Think light, cheery, and mostly monochrome—with pops of one quirky, energizing color. Layer a white patterned runner over a plain tablecloth. Place a low white pumpkin in the center of the table and flank it with loose bunches of fresh sage in footed glass vases (the scent will complement rather than compete with the complex fragrances of dinner). Chartreuse napkins are the surprise hit here (magenta or turquoise would also work); classic in detail but edgy in color, they marry the folksy and sleek aspects of the table.
To buy: Mollusk dinner plates, $26 each; and salad plates, $17 each: calvinklein.com. Festival dinner napkins (similar to those shown), $55 for four, sferra.com. Oregon wineglasses, $7 each, crateandbarrel.com. Gio Low glasses by LSA International, $40 for six, lekkerhome.com. Hammered Antique flatware, $30 for a five-piece place setting, reedandbarton.com. Vintage runner.
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If You Have Gilded China…
Go dark and moody, with an undone autumnal centerpiece and a liberal dose of gold. Almost everything on this table begs to be touched, down to the rich cotton-velvet tablecloth. Velvet may seem impractical as a dining surface, but cotton velvet is quite resilient—you can throw it in the washer and dryer. At the fabric store, ask for a piece 20 inches longer and 20 inches wider than your table; leave the edges raw or have them finished. To create the “spilled-out” (harmless) cornucopia here, cluster like vegetables in threes and fours and place a small pillar candle, safely behind glass, at either end of the display. Any fork looks dramatic against a black napkin, but brushed-gold flatware has an undeniable shock-and-awe effect. Gold-trimmed water glasses are a subtle touch by day, but once the candles are lit, they add significant sparkle. You can use white gilded china for this setting, too; the result will be brighter but still luxe.
To buy: Kin Zakura by Kenzo Takada Royal Limoges dinner plates, $185 each; and dessert plates, $165 each: michaelcfina.com. Festival dinner napkins (similar to those shown), $55 for four, sferra.com. Due Ice Oro flatware by Merpa, $148 for a five-piece place setting, lekkerhome.com. Southern Hemisphere Florentine Gold stemmed glasses by Marc Blackwell: Unfortunately this item is no longer available. For similar products, go tomichaelcfina.com.
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If You Have a Vintage Mishmash…
Roll with it, using every beautiful pattern at once. The trick is to clarify the chaos (and turn down the granny factor) with a neat, crisp canvas: Plain white linens let you indulge your eclectic tendencies and show off all your favorites. If you happen to have a collection of mismatched goblets, throw them in, too—they look logical if the shapes and sizes are similar. For decoration, try a row of tiny cabbages in small glasses down the middle of the table. Add a personal item (here, a jade bust) to play up the found-treasures charm of the scene.
To buy: Les Maisons Enchantées American dinner plate by Hermès (upper left in photo), $105, hermes.com. Pottery Barn flatware. Nason & Moretti clear wineglass. I Gotici Torse ribbed water glasses. Other pieces shown here are vintage.
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If You Have Earthy Ceramics...
Layer organic elements to conjure a warmed-up Scandinavian minimalism. Take advantage of the natural richness of a wood table by leaving it naked, and mix two sets of neutral dishes—alternating dinner plates and salad plates—to create a subtle ebb and flow of texture. Choose ethnic-graphic napkins, and invent your own fold for a bit of origami elegance. In the center of the table, place metallic-lined bowls filled with tiny pears (what’s prettier this time of year?) and candles wrapped in birch bark. Dark blown-glass cups add depth.
To buy: Mikasa Swirl white dinner plates, $13 each, mikasa.com; and salad plates, $10 each: mikasa.com. Creamy Sand dinner plates by Joan Platt, $70 each; and lunch/salad plates, $50 each: thesignatureshop.com for info. Wineglasses by LSA International. Glassybaby handmade vessels, $44 each, glassybaby.com. Shima Komon dinner napkins. Alva dining table, $4,600, justscandinavian.com for info.
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If You Have Blue-and-White China…
Create French-country enchantment, pairing casual glasses with fancy dishes around a glitzy centerpiece. Alternating two complementary china patterns promotes a loose but still pulled-together vibe. A nubby linen cloth in chocolate brown is unexpected against fine china and feels relaxed—no one has to worry about spilling gravy. Soft napkins (they almost look like chambray) host everyday stainless flatware. Goblets are chunky and homey, making this setup sweet and inviting, and not the least bit intimidating. And gold-leaf fruit inspires oohs and aahs.
How to Gild Fruit 1. Clean and dry fruit. If you’re using fresh fruit, the firmer the better. You can get the same look with fake fruit, if you want it to last.
2. With a disposable paintbrush, apply a thin, even coat of water-based gilding adhesive like Rolco Aquasize ($16, freestylephoto.biz). Let dry until tacky (about 15 minutes).
3. Press sheets of faux gold leaf (available at crafts stores) onto the fruit with a soft cotton cloth. Overlap sheets slightly, and remove any loose pieces.
4. To give the fruit an antiqued look, use another soft cotton cloth to apply brown or black shoe polish. Buff to a high shine.
To buy: Taste Blue Flat dinner plates by Reichenbach, $125 each (hatch marks) and $145 each (blue fade), 888-535-6590; Taste Blue oval platter, $295, tabulatua.com; and Taste Blue Candlestick bowl, $50: tabulatua.com. Reed & Barton flatware. Festival dinner napkins (similar to those shown), $55 for four, sferra.com. Pottery Barn water goblets. Bess wineglasses, $55 each, williamyeowardcrystal.com for stores.