Welcome to Second Nature, a Q+A series with Jute founder, Ali Davin, that explores all things healthy living, with a fond emphasis on that thing she does best—interior design.
Dining in is the new dining out, and with the holidays approaching, chances are you’ll be entertaining at home in the upcoming months. But as anyone who’s ever hosted a dinner party knows, what food you serve is often the least important part.
Like a special meal in a fancy restaurant, it’s about more than the menu—it’s about the ambiance. Here’s how to set your table and set the tone for a memorable event.
It all starts with the guests. When I’m entertaining at home, I figure out who’s coming, how many people, how much space they need, how much time we’re going to be at the table, how comfortable we need to be, and work backwards from there.
Chairs are key when you’re entertaining. When we design dining rooms, we define them by hours— for example, we think two-hour or four-hour chairs. If you entertain a lot, you want a four-hour chair. It’s about the ergonomics: how it sits, its pitch, where it hits you, how wide it is, whether you can lean back all the way, and how high it is versus the table. A four-hour chair is usually a sidechair without arms, with a higher back and a wider seat, and it’s almost always upholstered versus metal or wood, but at minimum it has a loose seat cushion. You also want to make sure there’s enough room between the top of your thighs and the table, so your guests aren’t constantly bumping into it.
That’s the next thing to take into account. I have access to multiple tables, which I know is not normal, but I choose the table based on the guests. If there are older guests coming, they often need more room to get up and down, so I’ll go with a bigger table. If it’s immediate family, it’s usually ok if you’re closer together, but if it’s a more formal event or not everyone knows each other well, you might want more space. In terms of shape, think narrow, not round or wide. You want to be able to converse with the people next to and across from you.
We have a lot of clients who buy two matching tables. They take the second one out of storage when they’re entertaining, so it can link up to their regular dining table and look uniform. Some people still ask for leaves in their table, but that’s very passé and it’s not really done anymore—when you buy nice furniture, you don’t want it chopped up into pieces. That said, you don’t have to spend a ton of money. You can rent a table or even buy a folding table and cover it with a nice tablecloth. It’s more about creating an experience than the table itself.
I don’t like too much fancy stuff on the table; it’s more about a mixture of new and old, high and low. I personally love vintage glassware and silverware—old decanters, highball glasses, antique silver pitchers, or any vintage barware. I use my grandma’s deco silverware from the ‘20s, but I like to keep the plates and serving pieces simple. Think of a high-end restaurant and the more minimal dishes they use, which keeps the focus on the food. When you put a lot of patterned dishes on the table, it just gets distracting. You don’t have to break out the fancy stuff—just use your everyday plates.
My favorite thing to do is flowers on the table, but I also put them on each napkin so my guests have their own individual place setting. And in terms of the flowers, I go for an arrangement versus cut flowers from the garden—it feels more special that way, kind of like a wedding but scaled down to one or two tables. I’ll also do a printed menu and/or boxed chocolates so it really feels like an occasion. Guests love it, and it’s like a little souvenir of the event.
Figure out who’s coming and design your table around them.