Hosting A Successful Dinner Party Even If You’re Not A Domestic Diva

We’ve all been to one:  The delicious and tastefully styled dinner party put on by relaxed hosts who are now sitting back, glasses in hand, completely engaged in a guest’s amusing story. Watching them, you would think that their whole fabulous dinner had effortlessly cooked itself.

The thought of actually pulling off a dinner party like this can be intimidating.  How could anyone be so confident in the kitchen? These hosts seemingly threw this whole amazing party together in a matter of hours.

But did they?

Some people actually can whip up the perfect party at a moment’s notice.  Despite not being a natural in the kitchen or even particularly enjoying cooking, I used to believe that I could become like them if I just had enough practice.

But, in my case anyway, years of practice have shown me that the opposite is actually true:  Planning is the key. Having enough time is the key. But whipping stuff up at the last minute and hoping for the best is definitely not the key.

So today, I’m sharing my go-to tips for hosting a successful dinner party even if you’re not a domestic diva.

These tips can also be used for hosting other types of parties – like brunches.  As you’ll see, it’s all about being organized.

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Plan The Menu Well In Advance

Since my husband Chris is my co-host and always prepares the meat portion of the meal, the menu for any dinner party starts with a collaboration between us.

We take into account any dietary restrictions or preferences.  We’ve hosted parties that were gluten free, nut free, low sodium, and pescatarian.

Once we have a general idea of what we’re doing, I will plan the recipes in more detail.  I’m not above using recipes that I’ve used many times before – ones that are already tried and true.


But sometimes I look for new recipes to try – especially ones with in-season ingredients.  I make sure that any new recipes are well within my comfort zone.  After all, a recipe – or even an entire menu – doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated to be delicious.

Since I am incapable of cooking and talking at the same time, one thing that is not within my comfort zone is scrambling around the kitchen working on multiple dishes as our guests start arriving.  So, I favor recipes that can be made ahead without sacrificing flavor or freshness.

Planning the entire menu in advance, including all beverages and condiments, is great because then I can write a shopping list that includes everything we will need so that, ideally anyway, we only have to make one trip to the grocery store.


Test New Recipes In Advance

If I have time, I try to test any new recipes in advance of the party.  If I find the recipe online, I always read the reviews before starting. They sometimes contain valuable hints.

Doing a test run of a recipe helps me fine tune it and work out any kinks it might have – and it helps me eliminate recipes that turn out to be not quite as good as I’d hoped.

Accept Reliable Help

If someone reliable offers to help, I don’t turn them down.  I can always count on Chris to be the cheerful co-host who plans the music and mixes the cocktails.


A signature cocktail can be a fun addition to a dinner party. Just make sure your guests have a safe way to get home.

If my Mom is coming, there is no way I would turn down her offer to bring one of her amazing desserts. And a favorite guest of ours really knows her way around the Trader Joe’s cheese case – and her selections never disappoint.


Clean, Shop, Plan, And Even Cook, In Advance

Since I’m not a domestic diva or a natural in the kitchen, it would be a really bad idea for me to wait until the day of the party to pull everything together.

So I do as much as I can in advance, including:


One thing I’ve come to realize over time is that if we waited for our house and garden to be perfect before inviting company, we would never have anyone over. So I’ve given up on striving for perfection.

But of course I still do some cleaning.

A few days before the party, I try to make time to clean the fridge. This frees up space for the dinner party ingredients and makes them easier to find.

I do housecleaning at least a day in advance, focusing mostly on obvious problem areas and parts of the house where the guests are most likely to venture.  Garbage and recycling are always taken out before the party.

If the party will be outdoors, we make sure that the patio is swept and the outdoor furniture is clean.

By cleaning in advance, I just need a few minutes on the day of the party to tidy things up and add a few nice last-minute touches.


Grocery Shopping

Except for items that might perish quickly, I try to buy all the dinner ingredients well in advance – at least a day before the party.

After all, I never know when the grocery store might be out of something and I’ll need to spend extra time looking for it elsewhere.

