Laying The Table For A Special Occasion. (indoors and out, a bit of both)

Lots of you know I love the ceremony of laying the table. High days and holidays and the occasional  roast dinner, not every night! Most nights it’s every man for himself haha! But sometimes I LOVE to push the boat out and really go for it!
I didn’t even know it was a ‘thing’ until someone said had I checked out the hashtags #tablescapes and #mytable !
After loads of you said you’d like a blog post about all this table styling shenanigans, I thought I’d write it – so here you are!
I’ll try not to ramble. Suggest skim reading if rambling occurs.
We have a table that seats 6, and that’s fine, unless we have to seat 10! So we have an ugly sheet of plywood out in the garage – it measures 8ft x 4ft. Which, handily, is the size you buy them.  We bring it in and put it over our table, and it is the perfect size to seat at least 10. Also, it is wide enough to accommodate serving plates, and some table decorations, too.
My number one tip, is to not leave laying the table until the last minute. Ideally do it the day before (unless you are going to eat outside in which case, just gather everything you might need and make sure you know where it will all go, and do it first thing, before you get caught up doing other jobs, if the weather allows!)
And yes, doing it the day before might mean you all have to eat off a tray on your knee that day! lol
I’d recommend making sure you have the right table linen, etc waaaay before you come to laying your table!

It’s far too stressful to be frantically digging around on Christmas eve and realising you don’t have enough plates and your cloth is too  small and covered in gravy stains!  – I  found you a lovely tablecloth that won’t break the bank, and is large enough to fit the 8 x 4 table top – it’s from IKEA
(Mine was from John Lewis a hundred years ago) I do love white table linen. Although I also have a couple of Cath Kidston ones that look nice outside for a bbq (hides all the ketchup stains)
If you don’t have a large enough table cloth, you can always use a clean white sheet. (not fitted, that’s not a good look) The pale red striped linen, is an old runner – If anyone is interested, I could stock these in my shop – let me know what you think. None of them will be perfect, (spotlessly clean, but might have a wobbly edge) but they have such charm, I love them.
Napkins next – I love real napkins, but also use paper ones. Sometimes I roll the paper napkin inside the linen one. If we are eating outside I’ll always use paper ones. You can get some really pretty paper napkins. And I don’t want ketchup stains on my posh linen ones lol.
You don’t necessarily need loads of expensive napkin rings (or expensive anything) – I don’t own any and prefer a cheaper alternative – Twine at Christmas and strips of pretty fabric in the summer  – you can make it look really personal with a bit of thought.
At Christmas I always have place names and spend a while working out where everyone will sit. Mainly due to space constraints and big elbows haha! Plus I always make sure I can easily jump up to rescue anything that is burning… So I put myself nearest the cooking end (we don’t have a dining room, so we are all in the kitchen) I always end up with the worst spare chair, too – but I bet I am not alone!! I like mixing everyone up, too, ensuring that the kids get a chance to sit next to their Uncle or Aunt or cousins or Granny, and have a good natter.
A bit of thought will really make a difference
And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it. Making your guests feel really wanted and welcome. It’s not about showing off.  For me, it’s about welcoming our friends and family, and creating them something really special.  And creating an environment that will be warm and friendly and happy.
Sounds obvious, but check you have enough plates for everyone. And glasses & cutlery. If you haven’t, and the budget won’t stretch to buying heaps of new stuff, head to a charity shop and hunt out some spares. As long as they are pretty and you like them, it doesn’t matter a jot if they don’t match. Some of my favourite glass-ware came from Oxfam – you can get really beautiful vintage glasses for a fraction of the cost of new ones. (my fav bargain was a set of vintage champagne saucers for £4!) In fact, my dream table would be a whole heap of mismatched everything, vintage glasses and a hotchpotch of serving dishes. (Although old plates can be a faff as they might die in the dishwasher and will need handwashing instead. Worth it for their loveliness though)

