There is much wisdom in the adage ‘The family that eats together, stays together’. Whilst the pace of life can mean we reach for quick fix food or eat in front of the TV, there is something important about devoting attention to the ritual of mealtimes.
Eating together gives us a chance to talk, to check in with our loved ones about their days and to teach children the art of conversation. Family meals might be busy and noisy, but they are an important time to be together as a unit. Particularly with the growing trend for families to plug into separate devices around the house rather than watching TV together. Even if you only manage to sit down together a few times a week, make those mealtimes feel special.
If you live on your own preparing something wholesome and nutritious for yourself and eating it at a neatly set table, away from the pulls of social media or work, can be a lovely way to relax. The table is also often the main piece of furniture in a kitchen or dining room, so beautifying it can make the whole room look fabulous.
Laying the table is the perfect way to acknowledge this important time. Modern life requires far less in the way of cutlery and paraphernalia than in previous centuries, so laying the table is not an onerous task. Here’s how to make an ordinary meal feel that little bit more special by setting the perfect table.
First, the tablecloth. Whilst you might not use one every day, a beautiful tablecloth can provide a simple yet stylish backdrop for any meal. Linen tablecloths are ideal for both special occasions and regular use, thanks to their durability and the fact that they wash brilliantly (and don’t need ironing). If you don’t want to go the whole hog and use a tablecloth, a table runner is a brilliant option. This will bring your table together and lend an elegant but informal look to your meal.
Decent cutlery is a good investment. Go for something classic rather than faddy. You want the pieces to feel heavy in your hands and to have a simple but pleasing shape. Set each place with a fork to the left, then a spoon to the right with a knife on the outside. If you are serving several courses work on the principle that you use each piece from the outside inwards – so soup spoons or entree pieces to the far right, then main course cutlery and on the inside your dessert spoons and/ or forks.
Napkins can turn a casual meal into something far more special-feeling. Fold in rectangles and place to the left of your place setting, or decorate with a flower or stem. Linen napkins are a great choice here, as the fabric feels soft to the touch yet is very hardwearing. Napkins are also a more environmentally-friendly alternative to disposable paper towels or hand wipes.
Your choice of crockery is crucial to creating the perfect table setting. Whether you opt for classic, minimalist white all round, or go for earthy toned stoneware, just make sure you buy good quality pieces that won’t chip easily or scratch. Buying cheap may not be wise in this instance as poorer quality crockery just won’t last as long or look as good. Rustic, artisanal bowls rather than plates are very on trend at the moment and will lift a humble serving of soup or salad into an Insta-worthy treat.
Flowers always make a lovely centrepiece for a table. You don’t need a grand bouquet, just pick a few things from the garden or hedgerows and display in jars or a simple vase. In winter shapely branches or stems of pussy-willow look fabulous and will keep for a long time. In spring and summer a casual posy of wildflowers adds charm and interest whilst not dominating the table. There is nothing lovelier than a puffy cloud of ammi magus or heavenly-scented clusters of sweet peas.
For serving drinks, tumblers are a good go-to for everything from wine and mulled cider to soft drinks. Champagne really calls for flutes, however, so have these to hand if that’s your tipple.
Candles are pretty much essentials in our book. If you do nothing else, lighting a candle and laying out napkins will bring a homely, finished feel to a meal. Candles throw a gentle golden light onto everything and provide a useful focal point on the table. Go for a few dotted along the length of the table, or one larger pillar candle in the centre. Choose white or beeswax candles for an understated yet beautiful look.