Valentine's Day

Hey Lovebirds: Set Your Table Like This

February 10, 2016

What actually constitutes a romantic dinner? This question swirled in my mind last week as I began to think about Valentine’s Day. I get the whole hearts-and-Cupid thing for starry-eyed teens—and I might add that my 12-year-old has his first girlfriend, so on February 14th I am sure I will see plenty of that—but for adults, how can we create the kind of spread we want at home?

Photo by Sarah Elliott

As per usual, when I could not find precisely the right inspiration I was looking for on Pinterest, I drew on disparate images and scribbled-down concepts, then filtered them through my own idea of what a truly romantic table would look like. The end result was this dark and moody scene. The vibe is just the tone I seek for a quiet dinner for two.

So if you’re looking to create a similarly romantic setup this year, free from the cheesiness that tends to pervade Valentine's Day, here are a few guiding principles to help make it happen:

1. Go dark and moody.

The tonal grey table linens, black ceramics and flatware, and even the dim lighting set the tone of the night. Deep, dark accents like these create a far more appropriate ambiance than the one created by the traditional palette of red and bright pink. If you go this route, be sure to consider your accent palette as well. Here, the tone of the dahlias pairs with the wine-colored velvet ribbon, and the delicate buds on the branches, though paler, also complement that color scheme.

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And don’t forget the candlelight. Using crisp white candles was intentional, offering a bit of relief from the contrasting dark elements.

Photo by Sarah Elliott

2. Pick out your own florals.

Believe me, I love to receive flowers—but if I’m being honest, I’d rather buy the blooms myself. I’m just not that into roses. In my opinion, a few elegant blooms from the local florist is money far better spent than on dozens of cheaper varieties; just two placed in a simple vase is really all you need.

Aside from traditional flowers, a bunch of tall branches, like this seasonal quince (above) from the corner deli, packs a visual punch that feels wild and whimsical while offering verticality to your table—and lasts for weeks, I might add!

3. Add accents in interesting materials.

Something as simple as a yard of rich Bordeaux-toned velvet ribbon for $3.99 can add significant elegance. I toyed with carefully wrapping each plate with the ribbon but settled upon incorporating the cutlery and haphazardly wrapping each napkin instead. When it comes to design, simpler is often better! A sprig of greenery completes the place setting, a touch of nature in contrast to the velvet's texture.

4. Prep in advance.

During date night dinner I want to be able to focus on the one I love—not be a slave to the kitchen. To satisfy that criteria, much of my meal this year (and the table settings) was made to be prepared in advance. That way, you can give your partner your full attention, a real and true gesture of admiration.

5. Incorporate unexpected ingredients.

This blood orange bundt cake is great on its own, but—why not?— I topped it off with a tart citrus glaze infused with bourbon and aromatic bitters.

Remembering to take chances and experiment with unique flavor profiles is the icing on the cake for an intriguing, romantic table setting.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Steve Keip
    Steve Keip
  • Mrs Beryl Patmore
    Mrs Beryl Patmore
Interior designer & creator of lifestyle site


Steve K. February 10, 2016
While I always enjoy the way your tablescapes are styled, if I ever set a table with linens that were that wrinkled, I would die of embarassment. Maybe that's the trend in NYC, but it's not the way to set a table. Plus though the side lighting is dramatic and moody, it would be very difficult to accheive that effect on a table that was actually functional for eating.
Mrs B. February 11, 2016
Steve, you are so right. The unmade bed look strikes me as so incongruous both with the theme and the other design elements.
Yes, it may be a "thing" these days, but to my eye it makes no sense, and says "lazy" and "I don't care" and, worst of all, "I'm a follower (not a leader)."
P.S. I'd probably take a bit more care in ironing those napkins, too. Putting out a rumpled napkin to someone who matters? No. Never.