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The Art of Putting Together Great, Stress-Free Tablescapes

One of my favorite things about entertaining is dressing the table. I have so much fun accessorizing my dining area, and I encourage you to as well. Here are a few tricks I use.
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Getting Started

Before I even start to think about tablescapes, I conceptualize the menu. After all, what will be served will inevitably affect not only the type of dishware and silverware I use, but the general theme of the table. I like to serve meals where I can do most of the preparation and cooking before guests arrive. A simple roasted chicken or a wintertime braised beef stew are always a hit! Click here for more menu inspirations from Martha.

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The Accessories

Once I've chosen an appetizing menu that suits all types of palates and restrictions, I lay out all the sets of plates, bowls, glassware and cutlery. I also bring out the table accessories I plan to use like the tablecloth, napkins, napkin rings, candles and vases. Try to lay out all your "supplies" on a different table than your dining table -- these are your paints, and you set your choices on a palette before creating a masterpiece! I like to lay out all the options, so I don't forget anything and get a sense for the general look and feel of my table.

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If you're using a tablecloth and fabric napkins, make sure that they are clean and ironed! I like to use a bit of starch when ironing my table's couture -- I like them to be crisp with a substantial feeling.

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Place Settings

Place your dishes onto the table according to seating. I like to dress a table like I would myself -- with lots of accessories! So I tend to layer a lot of elements on top of each other. My favorite technique is using chargers on top of place mats and then various colored plates and bowls. Don't be nervous if your dinnerware does not all match, it is much more whimsical to have a vibrant table with lots of character.

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Add your cutlery and glassware to the mix. Understanding the correct placement of forks and knives can be tricky, so here is a great guide to help you get through setting the accessories flawlessly.

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Since I live in a small NYC apartment (with not only limited dining space but paltry cabinet space), I only have standard wine glasses that I use for both red and white, so when dressing my table, I don't have to worry about putting both red and white glasses. Many times, I use stemless wine glasses or little bucolic wine tumblers -- they are not only a little more contemporary, but they can easily fit in my tiny dishwasher!

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I delicately fold the napkins either into napkin rings or onto the plates themselves, and if my dinner is more formal, I put place cards out.

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Dress It Up

Once you have the table's skeleton complete, you can start to have fun dressing it up! Place bud vases filled with blooms, a large arrangement of fresh flowers or even a centerpiece of apples, fall branches, or tropical fruit. Add candles to provide glowing light.

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Finishing Touches

Right before your guests arrive, light the candles and turn on some mood music. Et voila! You're table is ready for the next delicious show! What kind of tablescapes are your go-to? Whimsical? Formal? Let us know in the comments!