Planning The Table Setting And Other Details

I have to admit that this is my favorite part.  I just love thinking about which china, glasses, tablecloth, napkins, and serving pieces I’ll be using. So of course I plan the table setting (and make sure all the pieces are clean and useful) well before the actual party.


Thanksgiving table decor
Our 2018 Thanksgiving table featured gold painted leaves as accents.

I try to think about everything that we might need or want on the table:  Candles, flowers, but also practical things like hand wipes if we will be serving something messy like ribs.

If the party is outdoors, we test our patio lights and patio heater to make sure they work.  I have a few tips for keeping insects away from a party, so I also check that I have the items I need for that.

I focus on comfort as much as on aesthetics.  Guests will remember being blinded by the late sun far longer than they will remember whether or not there was a charger under their dinner plate.


We recently had a small al fresco dinner party.  It was early in the season and our patio area was nowhere near perfect. And the tablecloths were mismatched. But we did make comfort a priority by softening the bright afternoon sun with an umbrella, placing comfortable cushions on the chairs, and double checking that our patio lighting was in working order.

Cooking And Prep Work

Since I look for recipes that can be made in advance without sacrificing flavor or freshness, I cook ahead as much as possible.

Some dessert dishes actually call for being chilled overnight, so I can make them the evening before the party.  Other dishes can be made, or at least started, the morning of the party.  I do as much prep work in advance as possible.


We both clean as we prepare food, so the kitchen is usually fairly tidy when the party starts.  (This also makes post-party cleanup much easier.)

It’s all about being relaxed instead of running around in a panic at the last minute.

If I wind up with actual spare time before the party, I can add fun little touches like chilling cucumber water to serve in the water glasses.

Enjoy The Party!

So far, I’ve only talked about the planning and the work.  But really it’s just been a little work over the course of several days.  And now that’s all behind us. The party is ready to start and, almost like those effortless-seeming hosts I talked about above, we can just relax and enjoy the evening!

Bonus Budget-Friendly Dinner Party Tip

The Granny Chic aesthetic (the mixing of old and new design items) is trending now.  It’s eclectic, fun and, since vintage china and accessories are fairly affordable these days, Granny Chic can also be very budget-friendly.


Vintage fabrics make an interesting foundation for a table setting and can often be found at very affordable prices

A seemingly endless supply of charming vintage china and vintage table linens can be found on Etsy.

There is so much more to say about Granny Chic, and I plan to cover it in detail in a future post.

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Styling A Caterpillar Vase

Recently, a thoughtful relative gave me a cute little caterpillar vase.  I have always wanted one of these.

Caterpillar vase
Caterpillar vase

I was planning to host a small brunch for Mother’s Day, so the timing of this gift could not have been better.  I used it in my table decor, and I even stumbled upon a simple way to double its impact.

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The Vase

Measuring at only about 10 inches wide, the vase has six little connected chambers.  It is very similar to this vase.


Doubling Its Impact

I often use a vintage etched glass mirror as a hot plate on my dining table.  I hadn’t intended to use it in my brunch decor but, when I placed the caterpillar vase on it, something fun happened.

Six flower chambers became twelve.

I couldn’t wait to see how it would look filled with flowers.

The Flowers

I learned quickly that the flower stems really do need to be short to work right in this vase.  And the flower heads themselves need to be fairly lightweight.  Even bleeding hearts on short stems were too top-heavy to work.

I ended up using violets and pansies from the garden.  For the greens, I used the foliage from a bleeding heart plant.


The Look

This fun little look was very simple to put together.

Caterpillar vase

We have a small dining table, and I often wind up removing the centerpiece when I host a meal.  But, with the low profile of this centerpiece, we could pass food around without worrying about knocking it over.

Caterpillar vase


Vintage glass trivet


Brunch table setting


I have a chronic tablecloth addiction that I’ve been trying to keep in check.  But I couldn’t resist this cheerful lace-trimmed tablecloth, so it was another new addition to my Mother’s Day table decor.

Brunch table setting

The napkins are simply batik fat quarters that I double-hemmed.  Each napkin is different, and I love that they add an eclectic contrast to the formal china.

You may have noticed there are no coffee cups in this place setting.  That is because I made lattes before the brunch began.


