How to organize an outdoor dinner

As warm weather arrives, so does the opportunity for outdoor fun – an especially appealing prospect this year as the pandemic drags on, but it seems we’ve been isolated long enough.

Whether in the garden, on a deck or on a small porch, your dinner should be one that guests will remember. That means thinking beyond the basics and creating a dining space as carefully planned as any indoor dining room.

“When friends arrive, you want them to feel special and welcome,” said Cynthia Zamaria, a Toronto home and garden stylist and author of “House + Flower.” “One of the ways we do that is by creating a beautiful table for them. You may still be working on the potato salad, but the table is set and it’s lovely.”

With Mother Nature on your side, you can even create a space better than any indoor room. “Sometimes an outdoor room is the most beautiful dining room in the world,” said David Stark, an event designer in New York.

We asked Mrs. Zamaria, Mr. Stark and other designers advice on creating an outdoor dining space worthy of the summer to come.

If you have a relatively large terrace or backyard, lunches and dinners don’t have to be held in the same place, at the same table you use for everyday meals. Consider moving the table to another attractive location – under a tree canopy, near flowers in a garden, or next to a pool or water fountain.

“Especially after the last couple of years, people are really looking for an experience,” said Becky Shea, a New York-based interior designer, who designed a diner under a willow tree and another in the middle of a hill at her Catskill home. mountains. “Just by changing the setting, people can be immersed in a different environment.”

Michael Devine, an Orange, Virginia-based textile designer and author of “An Invitation to the Garden,” routinely moves his dining table around the backyard. “It depends on what’s blooming and what looks good – so the table goes there,” he said. “We run around the garden all summer.”

It is not necessary to have a proper dining table with chairs. You can use living room furniture if you stick to snacks, said Chauncey Boothby, an interior designer in Rowayton, Connecticut.

Or you can spread out blankets and have a picnic anywhere, Stark said: “It’s the perfect romantic ideal on a lawn, under a tree or on the beach.”

“The difference is when you don’t use disposable cutlery,” he added, “but bring a certain elegance” using proper china and cups.

You don’t need a theme for a dinner party, but it can help – perhaps something as simple as celebrating a favorite color palette, certain types of flowers or vegetables, or a notable date.

“I start by asking what the entertainment is for,” said Kim Seybert, a tableware designer in New York. “Is it the Fourth of July, Labor Day, a birthday party or something else?”

For a Fourth of July celebration, Seybert said she can use a palette of red, white and blue, but for a birthday party she often seeks to reflect the interests of the guest of honor. “One of my friends is very involved with the Natural History Museum, where they have the butterfly section, so we did a butterfly theme,” she said. For another party, she designed the table around bird-inspired elements.

Stark has designed outdoor events focused on lawn games like badminton and croquet, as well as parties celebrating seasonal vegetables, including a recent one where he set the table to resemble a market stall, mixing peppers in the floral arrangements and displaying tomatoes in small baskets. . “We rely on fresh seasonal produce, farmers markets and roadside farm stalls,” he said. “There are all kinds of visual pleasures that come from that.”

Since outdoor dining tends to be more casual than indoor dining, setting the table is a chance to have some fun. Start with a tablecloth, runner or placemats for a fresh, clean surface, and build from there.

“Having a good foundation through textiles is essential,” said Shea. “Belgian linen is a tried and true summer fabric, alongside cotton and canvas.”

While she prefers plain tablecloths and napkins in solid and striped textures, other designers such as Ms.

Whichever you choose, it doesn’t have to be expensive. “You can just go to the fabric store and buy yards of nice fabric – it could be chayote, flour sack or linen – and you just cut it off and you get the nice bangs at the ends,” said Zamaria, who also used cheap tea towels. bought in bulk like cloth napkins.

For crockery, cutlery and glasses, you can opt for matching sets, using pieces with lush colors and patterns, or rustic textures. But some of the designers we interviewed also suggested using incompatible items.

“A collected table is a more interesting table,” said Zamaria. “That’s why I love using mismatched vintage china, my finest tarnished silver, engraved crystal glasses and cobblestone furniture. It looks easy, but it’s so high.”

Finish the table with a decorative centerpiece. In summer, it should be easy: flowers, twigs and tall grasses cut from the garden or forest, or purchased at a florist or deli, can create table magic.

The natural inclination is to stuff your seedlings into a tall vase positioned in the center of the table, which works well on a round table. But it’s often better to go long and low. When setting up a rectangular table, try to use a series of smaller vases positioned along the length of the table.

“I usually like to make pots of sprouts—small ones, spread all over the table,” Seybert said, “so they don’t obstruct anyone’s view.”

Just like mismatched crockery, small vases don’t have to be identical. Try mixing varying sizes and heights to create a lively display; if you choose pieces that share a common color or material, they will all work together.

If it is an evening event, candles or portable lanterns should also be spread out along the length of the table. Traditional conical candles may look dramatic, but they tend to be pointed and are easily extinguished. If kids are involved, or if it’s a windy night, votive candles might be a better choice, said Zamaria, who prefers heavy, stemless cups for the same reason: They tend to sit still.

A beautiful table setting will draw guests into the meal, but what will they find when they are seated?

“I definitely love a conversation starter,” said Seybert, who usually comes from adding something unexpected or whimsical. She set up tables with carved figurines and napkin rings reminiscent of exotic birds, as well as striped and polka-dotted candles found on Etsy.

Mrs. Zamaria reused garden urns and coolers and used sections of tree trunks as rustic benches.

Stark, whose upcoming book with Jane Schulak, “At the Artisan’s Table,” focuses on handcrafted elements for the table, sometimes offers a bit of trompe l’oeil. He set tables with paper flower arrangements (in collaboration with artist Corrie Beth Hogg) and created place cards that resemble three-dimensional tomatoes.

But your table setting doesn’t have to be so elaborate: a sculptural vase, purposefully imperfect plates and glasses, or a unique pitcher or plate are enough to get most people talking. After all, guests are there to socialize and have fun.

When your outdoor space is ready, don’t forget one of the most important things: hosts should have fun too.

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