This week we're sharing the second party in our Gatherings from The Kitchn series, an elegant, make-ahead spring brunch I hosted for my book club. I often admire the intricately-styled table settings on design and wedding blogs, but they rarely seem realistic for my budget or styling capabilities. My goal for this party was to create a table that was inspirational, not just aspirational; in other words, a table that could move from Pinterest to reality without requiring a degree in design or hundreds of dollars. Here are four concrete tips for putting together a special, stylish table on a small budget.
Budget Tip 1: Recruit a talented friend
I can set a nice table and I have a decent collection of fun decorative details, but I didn't think twice about recruiting help from my friend Beth Liebetrau, who is a master of styling. Not only did having her help save a lot of time and pressure on the day of the party, it also doubled the tableware and decorations we had to choose from. She came over a couple weeks before the party with a box of books, vases, glassware, and little decorative elements, and we spent some time arranging the perfect table. Beth snapped a few photos on her phone for reference and we were all ready for the brunch, with all the tableware, decorations and serving pieces we would need accounted for and in one place. (You could also do this the morning of the party, but I wanted the prep on that day to be as low-key as possible.)
Budget Tip 2: Start with what you have
Instead of struggling to make our tableware and decorations fit with the design scheme, we worked backwards, shaping our ideas around what we already owned. Planning out the table, I knew I wanted to use hardcover books in the centerpiece and take advantage of my small collection of pretty, mismatched thrift store plates. Since most of the plates are blue, that set the general color scheme. Beth brought over a deep blue tablecloth and we pulled all the blue and neutral-color hardcover books from our shelves to create the centerpiece.
My best (read: only) cake stand, a cut-glass plate that once belonged to my grandmother, inspired the repurpose of some cut-glass punch bowl cups into coffee mugs. And when a few old postcards fell out of one of the hardcover books as we were setting up, we added those to the table too.
Budget Tip 3: Borrow instead of buy
Last week I wrote about the collection of party supplies my friends and I share with each other, which I was already taking advantage of by pillaging Beth's belongings, but I took it even further by borrowing a few Heath bud vases from another friend. I'm pretty well-stocked with general tableware now, but in my post-college entertaining days, I used to borrow basics like plates, flatware and glasses from friends when hosting more than six people, and I would still rather borrow items like drink tubs, extra chairs and big serving dishes than try to buy and store all of those on my own. "Lack of stuff" should never be a reason to not have a fun party.
Budget Tip 4: Think blooms and branches, not bouquets
Speaking of bud vases, we saved a lot on flower costs by decorating with a few huge chrysanthemum flowers and a rose clipped from my front yard instead of one big bouquet. Big single blooms like dahlias and peonies bring a little bit of spring to the table without costing a lot. Branches or bouquet filler are also inexpensive and generally last awhile; we used a vase full of dry eucalyptus branches I had on a table in my living room, which added height and a little more texture to the table.
In the end, I only ended up spending about $25 — the cost of six fabric napkins from Target and a handful of chrysanthemum blooms from a flower shop — for a special, thoughtfully-styled table that you'd think required a lot of careful shopping and expensive vendors. It didn't. All it took was a couple generous friends, a little planning, and the creativity and commitment to making the most of what I already owned.
Do you have any tips for setting a stylish table on a budget? Any favorite blogs or magazines with decorating ideas that are inspiring and realistic?
Anjali is a former private chef who is currently pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, with plans to become a registered dietitian. She lives in Los Angeles. You can read more of her health-focused writing at Eat Your Greens.
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