The Menu

I am not a natural at cooking. For me, it takes some planning and advance prep for things to turn out right.  So I kept it simple.  We had:

  • Salmon quiche with leeks, yellow peppers, and spinach (my adaptation of this recipe, in which I substituted the bacon and onion for the cooked salmon, leeks, peppers, and spinach)
  • Maple sausage links
  • Mango salad
  • Assorted fruit and yogurt
  • Lemon berry mini tarts (a slight variation of these lemon blackberry mini tarts)
  • Orange juice and mimosas


The Mirror

I can’t remember where I got my vintage etched glass mirror trivet, but I’m learning that they are not easy to come by.  Right now I am finding only a few similar mirrors on Etsy, like this one and this one (although both are a bit larger than mine).


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From Ugly to Snuggly: Repurposing A Sweater Into Pillow Covers

All winter, we’ve been using our covered front porch as a safe place to visit with a few people at a time.  We also sometimes use it just for ourselves – to sip coffee or cocktails and feel like we are getting out of the house.  We fire up our small tabletop heat lamp and, if we have visitors, we bring out comfortable, appropriately distanced seating and a few small tables.

The bench is always on the porch, and during the holidays we had a couple of festive throw pillows on it.

The large pillow is actually from our sofa, so I didn’t want to keep it outside indefinitely.  And it was time to change the look.  I wanted comfy, warm-looking pillows that could transition from winter to early spring.

I wanted to make pillow covers that looked knitted.  I’d been meaning to find a used sweater to repurpose, but I ended up using this sweater – which was on clearance for $12 at a local chain store.

In the title, I referred to it as ugly, but that wasn’t fair.  It would look nice on the right person, it’s simply not my style.

But style is not why I bought it.  I chose it for the texture and also for the blocks of color.


Creating The Pillow Covers

I started by ripping all the seams of the sweater apart and placing the fabric flat so I could see what I was working with.

I cut two 17-inch squares from the sweater pieces and stitched them on to cotton muslin squares cut to the same size.  The muslin served as a lining for the sweater squares.  It stabilized the knit fabric and gave it some heft and support.

Once the two sweater squares were lined with the muslin, I used them to sew a simple pillow cover for a 16-inch pillow.

Mistakes Made and Lessons Learned

I had enough scraps left to cover a small rectangular pillow, but this time I didn’t take the step of attaching the sweater fabric to a muslin lining first.

This was a mistake, and this pillow cover doesn’t look as good as the first one.  I learned that the lining really does matter when working with a knit sweater fabric.


But what about the sleeves?  I saved the sleeves of the sweater, and I’m going use them to make wine gift bags.

Snuggly Pillow Covers At Last

The pillows help my front porch decor make the leap from holiday to winter and early spring.

I have a variety of looks now – not only with color combinations but also with texture since I intentionally used some of the sweater fabric inside-out.




The Promise Of Spring

I’ve decided that paperwhites are not just for the holidays.  The bulbs are sprouting well under the protection of our porch, so now they serve as an optimistic little reminder that spring is just around the corner.

A New Porch Goodie

One thing I gave Chris for Christmas is this little Sanag Portable Bluetooth Speaker.

It makes our porch visits more festive, and I’m looking forward to using it on our back patio and on camping trips as well.

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Here you’ll find seasonal goodies, my current decor obsessions, and more!


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A Gold and Glass Thanksgiving Table

After being immersed in my dressing room remodel for the past six weeks, it’s nice to finally write about something different – especially something as fun as Thanksgiving table decor.

Last year, I’d seen a photo in a home decor magazine that became my inspiration for our Thanksgiving table:  Oil lamp chimneys with candles burning inside were grouped loosely together with a few scattered fall leaves on an off-white tablecloth.  So simple and elegant.

So I found a muslin curtain that I wasn’t using anymore, and it became that simple off-white tablecloth.

Now that I had my “blank canvas,” the fun could begin.  And to me, fun is always more fun when I’m saving money.  Since I had most of what I needed already on hand, this was a very budget-friendly look to pull together.


