Friday, June 3, 2011

Gracing The Family Table

"I'd love to hear or see pictures of the other ways you add little touches to your table."

Recently, I received this comment on a post about using cloth napkins that really inspired me to share ideas for gracing the family dinner table in such a way as to make it beautiful and lovely for everyday, not just company. It's good to dress the table up when guest are coming over, but what about our own families? How do we make the daily dinner table a place where everyone wants to gather and linger meal after meal, sharing our lives and experiences of the day? Here's a few things I like to do...

Gracing The Family Table

• Take some time to plan and gather things in one location that you can use often and rotate. You know the old say, "without a plan, you are planning to fail". Keep items near the dinner table so they are always on hand and the kids can help with setting the table. If they know what is available, you can even let them chose how to decorate it from what you've previously selected.

Photo: Country Living

• I like to use white dinner plates because I can mix and match anything that my heart desires. I can add a colorful salad plate, mix-matched linens, any color of flower, or decorate for a holiday. If you don't have a lot of money to spend on new dishes, consider selling some of what you already have and use the money to start a new supply of white. Or start hunting anything white at garage sales, flea markets, antique shops, and thrift stores. You don't have to have a single pattern, just make white your goal.

Photo: Basic Green Box

• My favorite placemat is just a plain braided and woven rush mat. It mixes and matches with anything, doesn't show stains, keeps it's shape, and is easy to clean. We've spilled a number of items on them over the years and I just put it under running water to clean and then let it air dry. I bought a stack of 20 of these so I'd have enough for a crowd, but we use them every day and they still look brand new. I purchased mine at World Market but it seems they are currently only selling them in various colors and not the natural color I have. Hopefully, that's just temporary, but you could email and ask them to carry the natural color again.

• Those who read this blog know that cloth napkins are my fun embellishment, where I add my splash of color. I like to use different fabrics and even mix and match them at times. It has taken a while for my husband to feel like he can really use the napkins because he was afraid he would get them "dirty". Using batik fabrics or busy prints can hide a lot of stains! On the occasions that we eat something messy like BBQ chicken, I whip out some paper towels so he can relax and not worry about staining the cloth napkins. (See my previous posts Dinner Napkins, Cloth Napkin Tutorial, More Dinner Napkins, and Reversible Napkin Tutorial.)

Photo Credit and Tablecloth Tutorial: Bolt Neighborhood

• Although I love tablecloths, I have found that most are not practical for everyday. However, you can find some fun vinyl or oilcloth covers that can be easily be wiped down (another reason white dinnerware is a plus!). This is often a better choice than placemats if you have toddlers and young children because a glass set on the edge of a placemat easily tips over. 

• A basket of bread makes a wonderful addition to the family meal table. It can act as a centerpiece while keeping the bread warm. Just add a cloth napkin and you have color, too!

• Fresh flowers, candles, and real fruit are not just for special occasions! Try adding one of these each day to grace your table. Silk flowers are fine, but they don't really reflect the touch of the Creator who provided the meal. 

Now I can't afford to purchase cut flowers weekly, much less daily! But when your young child brings you a small bouquet of wildflowers, place them on the table at meal time. He or she will feel as if they've brought an offering to the table that was worthy enough to share with others and your meal will be graced with a touch of nature. I keep a small collection of tiny vases for treasures such as these. The one in the photo below is only 3 inches tall and it typically sits in my windowsill above the kitchen sink. But it makes it's way to the breakfast table as a cheerful morning welcome!

I keep a large white ceramic bowl with real fruit on the table at all times. It's both beautiful and practical. And I only remove it to the kitchen counter when we're having a large meal and there isn't room. Since we eat most of our fruit at lunch, it's the perfect noontime centerpiece. I know it doesn't look very full in the picture below, but it's ever changing as the week comes and goes. 

Nothing makes my girls more excited at dinner time than to light a candle. Not sure why, but they just think it's special and beautiful. And I have to agree! Why do we save candles for only special occasions? Our ancestors used them all the time. I think I'd rather do without something else than to not have a candle to warm my heart! Although I love the scented ones, at meal time, a fragrance-free candle won't interfere with the aroma of your meal, but it will illumine smiling faces. 

Dayspring Candles

• Finally, I like to keep a stack of small Bibles near the table as well as devotional books. Nothing graces the table more than the Word of God! It serves as a reminder to partake of spiritual food as well as physical food. I once read on Ann Voskamp's blog that she has an old box that she keeps their family bibles in at the table. When I find the right one, I'm going to use it on the table as an evening centerpiece along with a candle!

I hope I've started the wheels spinning in your mind as to ways to create a beautiful table. No two tables are the same. They are as unique as the individuals who gather there. And so your table will evolve over time with the things that bring joy to you and your family. Finish it off with laughter, prayer, and good conversation and you'll be on your way to creating memories and habits that will linger on for years after the last meal has been served. 

Would you like to share how your family graces the table in beautiful ways?


  1. Love your ideas. Especially the old box with bibles. I am inspired.
    Hugs Granny Trace

  2. Thank You for posting how beneficial a lovely tablescape is as well as setting and enjoying a meal as a family.

  3. Hi inspired me to look for vintgae mix match creme colored napkins at sales..yep I found some..10 for a dollar..I grabbed 3
    A while back I got really conviicted health wise on eating on plates from China.I am not sure if they are safe on the lead content.
    So I have been searching the sales for old USA made plates and bowls.I found some cute ones from a restraunt supply house.I am also using little breakfast platters to put our breakfast meats on.Everything is made smaller in the old days..and we aren't eating as much either!!I love to mix match the vintage with some Fiesta Ware.It always cheers me up.

