As summer arrives, most of us want to savour every last moment outside, eating and drinking with friends. Allegra Marchiorello and Valeria Piovesana Thompson, co-founders of luxury linen brand Once Milano, are veterans of alfresco dining – in fact, in the summer months, the two enjoy most meals outside. But, how do you dress a garden table beautifully?
“It’s partly about making a moment more beautiful,” said Marchiorello. “When you make the table more beautiful, it is just different. Everyone appreciates beauty and it changes the atmosphere for the better. When I invite people for a meal or even just with my family, the point is to enjoy the time together rather than to admire the table, but it can play such a big part in adding to the occasion.”
Here, Marchiorello offers her easy, yet stylish, table-setting tips.
1. Use different items for dining inside and outside
“I’m not spending hours planning the table for each meal, but I have options to hand and I know what works together with both the food and the environment for a harmonious table. This is as true for the outdoor table as for dining inside. To move the items you use inside to outside won’t always work – the stark white plates, glistening cutlery and sparkling crystal I enjoy inside can be too jarring outside. I tend to use more rustic plates, antique cutlery which has a gentler patina and smokey glassware, for a table that works far better with the greenery of my garden.”
2. Add colourful napkins
“I always start with a sense of the menu, choose the napkins I want to use and it evolves from there. Napkins are the easiest things to add a touch of colour and it’s not difficult to have a selection of colours to hand for different options. A tablecloth in a neutral colour like natural or grey can be used with either bold or subtle napkin colours depending on the feel you want to achieve.”
3. A little bit of string goes a long way
“I know people don’t tend to use napkin rings these days but I sometimes use a little piece of string and tie the napkin with a sprig of something from the garden to give a little touch that is beautiful without being precious.”
4. Mix candles with foliage from the garden
“You want to stay outside as long as you can, so clusters of candles give a lovely, flattering light and mean that you aren’t forced indoors before the evening is ready to end. I rarely buy cut flowers for the table and I tend to choose something from my garden – even a piece of greenery or a beautiful piece of wood. It’s less jarring with my garden seating area than cut flowers would be. If I had a very modern terrace, I might use bolder flowers just as I might use brighter tableware, but it’s all about working in harmony with the setting.”
5. Keep it simple
“If I’m using a tablecloth, I won’t add a runner or a placemat on top. Keeping it simple is so important. There’s no real rule to how a table should be set and it depends a lot on the personality of the host. If you like simple things then you need to keep it uncrowded so everything has its place. On some occasions, places and personalities overcrowding a table can be wonderful. I enjoy it, but I couldn’t do it at home.”
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6. Table runners add intimacy
“How you set your table is partly driven by what you have to hand, the size of your table and how many people you’re hosting. Again, it’s about creating the most lovely environment for everyone to enjoy the meal. Runners placed across a larger table can make it feel more intimate by reducing the sense of ‘empty’ space if there are only four people or so.”
7. Consider neutral tones
“I find patterns like our gingham are wonderful for very informal occasions or lunches but for most evenings I tend to use our more neutral tones of natural linen; cream, grey, sage. They set the scene for the meal but don’t overpower the table. Tablecloths are wonderful and I love to use them touching the floor – although if you don’t eat outside often enough you may prefer to invest in a variety of napkins, placemats and runners for more variety and less effort.”
This article originally appeared on Harper’s BAZAAR UK.