Gold Leaves

Of course I immediately strayed from the magazine photo that had inspired me.  I couldn’t resist taking home some huge maples leaves I found on a walk in the park.  Maple leaves don’t stay beautiful for very long, so I spray painted mine with Rust-Oleum “Pure Gold” Metallic spray paint.

After they dried, I pressed them, and some other leaves that I’d painted, under glass for a few days.

This was easy since we have a glass piece that covers our dining room table when it’s not extended.  But pressing the leaves into a large book or under a heavy board may have worked too.


The Oil Lamp Chimneys

I took a few of the glass chimneys from vintage oil lamps that we’ve collected over the years and put candles inside.

A small glass ramekin served as the base for each one.

In the magazine photo, the chimneys were of varying heights, which is why they looked so beautiful grouped together.  But, since my chimneys were more or less the same height, I would be scattering them across the table instead of grouping them.


The Result

The reason I loved that magazine photo so much was because, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, I’m usually already wanting to move on from a fall decor look.  But it’s too early to set the table for Christmas.  This look was such an elegant compromise.

My table ended up looking very different from the photo, but I was still happy with it.

The largest maple leaves became place mats.

Since Thanksgiving comes only once a year, I like to use the good stuff:  Real silverware, vintage china, and vintage crystal wine glasses.




A Word Of Caution

At the end of the evening, I discovered that the candles were a little hard to blow out unless I took the chimneys off first, but the chimneys had become very HOT.  I had to use a pot holder to take them off and sometimes, because of the melted candle wax, they were stuck to the ramekin base.

So, just a little warning that, if you try this, be very careful when you handle the hot chimneys, and also keep kids, pets, and flammable items away from them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving!


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A Birthday Party and a Cake Experiment

The big snow that I talked about in my previous post has finally melted, and I can almost hear Mother Nature saying, “Now where was I? Ah yes, spring!”  

Tiny flowers in the shade garden are no worse for the wear after being buried for days under a heavy white blanket.  

Amazing.  And such a cheerful sight. 

I decided to bring some of that spring cheer indoors for a small family birthday party that I was hosting.

An Easy Spring Container Garden

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As part of the party decor, I set up this little indoor container garden.


I used a primrose, a fragrant hyacinth, and spike moss to fill this cute footed pot that I found at Goodwill.

After the party, the birthday girl took it home with her (which is why I included the plant tags in the container).

A Whimsical Table Setting

For the table, I used a mix of newer and vintage blue-themed Villeroy & Boch pieces.  

We’ve collected, inherited, and been given these pieces over the years.  What I love about Villeroy & Boch is that many of their patterns, even the vintage ones, are a bit playful.  They put a whimsical spin on classic china.

Repurposed Valentine’s Day Flowers 

For the centerpiece, I just used some of my Valentine’s Day roses in a vintage fan vase.

It didn’t take up much table space, and it added a little visual tension to the blue-and-white theme.

So the dinner went well, and by now my family was lulled into a false sense of security – because they had not yet seen The Cake.


An Experimental Orange Rum Cake 

Here I should mention that this is not a cooking blog.  And I would never, ever, claim to have expertise in baking. 

You’ll see why when I show you the birthday cake that I baked.

Syrup-infused orange rum cake.

What is that brown stuff on top?  We’ll come to that.  

I knew the birthday girl would enjoy a fruit-flavored cake with little or no frosting.  The words “orange cake” popped into my head.  So I googled it.

I found this recipe for a syrup-infused orange cake.  But instead of following the recipe for the cake, I just used a boxed yellow cake mix and substituted orange juice for the water.

Then I followed the recipe for the orange syrup portion, but I decided to make it an orange rum cake.  So I substituted some of the orange juice that the recipe called for with spiced rum.



It was all going really well.  The syrup was infusing into the cake.

It was time for the final step:  Making the glaze.  I’m not sure what I did wrong, but my glaze cooled into rock-hard clumps the minute I spread it onto the cake.  It stuck to the spatula. It stuck to my teeth.  I knew then that if I finished spreading it on the cake, I’d need a chain saw to cut into it.  So I stopped.  All done!

Next time I’ll skip that part.  I served the cake with whipped cream, and it was actually pretty tasty – for an experiment.

