Decorating a dining or buffet table can be a challenge, even for the most seasoned entertainer. Go too heavy on the ornamentation and your guests may struggle to find their own plate. Pare it down too much and your guests may wonder if you forgot to prepare for the event at all.

But why even invest the time in decorating?

“It’s about making the everyday special,” said KariAnne Wood, creator of the lifestyle blog Thistlewood Farms ( and Better Homes and Gardens 2014 Blogger Award winner. “Moments in our life fly by so fast. Creating a welcoming environment through decor sets the mood and is really an investment in creating a memorable moment with friends and family.”

Build your foundation

Abby Larson, founder and editor of the Style Me Pretty Living blog ( and Style Me Pretty magazine, suggests thinking about a table scheme just like you would an outfit.

“You want to have a focal point — whether it’s a great floral centerpiece or fabulous chargers that you scored online,” she said. “From there, think in layers, gradually building upon the foundational pieces, [such as] a great charger, layered with a pretty dinner plate.”

For table linens, Sarah Macklem, creator of the Yellow Cape Cod design studio and blog (, likes table runners because they’re easier to clean up if someone spills. She also looks for double-sided fabric with distinct patterns, such as one she found that had an orange, brown and gray pattern on one side and a red, white and gray one on the other. “I got two holidays out of it — one side for fall, and one side for Christmas.”

Wood prefers to go even simpler (and cheaper), buying burlap fabric and fraying its ends for a rustic feel. For a customized look, she’ll stencil or use a Sharpie to handwrite a favorite poem, quote or lyric that fits the occasion.

Keep centerpieces simple

Everyone has been to a dinner where the centerpiece becomes more of an obstacle to socializing than a conversation piece. Staying simple is essential here, said Macklem, who often sources centerpiece material such as boxwood branches, hydrangea and even hosta leaves from her own back yard. “You can put them in about any container and create a simple but dramatic statement.”

Wood cuts evergreen branches from her yard and puts them in three basic vases. “It’s inexpensive yet elegant and provides a nice fragrance,” she says. A row of small votive candles can add a little something extra to the scene.

Rather than a massive centerpiece, Larson prefers to drape a long floral garland down the middle of the table and place votive or tapered candles throughout. “It’s such a beautiful statement and invites conversation thanks to its low height.”

Embrace personalization

A beautiful scene definitely sets the mood, but the special touch of personalization can elevate your guests’ experience.

“It’s fun when people come over and say, ‘Wow, you did that just for me?’ It makes them feel so special,” said Macklem.

During a recent event, she used fresh artichokes to hold place cards made from chalkboard labels she found at a local office supply store. The outcome? A unique, inexpensive (and partially reusable) way to make the evening memorable for her guests.

There are countless other ideas for creating an attractive, memorable table display. Whether you find inspiration from nature, a cool thrift store find or even a set of dishes passed down through generations, the point is to share them with your guests.

“Your table is like the heart of your gathering. It is where you break bread, toast memories, share laughs and savor moments,” said Larson. “Creating a space that feels warm and inviting, that urges your guests to leave their worries at the door, is key to hosting any successful party.”