    Cindy from Rick-Rack and Gingham

  4. Ah Amy! We have such similar tastes when it comes to this! We also use only white place settings, have some big candles and rattan mats to place hot food on. We love our red fabric placemats too. Great post!
    Love those photos :-)
    Lusi x

  5. Love this post! Reminded me of when my 3 sons were young and I was trying to teach them to set the table. I would purchased 1-1/4 yds. of fabric on sale that were "boy" themed (such as camping, cars, celebration, and seasonal themed prints) and make square table clothes similar to how you make your napkins, tablecloth. They used these when setting the table and were responsible for the centerpiece which was often candles, matchbox cars, robots, hand picked dandilions, etc. With it just being my husband and I for most meals now, the table is set with simple placemats, white dishes, and colorful cloth napkins (which we've used for decades).

  6. It's funny that you posted this today, I just bought some new fabric yesterday for placemats and either a table cloth or a runner. We keep our Bibles in a basket that we call "The Bible Basket". Unique huh? Our dining living area is one big connected room and they are in the living room. Great post!!

  7. We are still at the sippy cup stage, so it's hard to really decorate our table. The baby yanks on any place mats she can reach or pushes things away, spilling the flowers. Someday, I will have a pretty table spread.

  8. I love your ideas! Right now, in the middle of a home addition project, I feel like my house is in chaos. You have inspired me to carve out a bit of beauty and make an effort to set a lovely table. I love this time of year when there is so many flowers in bloom. It makes impromtue bouquets so easy and cheap.

  9. I love white dishes(thats what I have too) I also collect white enamel ware with the black stripes. Beautiful ideas!

  10. I can share a not-so-beautiful way that I'm doubting your readers would be interested in replicating in their own homes, but in the center of our table for the past several weeks has been a little toad habitat where we've been watching tadpoles morph in to tiny toads, seedlings sprout in the mud, water fleas, earthworms, and these other type of wormlike creatures waving like grass under the water. It's been educational and interesting, but I must confess, I'm ready for it to gone! :D

  11. Oh my, I am in trouble.. I tend to switch out my dishes seasonally, but I am starting to fall in love with just using plain white!!!!!

    I also love just plain glass dishes.


  12. Quinn - LOL!! It does sound fun for a season! We had a toad on our kitchen island for a few days in a fish tank. I only lasted about 3 days before I said "We're done!" They'll remember those memories forever though.

  13. I have black plates with a simple flower design on them (what we picked out when we were married)...and I find that I can similarly mix and match table colors/decorations. So fun! Just went out today to buy fabrics for napkins...all due to seeing your tutorial a couple of weeks ago, and an amazing sale at our Joann's!

  14. We use cloth napkins everyday. Most of mine are collected from antique and thrift stores. I love the embroidery work on them all. Sometimes people freak out about them, but they can all be washed. They work SO much better for my three and five year old boys than paper. I have a bunch of the little serviette/cocktail napkins that they love, all antique and all embroidered. I never bother to iron them though. That would be too fancy for me. ;)

    We also usually have flowers from the garden and our oil lamp or candles.

    I also use the crystal cruets that were my grandmother's for our salad dressings I make. They usually stay on the table depending on the recipe and look so much nicer than a plain bottle of vinegar or oil. We do pour them for the boys.

  15. I really liked this post. I have a bucket of silverware and a basket of paper napkins on my table all the time. I am going to go to all cloth as soon as I can whip some up, thanks to your inspiration.

  16. I have become a huge fan of oxygen bleach for removing stains from anything (cloth napkins included), especially my 3 1/2 year old son and 6 month old baby's clothes. :)

    I put 4-6 ounces in the bottom of a bucket, dissolve it in a little hot water, fill up with cold water, then add the clothes to soak overnight. I dump it all in the washer the next morning and wash as usual. I have been AMAZED at how well it works, even on set in stains! No more nasty chemical filled stain removers for me. It's much more natural, and safe for colors.

    Sorry, a little off topic. :)

  17. I'm fairly new to this blog, but wanted to make a few comments:
    I am a HUGE believer in the family table, am convinced that our his,hers, ours family is what it is today due to eating meals together. We always made meals 'occasions' even though money was tight and the kids loved decorating the table.

    We use cloth napkins too, but when we have messy foods that are greasy or saucy, we will sometimes use color coordinated terry washcloths that are dampened before the meal. Fun to have when we're eating sticky wings etc.

    Tiny vases: I use glass salt cellars for miniature vases, they are perfect for the wee bouquets and even though my kids are grown and flown, I still keep them for smaller blooms that would be lost in a big arrangement.

    Finally, we kept a dictionary handy to the table and the encyclopedias were in the same room too. I can't name the number of times we all stopped eating to look up a word or read about a subject that was being discussed at the table.

  18. Ah, a post close to my own heart! I am a big believer in 'sit down dinners' and my husband and I almost never sit down with a meal in front of the TV. But we really turn 'gracing the table' up a notch on Shabbat and Festivals. A lovely, crisp, white tablecloth. Pretty dishes and silverware. Freshly baked Sabbath bread (challah) and of course, candles and wine. Every week! (Shabbat is a great invention ;)). But we go ultimately all-out on Pesach. Then, we really try to make our dinner table very special.

    Thanks for sharing and I love the napkins. Maybe I should try to make some myself.

    This Good Life

  19. Thanks for sharing those wonderful ideas! I haven't moved out yet, so I don't have my own table, but I was kind of thinking about getting colored dishes, because I wanted a colorful home, but I love your idea for the white main dishes! Very practical, and like you said, I can add punches of colors else where, and it can change with me and the seasons without me having to buy 5 different sets of dishes! Thanks.
    I also love your vase idea, that's great for the family and children.


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