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The Centerpiece That The Squirrel Planted

The only thing better than growing your own vegetables is having a squirrel do it for you.

Earlier this summer, I noticed a vine growing under a manzanita shrub. The large leaves told me that the mystery vine was something squash-related.  Over the summer, it wound its way through the branches of the manzanita.  The vine seemed to thrive in its location – a location I would never have chosen for it. 

How did it get there?  I can only speculate that a squirrel buried the seed last winter.   I waited to see exactly what the squirrel had planted for us.

White Pumpkins!

Thank you, thoughtful squirrel, for supplying me with one of the most popular fall decor items out there – white pumpkins!  Well, white-ish anyway.

white pumpkins on the vine

A Quick Centerpiece

Recently we decided to host one last dinner on our back patio.  The table we use is long and narrow, so we couldn’t have a bulky centerpiece. 

And I avoid using floral centerpieces outdoors even though it looks so dreamy on Instragram and in magazines.  In the real world, flowers can attract bees to the table.

The white pumpkins were not quite ready to harvest, but I decided to sacrifice one to use in a simple centerpiece.  

pumpkin centerpiece

I tucked a few hops in around the pumpkin.  

pumpkin centerpiece

You might be wondering what in the world the pumpkin is sitting on.  No it’s not a candlestick – it’s what’s left of this urn after it took an unfortunate tumble.

I hate to waste anything.


With my centerpiece done, I just needed to come up with some after-dark lighting for the dinner party.

So Chris and I wound a couple of strings of lights through the frame of a patio umbrella to make a quick chandelier.  

DIY patio lighting

We secured the strands with clothespins.  Next time, we will come up with a more elegant method for attaching them.

And Chris set a couple of his vintage Coleman lanterns in strategic locations.

Coleman lantern

With our heat lamp cranked, and using some of these tips to help keep bugs away, we all stayed cozy and comfortable.

Goodbye Summer

Chris’s first attempt at smoked ribs was a success, and one of our guests brought a wonderful blueberry pie.  

patio party



patio party

Seems we always try to squeeze in one final patio dinner before the summer ends, and this one went off without a hitch – thanks in part to one very talented squirrel.


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Wondering where I got those crazy dinner napkins?  I made them using batik fabric quarters (also known as “fat quarters).  The fabric quarters are just the right size for a dinner napkin, and I simply double-hemmed the edges. 

But for anyone who doesn’t like to sew, there is a lovely assortment of handcrafted batik napkins on Etsy.

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Summer’s Last Dinner Party

Note:  I’m still redecorating My Sweet Cottage, so please pardon the dust!

Recently, we decided to invite a few friends over for dinner. We wanted to have one last party on our back patio before the weather changed.

But we didn’t stop to think about how early the sun goes down this late in summer.  The patio sits in the far corner of the garden, and there is no lighting there.  So once it got dark, candles alone would not be enough.  We had to set something up – quickly.

Desperation Lighting

If done right, outdoor lighting can be gorgeous.  I was inspired by the magical, romantic lighting at the garden concert we attended earlier in the summer.

The Nick Drummond Band during their “Under the Stars” concert.

But of course we didn’t have time for anything that elaborate. At this point, all I could hope for was lighting that was adequate but not glaring.

I had a strand of Edison-style filament bulbs that I use during the holidays.  We attached one end of the strand to a long bamboo pole. The pole was then anchored to a tree.

We ran the lights above the table.  On the other end, we attached the strand to a tree branch because that was our only option.

It wasn’t elegant, but it would get us through the night.


Once the sun goes down, so does the temperature.  So we made sure we had plenty of fuel for our heat lamp.

I momentarily considered setting out some blankets in case anyone got cold, but with the heat lamp it really wasn’t necessary.


I used all the little bug-proofing tricks that I shared in this previous post.

The citronella centerpiece took me about 10 minutes to put together.  I set a tall glass candle holder in the center of a small clay saucer, filled the saucer with water, and added some leafy twigs from the garden.

It was compact enough for the small round table.  Flowers would have attracted bees, which is why I used only the fresh twigs to add some interest.

