As warmer weather arrives, so does the opportunity for outdoor entertainment – a particularly attractive prospect this year, as the pandemic drags on, but it feels like we’ve been isolated enough. long time.

Whether in the garden, on a terrace or on a small balcony, your dinner should be unforgettable. It means thinking beyond the basics and creating a dining space as thoughtfully appointed as any indoor dining room.

“When friends drop by, you want them to feel special and welcome,” said Cynthia Zamaria, a Toronto-based home and garden stylist and author of “House + Flower.” “One of the ways to do that is to create a nice table for them. You can always work on the potato salad, but the table is set and it’s delicious.

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

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

If you have a relatively large patio or yard, lunches and dinners don’t need to take place 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 swimming pool or body of water.

“Especially after the last two years, people are really looking for an experience,” said Becky Shea, a New York-based interior designer who designed a dinner under a willow tree and another halfway up a hill in his home in the Catskill. Mountains. “By simply changing the scenery, people can be immersed in a different environment.”

Michael Devine, an Orange, Virginia-based textile designer and author of “An Invitation to the Garden,” regularly moves his table to the yard. “It depends on what’s in bloom and what looks good – so the table goes,” he said. “We shoot in the garden all summer.”

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

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

“The twist is when you don’t use disposable tableware,” he added, “but bring some elegance to it” by using 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 scheme, certain types of flowers or vegetables, or a notable date.

“I start by asking what the reason for the entertainment is,” said New York tableware designer Kim Seybert. “Is it the 4th of July, Labor Day, a birthday party or something else?”

For a Fourth of July celebration, Ms Seybert said she might use a palette of red, white and blue, but for a birthday party she often aims to reflect the interests of the guest of honor. “A friend of mine is very involved in 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.

Mr. 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, tossing peppers in floral arrangements and displaying tomatoes in pint-sized baskets. “We looked at fresh seasonal produce, farmers markets and roadside farm stalls,” he said. “There are all kinds of visual delights that come from that.”

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

“Having a nice base via textiles is key,” Ms. Shea said. “Belgian linen is a proven summer fabric, alongside cotton and canvas.”

While she prefers plain tablecloths and napkins in textured solids and stripes, other designers, like Ms. Boothby and Mr. Devine, will use patterned designs for a whimsical touch.

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

For crockery, cutlery and glassware, you might want to opt for matching sets, using pieces with exuberant colors and patterns, or rustic textures. But some of the designers we interviewed also suggested using mismatched items.

“A collected table is a more interesting table,” Ms. Zamaria said. “That’s why I like to use mismatched vintage china, my best tarnished silver, etched crystal goblets and DIY furniture. It seems effortless, but it’s so high.

Finish the table with a decorative centerpiece. In summer, this should be easy: flowers, branches and tall grass cut from the garden or forest, or purchased from a florist or caterer, can create table magic.

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

“I generally like to make bud vases – smaller ones, all over the table,” Ms. Seybert said, “so it doesn’t obstruct anyone’s view.”

Just like mismatched dinnerware, small vases don’t have to be identical. Try mixing different 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 along the length of the table. Traditional taper candles can look dramatic, but they tend to be blunt and blow out easily. If children are involved, or if the evening is windy, votive candles might be a better choice, said Ms. Zamaria, who prefers heavy, stemless drinking glasses for the same reason: they tend to stay put.

A beautiful table setting will invite guests to the meal, but what will they find once seated?

“I really like a conversation starter,” Ms. Seybert said, which usually comes with the addition of something unexpected or whimsical. She set tables with carved figurines and napkin rings resembling exotic birds, as well as striped and polka dot taper candles found on Etsy.

Ms. Zamaria repurposed urns and garden coolers and used sections of tree trunks as rustic stools.

Mr. Stark, whose forthcoming book with Jane Schulak, “At the Artisan’s Table,” focuses on craft items for the table, occasionally offers a little sham. He set tables with paper flower arrangements (in collaboration with artist Corrie Beth Hogg) and created place cards resembling three-dimensional tomatoes.

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

Once your outdoor space is ready, remember one of the most important things: guests should have fun too.

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