Think of each of your tables as a blank canvas, but keep in mind that they shouldn’t all be identical in design — that’s boring! Better yet, think of accessorizing your tables the way you accessorize your bridal attire. The elements I describe below are comparable to accentuating your face with jewels, accenting your gown with belts and gloves, or adding feathers or sparkles to your hair.
Tablecloths. Visually these linens comprise a large percentage of your reception room, so they add lots of color to the entire space. Using tablecloths adds another element of design to your wedding — it’s like wallpapering a room in your home. The first thing you should know when choosing your tablecloth linens is to get the right size cloth for your tables. The fabrics need to cover your tables completely; no table legs should be peeking out from the bottom! To figure out the appropriate size tablecloth, take your table size and simply add 60 inches. For example: If you have a 72-inch round table (which seats from ten to twelve guests), you’ll need a 132-inch tablecloth. And if you have an 8-foot-long rectangular table (which seats eight to ten guests), the size of your tablecloth should be 108 inches by 156 inches. Something else to consider is the type of tablecloth you’ll need for each table. Here are the three basic types:
* Underlay Cloth. This is the first tablecloth linen that’s placed over your tables. It provides the base color for your table décor, and complements the accent colors used for your party.
* Overlay Cloth. Often considered the prettier of the two main tablecloth types, the overlay is the linen that lies above the underlay cloth. It adds texture and emphasizes your wedding’s statement color or colors. Remember that the fabrics you choose can really make or break your wedding look. If your budget doesn’t allow you to have both an underlay and overlay cloth, find out if the venue has full-length base cloths you can use, and then purchase your own inexpensive overlays to dress them up. Whether you use the venue’s tablecloths, rent them, or buy your own, just be sure they’re long enough to reach the floor.
* Table Runners. These are optional linens that can add an extra punch of color or texture to your tables. Running the full length of each table, these cloths cover only the middle section of each table.
Napkins. Cloth napkins are as much a part of your wedding décor as your tablecloths and centerpieces. When selecting your napkin color, make sure it matches the shade of your underlay tablecloth (that is, if you’re using both underlay and overlay cloths). It’s also important to know how to fold napkins as well as which treatments are — and aren’t — appropriate, so that you can communicate what you want to your caterer. The two basic napkin styles are the flat fold (the napkin is simply folded into a rectangular shape) and the napkin ring treatment (pulling the fabric through a stylish napkin ring). What you should never do is place a folded napkin in your glassware, or fold the napkins in the shape of a swan or some other nonsensical object! The first thing you should do when you’re seated at your table is to take your napkin, fold it in half, and set it on your lap. And be a dainty bride: Use the corners of the napkin to dab your mouth during dinner. No wiping your mouth like you’re at a barbecue joint, please!
Place Setting. Choosing specific utensils, glassware, and china for your guests is a great way to add personality and style to your wedding. The right place settings will also help tie together the overall theme and design of the event.
Charger Plate. Also known as a show plate, this decorative plate adds color, texture, and elegance to each place setting. It rests beneath the dinner plate and salad plate, and should not be removed from the table until the main entrée is cleared.
Glassware. This consists of the wineglasses, champagne flutes, and water goblets at each table. If glassware rentals are in your budget, it’s nice to have fun with them by experimenting with different glass designs, colors, and accents.
Flatware. Like all other place setting items, your serving utensils should also match your décor. Choose the metal — silver, gold, or bronze — that works best with your color scheme. You can also play with different handle styles and colors.
China. This includes your dinner plates, appetizer plates, soup bowls, salad and bread plates, dessert plates, coffee cups and saucers. You can use the same pattern for all of your china — or add interest to your table by mixing and matching styles.
To keep the cost of your place settings down, consider using the venue’s glassware and china, and renting only charger plates and water goblets to add just enough pizzazz to the table. (Hint: To liven up a basic glassware set, use a colored drinking goblet to add a splash of color.)
Chairs. Your wedding venue may already have seating options — perhaps plastic or wood folding chairs or upholstered chairs. If you’re lucky, these are in good shape and you might need to add only a bit of embellishment. However, if you choose to upgrade your chairs, then you’ll either need chair rentals or custom chairs — the most expensive option. For my weddings, I often rent Chiavari chairs, an elegant chair style that looks as if they were crafted from bamboo trunks. These chairs come in a variety of colors and can be made of wood, resin, or metal. But you will need to order the seat cushions separately — ideally in a color that matches your table linens. To enhance the look of existing chairs, you can use chair covers (a custom-fit fabric that enrobes the entire chair), chair backs (a covering that slips over the entire back of the chair and leaves the seat exposed), or chair caps (a fabric that covers only the top of the chair back). When covering your chairs, simplicity is key. Wrapping chair with ridiculous big bows is a no-no. And please leave the spandex fabric for your body-shaping underwear!
Although it’s possible to overaccessorize in fashion, you almost can’t overaccessorize the tables — it just costs more to do so. When dressing up your tables, the very minimum you should have is a full-length tablecloth and matching place settings, even if you have to opt for simple styles.