Little Touches

No matter how hard I try, by late summer my garden looks like an overgrown monster.  I used to let this keep me from entertaining, but I’ve come to realize that no one really minds the monster but me.

Still it’s nice to create a diversion.  Chris set up his mid-century bar across from the patio.  This was where the party would start.


I tossed a few blossoms into the bird bath,

Tucked a few citronella candles around the patio,

And we set up our iPod player for music.

As neglected as it was, the patio still had some charm.



Goodbye to Summer

Everything worked out.

Photo by Loralee Wenger

We were warm, the bugs stayed away, and we could see each other.

It’s raining today.  We really needed the rain, and I hear it’s going to stick around for a while.

But at least we enjoyed the last warm day of summer.

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We used the Vickerman lights, which I love.  However the bulbs are glass, not plastic, and the filaments are delicate.   The globe string lights are perhaps sturdier, although I haven’t tried them. The heat lamp is very similar to ours.

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Garden Tips We Can Use Right Now

I’m almost afraid to say this but the rain has finally stopped – for now. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve had an unusually cold and wet spring. But now it seems that we’ve turned a corner.

We’ve even enjoyed dinners on our patio these past few nights. This got me thinking about some of my previous posts on gardening and outdoor entertaining.  A few of them contain information that we can use right now, so I thought I would share a little roundup.

A Peony Experiment

In my garden, the peonies are beginning to pop.  I love peonies as cut flowers, but when I bring them inside there are always a few earwigs and other unpleasant cooties hitching a ride.

Well there’s an easy way not only to avoid this but to time peonies to bloom indoors exactly when I want them to.  Check out A Peony Experiment to learn more.

Tomato Tips from Mr. B

This time of year always has me thinking about my old neighbor, Mr. B.  His tomato plants were legendary, and he taught me everything I know about raising tomatoes.  In Tomato Tips from Mr. B, I pass along his old-school advice.

Tomato Tips from Mr. B.

A (Mostly) Bug-Free Patio Party

In summer, we enjoy dinners on our back patio.  And it’s even more fun when friends or family can join us.  But nothing can ruin a dinner party faster than a few pesky insects.

In A (Mostly) Bug-Free Patio Party, I share a few tips that help keep bugs away.

Using Bold Colors for Garden Structures

One of my very first blog posts was about choosing bold colors for man-made garden structures.  My writing style has changed since I wrote it, and hopefully my photos are better now.  But I still feel the same way about using bold colors for the outdoors.

Whites and barely there colors are still popular indoor paint trends. But outdoors is a whole different story. In a lush garden, accents and small buildings can get lost if they are not given a strong color.

My post Go Bold and Have Fun with Garden Structures shares the color we chose for our little garden shed – and gives a tour of the interior.

Potting Bench

But that’s enough for today.  The sun is shining, and it’s time to get out there before the weather changes again!

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Small Table Solutions for Holiday Dinners – And Some Dinner Party Themes

This time of year, magazines, Pinterest, and Instagram are packed with dreamy images of holiday tables large enough to seat armies and piled high with picture-perfect holiday decor. Somehow, guests cheerfully manage to pass serving dishes between the towering centerpieces, candle groupings, and festive bric-a-brac.

Yeah, right.  In the real world, once the food platters arrived, most of that stuff would have to go.  And in the real world, dining room tables and family celebrations come in all sizes – even small.  So today I’m sharing a few tips for decorating a small table without sacrificing space.

Use Scaled-Down Centerpieces

I have a tiny dining room that can only house a small table.  But because my husband loves to cook the turkey, we happily host Thanksgiving.

For small holiday tables, it’s best to keep the look festive yet clutter-free.  So I keep my centerpieces compact.  They don’t sprawl across the table, and they are not too tall.

Take last year’s centerpiece for example.

Holiday table decor: Jewel toned centerpiece

In an urn with a small base, it didn’t take up much real estate on the table.  And it was just tall enough to add interest without being a distraction.

Choose an Interesting Theme

Since I have to carefully edit what I do put on the table, I try to come up with an interesting theme.  Last year it was jewel tones.

A lively tablecloth and flowers,  and amethyst runners and napkins, kept the mood festive.

