I grew up with a Mom who always had a table cloth or place mats on the tablecloth. It was just what I was used to, but I didn't really understand it. For a while I had a really ugly yellow linoleum table that I pulled out of a dumpster that I would cover with a tablecloth just to get rid of the ugly! Then John and I bought a nice wooden table with four (matching!) chairs! At that point I basically quit using table clothes or place mats.
When our children turned 2, John and I realized that we needed a larger table. The table we had would fit four - squished really tightly and with no room for serving bowls! Since my parents spend about 3 months a year with us, that wasn't going to work and it especially wasn't going to work now with the kids moving out of their high chairs. So we started looking for a larger table.
Yikes! We had gotten a great deal on a clearance sale for our last table and I had no idea how expensive tables were! I also didn't realize that the make either itty-bitty little tables or great big tables. There really isn't anything in between. We were looking for something that would hold at least 6 comfortably and fit into our little kitchen too. A leaf or two to add for company would be helpful as well.
We found our table at the estate sale of a neighbor that was moving into a senior center. It's a lovely table, with 3 leaves and six chairs. There was a matching china closet, but we already had a china closet. We paid $120 for the whole kit and caboodle (minus the china closet!).
The thing that puzzled me was that it came with a padded table cover. What is that about I wondered? It fit with all three leaves in, so I wasn't going to use it any time soon. I tucked it away and asked my mom about it when they came to visit the next time. "It's to protect the table from hot dishes," my mom told me.
And something dawned on me: The table clothes and place mats are there to protect the table!
Yeah - duh. I should have guessed. You put a coaster under a cup on a coffee or end table to protect the wood, why wouldn't you do that with a dining table? We use stoneware dishes and cups and the bottoms are often rough. Of course the place mat or tablecloth would keep the table from getting scratched. They would act like a pot holder or a trivet for hot dishes. And they soap up spills before they can stain or damage the wood.
So, since then I've used a place mat or table cloth daily. I keep the place mats handy next to the table so they can be easily changed. I do have to iron and hang the tablecloths, but they don't get changed as often it seems. They make my table look so much nicer!
The problem is, I think the table looks a bit weird with just a table cloth or place mats. I feel it needs a center piece too. I don't have a lot of time and well, we put food on our table, so there isn't a ton of space. So simple centerpieces are a must!
The silver flower and candle holder at the top of this post I purchased at a garage sale for $2. It's silver plate and does need to be polished occasionally, but makes for a lovely and easy centerpiece. I have also used a single peonie or a small bouquet of sweet peas or roses for the flower center. I'm going to try placing a small pumpkin or gourd there this fall (we'll see how dorky it looks!).
Other simple center pieces I've used include the following:
* Two taper candles, 1-3 floating candles in a pretty bowl or a single pillar candle. We eat dinner by candlelight every night and having even a single candle makes it possible. So most of my centerpieces involve candles. I use a glass cereal bowl to float the candles or the bottom half of a cut glass candy dish that now has a broken lid. The glass reflects the light, requiring fewer candles. Votives are nice too and can be added to just about anything else to make a simple centerpiece look spectacular! I have a couple of decorative votive holders a well (angel, Easter bunny, etc.) that make for a good simple centerpiece as well.
* A bouquet of flowers. If you've read through my "These are a few of my favorite things" posts you know that I love flowers! And a simple or elaborate bouquet in a vase, teapot, cup or even jar makes for a lovely and easy centerpiece. I usually add a couple of tea lights around the base in simple glass votive or two tapers so we have our candle light, but they certainly aren't necessary.
* A bowl of fruit or nuts. Fall usually finds a big crockery bowl of apples in the middle of our table. I have also used oranges in a glass bowl in the middle of winter. One year I used a cereal bowl of mixed nuts. Again, I add candles, (usually two tapers in holders on either side), but they're not necessary.
* A single figurine. I've used a stone rabbit for Easter, a wooden nutcracker or my wooden Nativity during Christmas, a pilgrim or wooden leaves during Thanksgiving. Again, I add candles, but just the single figurine works well, especially if you have a lot of people and need space for food.
So many people are amazed that I set a 'fancy' table each night. I don't see it as fancy at all - it's just something we do. And it makes mealtime special.
If it protects the table and keeps it cleaner, those are just bonuses!
How do you set your table?