China bought from Oxfam, vintage sherry glasses containing battery tealights

Place mats. Not essential but they do protect the table and add to the layering. I use these.
Ok! So now you are ready!
Whether you are outside or inside – look up. How can you use the space above the table? If you are catering for a crowd, the chances are you won’t have alot of room on your table, so I  like to hang stuff above it. If we are outside, we always have fairy lights and festoon lights hanging under the arbour. I found you some lovely light bulb style festoon lights from Cox & Cox  here You can buy an extension kit to make them longer, they look really good! I found some scrummy indoor/outdoor battery lanterns at Hobby Craft (side note -they sell cake bunting! Why didn’t I know that!! My life is complete)
We have a couple of outdoor plug sockets. It makes it look so pretty all lit up. I love bunting too, and have an assortment of fabric bunting, and paper bunting (found some gorgeous paper bunting in Home Bargains) That always looks nice outside. Even if you just have a parasol over the table, it’s possible to wind battery fairy lights inside, and dangle pompoms from it! Where there’s a will there’s a way! Here is a link to a few ideas for prettying up outside umbrellas
Paper Bunting from Home Bargains


We had friends round on Easter Monday so I decided to buy some tissue pompoms and dangle them from the ceiling. They were around £7 for a multipack from Amazon. They arrived looking like huge nail files, but were really easy to ‘fluff’ in to pompoms! (they came with quite short strings so I added a long piece of florists ribbon to each one so they’d hang lower) and I secured them to the ceiling by screwing two small hooks in to the plaster board and tying a long piece of white florist’s ribbon between the two hooks, and then I tied the long pompom ribbons on to that. Not the most attractive, but no one noticed how they were attached. You can find similar here. Whilst looking for the pompoms I bought,  to show you, I got a bit sidetracked with THESE! oh my goodness! Have a look! Right, Sal, back in the room…
I also have a few bud vases (again, a charity shop find – but tiny jugs or small vintage glasses would work just as well. The blossom is out at the moment, but any flowers would look pretty, even clover and daisies.
Dot the bud vases down the middle of the table

I also use vintage lidded tureens – they are fab at keeping the food warm (indoors) and the flies off (outdoors) none of mine match, and they cost a few pounds. I love them, but I am not too precious about them, if they come to a sticky end, I’ll just track some more down in the charity shops. I also have a fab collection of serving spoons – all pretty old ones from antique/flea shops. I love the thought that they have been used by generations past.
Of course, the best bit is when everyone arrives and the wine is flowing, and the spread you have worked so hard on preparing, is being devoured! Here are some images from some of the outdoor bbqs we have had. 
eBay paper lanterns filled with battery fairy lights from Primark

Jam jar posies hanging with string

Bud Vases and a chopped off champagne bottle as a cutlery holder

One last thing – I think that gin and rose lemonade should always be sipped in a lady like fashion, from a pretty old teacup. Seems to taste even nicer! 
I’d love to hear your ideas for quirky, pretty dining! Make sure you tag me in any instagram pics!
Thanks so much for reading!
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ps nothing in this post is sponsored – it’s just stuff I like 🙂


24 Thoughts on Laying The Table For A Special Occasion. (indoors and out, a bit of both)
    Brenda Larby
    20 Apr 2017

    Oh Sally Sally. Wonderful

      20 Apr 2017

      Thanks Bren! I did get a bit excited writing it! Thanks for staying with me! Xxx

    Sarah Y
    20 Apr 2017

    Sally I absolutely love this! I thought I was a bit of a loner with my excitement of preparing the table. I had the family over for Easter Sunday, prepared the table the night before, and must admit, it was way up there on my list of favourite moments over the weekend…sad aren’t i?! Keep the blog posts coming, well done lovely, they’re fab xx
    Sarah (Instagram- sarah._yx)

      20 Apr 2017

      Let’s start a self help group ! Lol! I LOVE that we love this stuff !! Hurrah for table laying love !!