Holiday table decor: jewel toned table decor

And the year before that, it was serene earth tones and rustic textures.

Holiday table decor: subtle elegance

Again, these looks are clean and simple.  On a small table, any more decor would add clutter.

Use Smaller Plates

Over the years, dinner plates have gotten bigger and bigger.  Many modern dinner plates are 12 inches wide.  Get a few too many of them on a small table and things look crowded.

For dinner parties, I often use our antique china plates which are just under 10  inches wide.  They are a better scale for the table, and they still hold plenty of food.

Use Narrow Chairs

According to Emily Post, for guests to be seated comfortably there should be at least six inches between chairs.  So using narrow chairs means that more chairs can be placed at the table.

Place the Silverware on the Plate

Another way to keep the look clutter-free and add the appearance of more space between place settings is to use this restaurant-inspired trick.

Rolling the silverware in the dinner napkin and placing it in the middle of the plate (as opposed to beside the plate) saves space.

Holiday table decor: silverware

Rethink the Placemats

When I’m trying to seat eight people on my small dining room table, placemats wind up too closely spaced to look good. Scaled-down chargers can be a nice alternative.

Bending the rules a little is fun too.  Simply using smaller, attractive dinner napkins as placemats can work.

Last year, I placed narrow homemade runners across the width of my table to give the place settings definition without taking up space.

Holiday table decor: homemade runners define the place settings

Which leads me to my fun new way to define a place setting without taking up any table space at all.

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Put It Under Glass

When we are not hosting dinner parties, we take the leaves out of our table and it becomes a small square table – great for two to four people.

It’s an antique table from the Craftsman era, so to protect the wood – and make the table easier to clean – we had a piece of polished glass cut to fit over the top.

custom cut glass table top

Sometimes we put a tablecloth under the glass and sometimes we just enjoy the look of the wood. Either way, it’s super easy to clean now. This is a wonderful option for a small table.

And it got me thinking.  I started playing with ways to define place settings by placing gilded leaves – in this case, witch hazel leaves – between the tablecloth and the glass. (For how I gilded the leaves, see this post.)

Holiday table decor: gilded leaves under glass

They are placed fairly tight around the edge the of the plate – again keeping the look compact.

The dark tablecloth adds elegance and sets off the golden leaves.

Holiday table decor: gilded leaves under glass closeup

And as you can see, the leaves are under the glass, so they don’t interfere with anything on top of the table yet they still add interest.

Leaves can also be arranged under the glass to expand the look of the centerpiece.

Holiday table decor: Gilded leaves as centerpiece under glass

The possibilities here are endless.  For spring and summer, flowers or fern fronds would be fun.

Of course, once we expand the table for Thanksgiving, our glass top won’t fit.  But at least this started me thinking, so this year my Thanksgiving decor just might include leaves pressed under glass.

Have Fun

Whatever the size of your dining room table, things always turn out better when you enjoy decorating it. So don’t forget the most important tip of all:  Have some fun with it!

35 Dinner Party Themes

Recently, ProFlowers reached out to me to share their wonderful post “35 Dinner Party Themes Your Guests Will Love.”  It’s a compilation of dozens of creative dinner party themes with helpful filters such as style, season, and guest size to help plan the perfect holiday get together.

In addition to being packed with creative ideas, the guide is beautifully photographed.  I hope you enjoy perusing it as much as I did!

ProFlowers Dinner Party Guide

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Roses, An Easy Patio Tablecloth, and Some Vintage Finds

Are we already in August?  As usual, the summer is going by too fast, and now we only have a few weeks left – with so much we want to do.  So I’ve decided to put this blog down for a little late-summer nap.  While it’s sleeping, I’ll be working on projects to share with you in September.  At least that’s the plan.

And since this is my last post until then, I have all kinds of things to show you.

Costco Roses with Summer Garden Clippings

As I mentioned in my previous post, My Three-Season Greenhouse, my husband gave me two dozen Costco roses for our anniversary.

Arranging roses in a Sunglo Greenhouse

With so many roses, I thought it would be fun to break them into several different arrangements and include some fresh clippings from the garden.

