ton of dishes,” Courtney advises. For instance, if you want to use a dinner plate and salad plate, you could skip the charger. Keeping your main plates neutral is also a way to balance out trendier or more daring decorative elements: “White or bone is always a classic choice, but feel free to pepper in a gold rim or a subtle pattern for some variation.”

Treat flatware like high-end accessories.

Too often, the forks, spoons, and knives are an afterthought—we just slap down whatever set has lived in our drawer since college graduation (thanks, Ma!). But Courtney says this is actually your best place to splurge and stray from the basic. “Flatware is your jewelry—something everyone notices when it comes to look, weight, and feel,” she says. “Go with any finish that suits the theme and don't be afraid to go all out. I'm loving matte black or brass right now and have recently been intrigued by iridescent collections!”

Rethink the floral centerpiece.

Not only are mixed floral arrangements pricey, this is another area where less is often more. “I like to do stems of flowers or even a few branches in clear vases rather than full bunches,” Courtney says. “Not only does it declutter the look, it makes for easier conversation across the table.”

Dinner party table waiting to be set.

Daniel Wang/Courtesy of Homepolish. Design by Alec Holland.

Use a matching set of glasses.

Mix-and-match glasses can look intriguing if you’ve got a knack for visual balance, but when your table is feeling crowded, nothing streamlines things like rows of perfectly identical, light-reflective vessels. “Keep it to one style of glassware to keep things neat and clean,” Courtney says. And speaking of clean: “Make sure all of your glasses are spotless before a dinner party to help your table shine.”

Finish with this modern touch.

Unusual place cards are a perfect way to set a mood and add pops of color or texture. “Not only do nameplates make people feel special, but they can be a lovely take-home from the party,” Courtney says. “I recently saw acrylic nameplates by @mother_wild, with guests' names written on various shapes and colors, and have added this to my must-have list. These are perfectly modern and definitely chic!”

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