I must admit this doesn’t have much relevance if you barbeque a lot, where guests are seated randomly in garden chairs with a more casual feel or perhaps it’s a first-come-first-served kind of event where it’s fingers before forks! But to dine in style by decorating your table for a special mood, event or experience, read on.

Table setting seems to be a lost art these days as dinner parties are not so popular – but perhaps we should revive them! I’m not talking about the which-fork-goes-where kind of table setting, but rather the whole process of thinking, being creative, and designing a mood to be shared on a flat surface. Table scaping is a whole lot more than just decorating a table but arranging items artistically that may be your theme. I must admit I always live in the hope that after a not so successful meal, someone would think: ‘the dinner was awful, but the table looked ah-may-zing!’

You can put together a surprisingly smart, attractive table with even the smallest budget if you give it a little forethought, and in many cases you can use objects you’ve already got around the house.

Autumn Celebrations

Halloween and Thanksgiving (if you are inclined to celebrate either) would perhaps share a similar basis. A red tablecloth, topped with a white runner down the length of the table, and decorated with handfuls of crisp autumnal leaves, mini-pumpkins and orangey-coloured fruits, gold ribbon and pinecones – are a good basis for both events.

For a Thanksgiving theme, add in some gold candles, jute string tied round the stem of wine glasses and perhaps bunches of artificial gold berries. For Halloween, substitute candles of orange or black, and you could enjoy getting a little spooky by adding ghoulish skeletons, witch hats, creepy crawlies or fake blood – pure fun, particularly if children are involved.

Special Christmas

This is a great time for family or even friends, and you can make it special by adding a seasonal centrepiece along the length of the table with pine branches and cones, red ribbons, gold or silver candles or candleholders, indulge the occasion with themed napkins, or crisp white linen, just adding simple red ribbons – or even green plaid - as a napkin ring for a Christmas flavour.

Or how about a twisted sprigs of rosemary or pine into individual wreaths round the base of your wine glasses? Or keep it all green and enhance the overall look with white and gold. Don’t get stuck in a rut with candles – they can be fat and thin, tall and short, all mixed on the same table for added interest, in groups if you like, but if it is the only light source at the table, one per place setting would be better.

Anniversaries, etc

These are occasions for giving some serious thought for table scaping. Find out what you can about the couple’s anniversary, or birthday perhaps, their interests or hobbies. These can be incorporated into your decorations. If all else fails, a liberal sprinkling of shiny stars over the table to match whatever colour is your choice for the day.

Add some flower power

You can use whatever flowers are seasonal for adding a special touch to your dining table, and if you can’t get the flowers, seasonal fruits will fit the bill. A tablecloth of a deep colour can be stunning with everything else white, even a sprig of artificial berries sprayed white as a centrepiece with white candles can look fantastic. I am a big believer in flowers to brighten the mood and can be a great conversation starter if perhaps your guests don’t know each other.

Make it personal

Elevate the occasion with a personalised place setting – it could be an individual named place, or a funny illustration, a handwritten menu or handmade treats to take away, a personal touch can make the table feel that bit more special. A nice touch for any table is individual handwritten card name settings using gold or silver ink, decorated perhaps with a sprig of rosemary or a dried flower glued above their name – but you need good handwriting to pull this one off though!


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan