How to host an outdoor dinner party

With the warm weather coming, so does outdoor recreation – a particularly attractive prospect this year, as the pandemic continues but we seem to be isolated for long enough.

Whether it’s in the garden, on a deck, or on a small balcony, your dinner party should be one that guests will remember. This means thinking beyond the basics and creating a carefully appointed dining space like any interior dining room.

“When friends come over, you want to make them feel special and welcome,” said Cynthia Zamaria, a Toronto-based home and garden decorating designer and author of House + Flower. “One way to do that is to create a nice table for them. You can still work on the potato salad, but the table is ready and it’s great.”

With Mother Nature by your side, you may even be able to create a space that’s better than any room interior. “Sometimes, the outside room is the most beautiful dining room in the world,” said David Stark, event designer in New York.

We asked Ms. Zamaria, Mr. Stark, and other designers for advice on how to create an outdoor dining space worthy of next summer.

If you have a relatively large balcony or yard, there is no need to have lunch and dinner in the same place, at the same table you use for daily meals. Consider moving the table to another attractive location – under a tree canopy, near flowers in a garden or by a pond or water feature.

“After the last two years in particular, people are really looking for an experience,” said Becky Shea, a New York-based interior designer, who designed a dinner party under a willow tree and one in the middle of a hill at her Catskill home. mountains. “Once you change the setting, people can immerse themselves in a different environment.”

Michael Devine, a textile designer based in Orange, Virginia, and author of Invitation to the Garden routinely moves his dinner table around the patio. “It depends on what’s thriving and what looks good — and then the table goes there,” he said. “We rotate in the garden all summer.”

It is not necessary to have a suitable dining table with chairs. You can use lounge furniture if you stick to finger foods, said Chauncey Boothby, an interior designer based in Royton, Connecticut.

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

“The sophistication is that you don’t use disposable cutlery,” he added, “but give it a certain elegance” with appropriate china and glassware.

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 special date.

“I start by asking why the entertainment is,” said Kim Seibert, a New York-based tableware designer. “Is it the Fourth of July, Labor Day, a birthday party or something else?”

At the Fourth of July celebration, Mrs. Seibert said she might use a palette of red, white, and blue, but at a birthday party, it’s often meant to reflect the interests of the guest of honor. “One of my friends is very involved in the Museum of Natural History, where they have the Butterfly Department, so we did the Butterfly theme,” she said. For another party, she designed the table around bird-inspired elements.

Mr. Stark has designed outdoor events that focus on garden games like badminton and croquet, as well as parties that celebrate vegetables in season, including a modern one where he sets the table to summon a market stand, mixing paprika into floral arrangements and displaying tomatoes in half-size baskets Liter. “We turned to the fresh produce of the season, farmers’ markets and roadside farm stalls,” he said. “There are all kinds of visual delights that come from that.”

Since outdoor dining tends to be more casual than indoor dining, setting the table is an opportunity to have some fun. Start with a tablecloth, tablecloth, or surface rugs for a clean, clean surface, and build up from there.

“Having a beautiful foundation through textiles is essential,” Ms. Shea said. “Belgian linen is a tried-and-true summer fabric, along with cotton and canvas.”

While you prefer simple tablecloths and napkins in solids and stripes, other designers, such as Mrs. Boothby and Mr. Devine, will use plaid designs for a whimsical touch.

Whatever you choose, it doesn’t have to be expensive. Ms. Zamaria, who also used inexpensive tea towels bought in bulk as cloth napkins, said Ms.

For dinnerware, flatware and glassware, you may want to use matching sets, using pieces with abundant colors and patterns, or rustic textures. But some designers we interviewed also suggested using mismatched elements.

“The assembled table is a much more interesting table,” said Mrs. Zamaria. “That’s why I like to use mismatched antique china, the best stained silver, engraved crystal mugs, and pebbled furniture. They look easy, but they are so high.”

Finish the table with a decorative centerpiece. In the summer, it should be easy: flowers, branches and tall herbs cut from the garden or forest, bought from a florist or ready-made food, can create magic on the table.

The natural tendency is to stuff your scraps into a tall vase placed in the center of the table, which works well on a round table. But it is often better to buy long and low instead. When you set up a rectangular table, try using a series of small vases placed along the table.

“I usually like to make bud vases – smaller vases, all over the table, so it doesn’t get in the way of anyone seeing,” said Mrs. Seibert.

Much like mismatched dinnerware, small vases don’t have to be identical. Try mixing different sizes and heights to create an animated display; If you choose pieces that share a common color or material, they will all work together.

If it is an evening event, then portable candles or lanterns should be scattered along the table as well. Traditional tapered candles can look exciting, but they tend to be graceful and can be easily extinguished. If there are children, or if the evening is windy, votive candles may be a better choice, said Mrs. Zamaria, who prefers heavy, stemless drinking glasses for the same reason.

A beautiful table view will attract guests to the meal, but what will they find once they are seated?

“I definitely love to start a conversation,” said Ms. Seibert, which usually comes from adding something unexpected or whimsical. She laid out tables with carved figurines and napkin rings resembling exotic birds, as well as striped and dotted candles on Etsy.

Mrs. Zamaria repurposed jars and coolers used in the gardens, and used sections of logs as rustic benches.

Mr. Stark, whose upcoming book with Gene Schulak, At the Craftsman’s Table, focuses on handmade items for the table, sometimes offering a bit of optical illusion. He set tables with paper flower arrangements (collaborating with artist Corey Beth Hogg) and created 3D tomato-like place cards.

But your table setting doesn’t have to be that elaborate: a carved vase, or intentionally incomplete plates and cups, or a unique jug or plate is enough to get most people talking. After all, guests are there to mingle and have fun.

Once your outdoor space is ready, don’t forget one of the most important things: hosts should enjoy themselves, too.

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