    20 Apr 2017

    Great read Sally, those HB buntings are so pretty aren’t they I’ve stocked up with a few more this year as they sell out quite quickly! I agree with you that when your happy with how your table looks the rest follows although with my food, a little divine intervention helps Keep writing the blogs love the ideas and funny comments. Laughter makes the world a happy place x

      20 Apr 2017

      I wish there was one near us! I could do with a stock up ! Shall have to investigate where the nearest one is (I bought the pictured bunting while we were in Cornwall last year ) and Thankyou!! Xxxx

    20 Apr 2017

    What a lovely post. Are those battery tea lights in the white shades? Also, did you chop the top off the champagne bottle, I have a couple I would love to do but don’t know how to start.

      20 Apr 2017

      Hello! The paper lanterns (eBay) have the really lightweight battery fairy lights (Primark) inside you can see the tape holding them in place if you look carefully ! And yes, we cut the bottle – you can get a bottle cutter on Amazon and there’s tutorials on YouTube – it’s quite tricky – lots of dead prosecco bottles as practise ! (The kids worked in a pub so there was a supply ) xxxx

    20 Apr 2017

    I really enjoyed reading your blog Sally! So many wonderful ideas.
    Thank you xxx

      20 Apr 2017

      Thankyou Lyn! I loved writing it! Got a bit carried away ! Xxx

    Lisa G
    20 Apr 2017

    Enjoyed the article…I too love table setting and making an effort so things look pretty….it’s so much less stressful than the food prep bit!! Love your idea of gin in a tea cup!

      20 Apr 2017

      Ahh I love that you love doing it too! Highly recommend furtive gin in a teacup also ! Haha xx I swear it tastes better!

    Niki B
    20 Apr 2017

    Loved reading that Sally … now got lots of ideas buzzing around my head (and few bits in my Amazon basket ) … just need to invite friends over now 🙂
    On a side note .. I would be very interested in the table runner .. and am looking forward to when your shop is open .. who have you got cutting the ribbon to “name this shop ….. open”? .. I’ll start hat, heel and outfit shopping now .. in readiness for the day ..

      20 Apr 2017

      Lol! I’m trying to book the Queen, if she’s busy I’ll need you to step in ! Hoping to be ‘open’ sometime in the Summer/late Summer – currently in hunter gatherer mode! Xxxx

    21 Apr 2017

    Love this and yes please to you selling the table runners, have been looking for one for a while. Thanks for making us smile with your ‘ramblings ‘

      21 Apr 2017

      Haha I’m glad you stayed with me ! I do tend to rabbit ! Ok! I’ll source some runners! Xxxx thanks Sharon xx

    Alison tomsett
    21 Apr 2017

    You create the most welcoming atmosphere. Some great tips and I would be interested if you do decide to sell pretty table runners. Cannot wait for your shop to be open. I keeps checking!

      21 Apr 2017

      Thanks Alison ! I’m in hunter gatherer mode at the mo – it’s planned for late Summer xxx

    21 Apr 2017

    Wonderful Sally, both words and pictures! You obviously have a flair for making everything look so welcoming and pretty. I bet you all sit around the table for ages after you’ve eaten having a natter and a catch-up. So French.
    Also can’t wait for your shop to open, how exciting. x

      21 Apr 2017

      Thanks Jan! I’m currently gathering lovely stuff ! Eeeeek! Xxx

    24 Apr 2017

    Totally gorgeous…heaps of beautiful ideas. I’m off to the charity shop for serving spoons asap…the ironing can wait!

      24 Apr 2017

      Heehee! Torch the ironing & Thankyou! Xxxx

    11 Mar 2018

    I love reading this Sally, and I come back to it over and over again! I also have a 6 seater table but I am cooking for 10 Easter Weekend. I have seen the sheets of plywood/mdf but unsure on what thickness to get. Any tips?

      12 Apr 2018

      Hi Katie – I just asked Gav – he said 15mm xx

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