How To Set The Table

Apartment Therapy founder and designer of the new Maxwell Ryan Tableware Collection, Maxwell Ryan believes that everyone should know how to set a perfect table. Why? In an era of casualness and clutter, Maxwell finds that a perfectly set table is deeply comforting to guests, as well as quietly thrilling when well done. It’s the little bit of formality that helps to enhance any occasion.

Here are some of Maxwell’s tips for achieving the perfectly set table (Ryan gave us fancy AND casual options):

From Maxwell Ryan

Setting a proper table is easy. I learned it while working in restaurants during college summers and you can learn it too… All you need to know is the right positioning of all the elements and then a few pointers for adding your own style and color to make it YOUR table. As someone who considered himself an artist in high school and college, I find setting a table similar to painting a picture. It’s a canvas on which you can do anything.

The Tips:

1. Keep It Simple: I’m not a big fan of cluttering the middle of a table. Give yourself breathing room so that food can be served family style and so your guests can see one another and not feel like they’re talking over a wall of candles or flowers.

2. Spread Candles Down The Center: Good lighting is crucial for a great dinner and candles should be the dominant source of light. Use low pillars or tea lights down the center of the table so that it’s equally spread to illuminate everyone’s face. The style of the candle doesn’t matter – choose what you LIKE. Just make sure that you have plenty of twinkling lights to make it beautiful.

3. No Large Centerpieces: When filling the area around your candles – or if you’re using many candles – try a grouping of small interesting items instead of one large centerpiece. This is far more contemporary and allows for more flexibility and more breathing room.

4. Say Yes To Color: A little splash of color – 20% – goes a long way. You can simply add color in cloth napkins, tablecloths or runner, but you can also use color via candles or any decoration that you want to add to the middle of the table. Just don’t overdo it! Keep it 80% neutral and THEN add your pop of color.

5. Add Nature: The most important thing you can do to make a table really sing is to add something “living” to the centerpiece. I love playing around with this. Low flowers are easy and, during the winter, branches with berries or evergreen are a fabulous surprise.

6. Mixing is Good: Not all of your napkins, plates or glasses need to match. Eclectic tables are a wonderful trend right now and allow you to a). not stress out about having to match and b.) include different colors and design possibilities in one table.  You can even mix up your chairs!

7. Runners Are Super Cool: Don’t have a great tablecloth? Bored of your placemats? I love to use runners not only down the center of the table, but also across the table so that they form a “double placemat” for two people. Every runner can make an instant tablecloth for two facing guests, so just expand from there and use runners across the table to seat two, four, six, eight, ten!

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The Casual SettingThis is the everyday table setting and follows just a few rules that are built on for fancier settings:

Plate – Right in the middle

Fork – To the left at 9:00

Knife & Spoon – To the right at 3:00 with the knife on the inside facing in (so the blade is safely towards the plate)

Glasses – On the upper right at 1:00

Napkins – Underneath your forks, though you can technically play with your napkin and place it on plate or outside forks.

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A Formal Setting: Built off of the above, this roadmap allows for all the other utensils needed at a fancy meal, and follows the guide that you start on the outside and move inwards towards the plate during the course of the meal:

Plates – In the middle with the smallest stacked on top, so that you have Charger under Entree Plate under Appetizer Plate. In this fashion, each plate can be cleared and leave you with a new, clean one below. Bread plate goes to the top left at 10:00 with knife fork ON

Flatware – Forks go on the left at 9:00 with the smallest on the outside (dinner, salad and then fish fork). Knife goes on the right with spoons at 3:00 with the smallest spoons on the outside (soup and then fruit spoon)

** Any flatware used for dessert goes at the top at 12:00 (dessert spoon and fork)

Glasses – Red or wine (or both) glasses are placed at the upper right at 1:00 with water and/or champagne above that to the left. I typically have only a water and wine glass, but you can provide lots of options here for your guests if you wish and then remove what they don’t use.

Napkins – I always like to have the napkin under the forks to the left, but it is proper to actually have the napkin on the dinner plate. Either way, just don’t stuff the napkin in the wine glass and try to make it look like a swan!

Want more entertaining tips? Read how to be a good hostess. Also, check out these great hostess gifts to bring to a dinner party.