My Five Biggest Tabletop Secrets

The most successful designers I know learned from their mothers. As children, they set the table every night…oftentimes grabbing the first linens they saw, plates, and silverware to rush and get the job done. Over the years, they learned to love it and turned their chore into full-fledged careers as event designers, decorators, and tastemakers. 

Growing up, my parents worked hard to provide for our family. My dad was a pilot, so he was gone often, and I was busy pursuing my ballet career, so most of my meals were spent in the studio or in the car ride home. Family dinners were reserved for Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s it. The linens my mom used were old and outdated (stained from my brother flicking food across the table), and our plates were the same ones we used to eat with on a regular basis. Splurging on tableware seemed impractical and too expensive for my family when we had other priorities like pointe shoes, football practice, and homework. For this reason, I never learned how to set the table until last year properly. 

As the pandemic got worse, my husband and I decided to postpone our wedding. (We had a civil ceremony in November of 2020, but our actual wedding in Mexico was pushed to 2021.) We purchased our first home together but didn’t feel comfortable doing any major remodeling during that time, so we opted to wait until things improved. We settled on minimal furniture to hold us over and a pretty outdoor table. That’s it. 

Everyone learned new hobbies during the pandemic. Mine happened to be entertaining, and I have loved hosting small intimate dinners for close friends and family. I would use colorful linens, exuberant centerpieces, and vintage tableware to create a joyous atmosphere and fell in love with the art of tablescaping. Everything I know today, I taught myself! 

So today, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite tablescaping tips and secrets with guidance from MacKenzie-Childs

Start with a collection of foundational pieces 

I have a collection of rattan and bamboo that I use in virtually every, if not all, of my tablescapes. These foundational pieces make adding color easy because they’re neutral. It’s also a great way for me to add texture and a nod back to Palm Beach! 

For fancier getups, I use my MacKenzie-Childs Check Flatware, which can be used in so many different ways. It’s nice and heavy, so it glistens in the candlelight! 

Your first collection of foundational pieces will be used the most, so make sure you love it! Whether tonal and one color, textural (like me), or graphic black and white checks, it needs to go with the majority of the items you already own. 

Add very carefully

You definitely don’t need to match everything you own, but you should be careful about what you add to your collection; otherwise, you’ll end up with an incomplete table.  This is especially true when shopping for vintage! You don’t need to buy the entire collection, but six vintage plates will always be better than three. 

The same rule applies to accessories. I personally love incorporating nature into my designs since I entertain outside so much, so it was a no-brainer to add these Queen Bee Napkin Rings, knowing I could use them a million times. 

Candles go a long way 

Little tealight candles flickering across the table next to taller candlesticks create the most romantic ambiance. I used mini juice glasses from MacKenzie-Childs as candle holders, and love the idea of mixing and matching colored glassware (i.e., green with blue; vintage with new). Bonus? You can use them as drinking glasses later. 

Call it taboo, but I love colorful dinner candles! It’s one of the easiest (and inexpensive) ways to add a pop of color to your table. When paired with statement candlestick holders (like these tulip holders, which I knew would work very well with the rest of my collection), your candles become the focal point without having to spend a fortune on flowers. 

Get creative with centerpieces 

I can’t believe I’m sharing this secret with you, but I buy my flowers at the supermarket. I ask florists at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to create a bouquet of whatever is in season, take them home with me, and make my own mini arrangements. (I do the same thing with takeout.) I put flowers in watering cans, pitchers, mini bud vases, and ceramics…I use whatever I have! 

You can also use fruit as a centerpiece. Sometimes I’ll use a bushel of coconuts and pineapples on a platter or a bowl of oranges.

I also love clipping big monstera leaves in our backyard or using palms. Bunches of bougainvillea have a lot of volumes too. I’m not picky when it comes to impact, and you can create incredible texture with what you already have. 

Plates, plates, plates!

I wouldn’t say I have a favorite color when it comes to plates, but I do love floral and nature themes or anything handmade. I have five collections, including my vintage dessert plates I purchased for our civil ceremony (backyard wedding) last year! 

One of my favorite collections has a subtle bamboo rim which I’ll use as a charger. It pairs well with my vintage dessert plates and gives an eclectic feeling to my table. Layering plates with different prints and patterns can create a visual impact! I love playing around with linens and throwing in an unexpected color, too. 

*I love MacKenzie-Childs black and white check chargers

BONUS. Order takeout. 

Don’t get stuck in the kitchen. Hang out with your guests. Be cheeky with it, too, and put fried chicken on china. 

Whether candles or plates, supermarket blooms, or a fruit centerpiece, the key is to create an ambiance that speaks to your personality. Don’t forget handwritten place cards, a curated playlist (click here for mine), signature cocktails, and best of all – great conversation starters. In no time, you’ll be a seasoned (no pun) pro. 

Shop today’s table below! 

Xo, Stephanie 

Chelsae Anne | Photographer


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