9 Cheap Tabletop Tips That Will Make Your Dining Room Look Expensive
Keeping up with the Joneses in the dinner-party department can be a daunting—and pricey—task. In an ideal world, you would dazzle your guests with a signature cocktail, extravagant caviar displays, over-the-top centerpieces (with fresh flowers, natch), and fine silverware, harking back to the lavish dinner parties of yesteryear. In reality, you’re scouring the sales rack for tabletop deals and secretly hoping that every guest brings a good bottle of wine so that you don't run out of libations. But, here's the secret to achieving that killer champagne-level dinner party on a beer budget: It's in the presentation, not the price tag.
Keep scrolling for our top tips for pulling off a Pinterest-worthy tabletop without putting a major dent in your bank account. The Joneses won't know what hit 'em.
The goal: creating a bountiful and layered table.
Truth be told, you don’t need crazy-expensive heirloom flower centerpieces that sprawl from one end of the table to the other. Let your meal be the centerpiece. By presenting colorful, visually appealing dishes in elegant serving platters, you can fill even the longest table without a hint of floral embellishment—it’s convivial and deceptively simple.
The goal: showcasing important heirloom pieces.
While we’d all love the good fortune of owning trés chic family heirlooms—brass candleholders, monogrammed silverware, et al—we can't always bank on the vintage to stay trendy. Instead, scour your local flea market or Etsy for affordable vintage alternatives. These patinated pieces will add even more character to your tabletop than their newer counterparts would.
The goal: camouflaging your not-so-amazing dinnerware.
You don’t need every single item on your table to make a statement. Instead, pick one thing—flowers, for example—to be the center of attention. If one theme stands out from the rest, even your IKEA basics will look elevated. Going monochrome is a great way to achieve this. (PS: Try using houseplants to create an elegant—and free!—centerpiece.)
The goal: creating a gourmet experience.
When it comes to the art of the table, the smallest details matter—as small as a grain of salt, in fact. The sensory act of topping your meal with a sprinkle of gourmet salt or pepper, as opposed to shaking it out of a generic container, can instantly elevate the vibe of the party. Fleur de sel is our go-to for its refined taste and delicate texture.
The goal: reaching tabletop perfection.
Let your linens be wrinkled and your platters be chipped. After all, you are not the maître d’ at Eleven Madison Park, and your guests will not expect perfection—unless you’re having Gordon Ramsay over, in which case good luck. Instead, take your time to invest in timeless, elegant, and layerable pieces. Even if you only buy one piece per dinner party, you will end up with a collection that mixes and matches in an organic way.
The goal: achieving the freshly harvested look.
Just like Korean beauty products swept the states into a dewy-skin craze, farm-to-table restaurants stoked a desire to create tabletops that look as though they came straight out of a bucolic farm-side landscape. The good news: Decorating with in-season fruits is not only cost-effective but also ecologically responsible—assuming you’ll end up eating said fruits and vegetables in the days following your dinner party. Try the look with citrus, pears, or artichokes.
The goal: creating serving platters … when you have none.
Don’t have a large enough dish to serve your freshly baked fish or a pretty enough tray to hold your antipasti? Don’t panic—you can create wonders with kraft paper and some chopping blocks or simple baking trays. Alternatively, try using the paper as a table runner or placeholders. There are plenty of ways to elevate your dinner table with kraft paper in a way that reads more “elegantly rustic” than “pinteresting.”
The goal: creating a midsummer night’s dream.
Do not underestimate the power of great lighting—in this case, the more really is the merrier. Votive candles and holders are shockingly inexpensive and might not look like much at first glance, but once your entire table is lit up with soft, flickering light, you’ll witness the power in repetition.
The goal: seating all your guests without sending some to the kids’ table.
Sometimes, you just have to get creative to accommodate a large group. If you’re severely over capacity, try topping your table with a plywood board and camouflaging the whole thing with an inexpensive table linen. Your guests will never know.