I gathered some of my favorite vases and headed to the greenhouse.

Vintage vases

I had to work fast because it was warm in there and I didn’t want the roses to wither.  I came up with these three arrangements.

Thriller, Filler, Spiller

The old thriller-filler-spiller technique used in container gardening also works well for floral arrangements.

Roses, lady's mantle and love-lies-bleeding in a vintage glass vase

  • Thriller:  Red roses
  • Filler:  Lady’s mantle flowers (Alchemilla mollis or Alchemilla vulgaris)
  • Spiller:  Love-lies-bleeding (Amaranthus caudatus)

I love the fresh green of the lady’s mantle flowers as a substitute for fillers like baby’s breath.  The crimson-tasseled annual called love-lies-bleeding adds a little drama and works nicely with the color of the vintage glass vase.


I set yellow roses upright on a spike frog in a vintage milk glass vase for this buttoned-up look for the master bedroom.

yellow roses with dahlias and maidenhair fern in a milk glass vase

I tucked in maidenhair fern (Adiantum) fronds from the shade garden and, around the perimeter, Bishop of Llandaff dahlias.

This late in summer, most of my summer perennials are starting to fade, but because I deadhead these dahlias, the plants bloom for months.


I put the remaining roses in a tall crystal vase with honeybush (Melianthus major) leaves around the perimeter.  These large silvery leaves add a touch of glamour.

roses with honeybush leaves in a crystal vase

An Easy DIY Patio Tablecloth

Feeling like the summer was getting away from me, I hosted several small get togethers on our patio last week.

Planning the table decor is always half the fun, and I wanted a tablecloth that would complement our china and the chair cushions.

At the fabric store, I came across a whimsical home decor fabric called Sannio Cabana by SMC Swavelle Millcreek.

outdoor table setting

It was 54 inches wide, so I just asked for a 54-inch cut of fabric and hemmed it to have a square tablecloth.

home and garden - outdoor table setting

The square tablecloth worked well with the 42-inch round table.  I positioned it so that it draped elegantly between the chairs yet guests didn’t wind up with a bunch of extra fabric on their laps.

home and garden - square tablecloth on a round table

With a tablecloth this lively, I didn’t need much else in the way of table decor – especially on such a small table.

home and garden - patio party table setting
Photo courtesy of Lisa Wildin

Not wanting to attract bees, I didn’t use any flowers.  The centerpiece was a citronella candle.

home and garden - citronella centerpiece

That and a couple of dryer sheets under the tablecloth did a fairly decent job of keeping pests away.   (Note: For more tips on keeping bugs from crashing a patio party, see this post.)

Minted's Limited Edition Art Prints

My Recent Vintage Finds

I always look forward to the annual garage sale that my neighborhood hosts.  I never participate because I would rather cruise around and see what everyone is selling.

This year I scored with two of these tall fir cabinets with leaded glass doors – for $5 each!  The style is an exact match to the original built-ins in our house.

home and garden - vintage cabinets

They have that “old schoolhouse” smell that I love.  I have several ideas of where to use them in our house, so we’ll see what happens.

My friend, Carolyn, participated in the sale and when I admired these adorable mid century salt and pepper shakers that belonged to her mother, she gave them to me.  Thanks Carolyn!

Mid century salt and pepper shakers

They are perfect for our vintage trailer, the June Bug.

And then while visiting an antique store in the historic Fairhaven district of Bellingham, we found this spike frog to add to my frog collection.

vintage flower frog

I couldn’t resist that rustic patina.

See You in September

I hope those of you living in the Northern hemisphere have a chance to get out and enjoy what is left of your summer.  Let’s meet back here in September!

Disclosure:  This post contains Affiliate Links. 


Here are a few fun tidbits from around the web, including the fabric (at a lower price than I paid) and the salad plates I used in my table setting.

Late summer design inspiration

Center:  Villeroy & Boch Switch 3 Cordoba Salad Plate  Clockwise from top:  Set of 2 Vintage Flower Frogs  | Sannio Cabana fabric by the yard | 4″ Daisy Milk Glass Ruffletop Vase | Beettle Kill Pine Candleholder with Citronella Candles

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