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Our Art Director’s Best Tips for Setting a Summery, Vintage-Inspired Table

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We're here to help you throw the most inspired summer dinner parties yet. We partnered with Pure Leaf Tea House Collection to bring you ideas to help you decorate more thoughtfully.

Summer—with all the ice cream and watermelon and lemonade and absolute loss of any desire to turn on the oven or stove—does not exactly encourage formal eating. If it were up to me, I would eat every meal between Memorial Day and Labor Day in bare feet, outside.

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Of course, sometimes you do want to strike a middle note, something where bare feet are encouraged but maybe, you know, you use utensils instead of your hands and cloth napkins instead of wiping those “utensils” on your shorts. Maybe you’re getting married—or hosting a birthday dinner or baby shower or just feel like having a party—outside this summer and aren’t planning on seating your guests on picnic blankets. That sort of thing.

We turn to Food52 Artistic Director Alexis Anthony for all things breezy-beautiful and cool, but especially when it comes to giving our tables that feel. Here’s how she’d set a summery table that balances easy, casual vibes with more elegant ones:

Layer old and new, vintage and modern.

Like a vintage farmhouse table with a modern linen tablecloth. Or clean, modern dishes stacked with your grandmother’s china. It’s an easy way to add texture, thoughtfulness, and elegance while still keeping things casual.

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Don’t iron your tablecloths.

Linen and good-quality cotton tablecloths can be taken right from the dryer and draped over the table as-is, no ironing necessary, says Alexis. Embrace the wrinkles: The softness they bring complements vintage pieces. If you’ve got a pretty table, you don’t even have to cover it all up! It’s totally fair game to leave some of the surface exposed. Great news if your tablecloth is slightly smaller than your table—but do aim to have about 10 inches of fabric hanging over the table’s sides.

Mix and match your dishes.

Here, Alexis tops modern, simple, white chargers with a collection of mismatched vintage china. “Instead of dating your table with an entire set of vintage dinnerware,” she says, “collect a few favorite pieces and layer them in with your contemporary set. I buy vintage pieces one at a time, all different patterns and styles, keeping in mind my contemporary set is white.” A matching base set—light or dark; no need to buy a whole new set for a new season—will make whatever’s on top feel a bit like a set, too.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

But keep to the same color scheme.

This goes for dishes and flowers. It gives the whole look consistency while maintaining personality (but eschewing chaos). And it frees you up to collect gradually, over time—so you can jump when you find a piece you love, knowing that you’ll be able to fold it in with the dishes you already have.

Be a little odd.

That is, when it comes to vases, stick to an odd number and mix up the heights. Says Alexis of using an odd number, “It’s the one hard and fast design rule I mostly stick to”—it keeps the eye moving and keeps from things feeling too symmetrical. Same goes for the vases themselves. They don’t have to (shouldn’t!) match, and can vary in height a couple of inches. But try to find vases that are made of the same material (like brass, or clear glass, or white ceramic, or blue porcelain—whatever you like) in order to unite the group.

That goes for flowers, too.

For vases with small openings, pick funky, leggy blooms, stems, and branches. Here, Alexis went for a swoopy ranunculus, moony stems of eucalyptus, and bits of frothy Queen Anne’s lace for texture. Stick to a similar color scheme for all the flowers. Easiest “flower arranging” you’ve ever done.

We partnered with Pure Leaf Tea House Collection to bring you ideas to help you decorate more thoughtfully so you can throw the most inspired summer dinner parties yet. Try your hand at an artful tabletop and snag Pure Leaf Tea House Collection iced teas here.

Tags: pure leaf iced tea, tea house collection