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How to lay the table for entertaining

Set your table like Soho Home with advice from our experts on the tableware and touches for entertaining

By Megan Murray

Gathering around the dinner table is a sacred time. It's a setting for the meeting of minds, making new friends, reconnecting with old ones, and spending quality time with family - so it's important to get it right.

When it comes to setting the table, we prefer a laid-back arrangement that incorporates colour and texture through tableware, linens, and personal touches.

Our golden rules revolve around keeping food and drinks close by, with minimal clutter and a relaxed aesthetic. Here, our Soho Home experts share their tips for picking the right tableware and how to achieve a thoughtful place setting.

Layer textures

Create a base for your tableware with a textured tablecloth. The tactile nature of linen offers depth without fussiness, which is great for dinner with friends. We like rich, earthy tones or a neutral colour palette, so as not to clash with the food or accessories.

Mix textures by introducing tableware with an unfinished quality or an interesting glaze. You can even stack larger plates underneath bowls to build more layers. Then, finish with raw-edge napkins to add more interest.

Mix up napkins

'It can be tempting to uniform napkins, but I'd advise mixing and matching for more personality,' says Harriet Howarth, Soho Home's Art Director.

'A variation of colours, patterns and materials can lift the table. Try a uniting colour palette and experiment with texture and print. Also, there's no need to arrange them in a fancy formation - we prefer a simple fold in half, casually placed next to the setting.'

Play with colour and pattern

Tableware should be the focal point of your dining set-up, so this is an opportunity to choose pieces that you really love, and have some fun.

Consider the quality, finish, colour and size of your plates, bowls and dishes when bringing them together to create an assortment that feels put together without being matchy-matchy.

'There are some easy ways to add variation to your table layout,' says Howarth. 'Try choosing plates of a similar style but in two different colours; alternate them around the table, splitting them between your guests. I like to mix plain and patterned styles that feature the same hues or aesthetic, whether that be a sleek look or a more rustic one.'

Get creative with height

Thinking imaginatively about height can transform the aesthetic of a dinner table. Footed bowls, raised fruit platters and even a cake stand can act as a unifying focus for the centre.

Fill with decorative fruits or nibbles such as bread, olives and crudites. Place a few down the middle to draw the eye and offer guests something tasty to snack on while they chat.

If your table is big enough and the occasion suits, candelabras are another way of adding height with a formal feel. Be careful not to obstruct your guests' view, though.

Go big on serveware

Soho House dining is all about generosity. Make more food than you need and ensure that it's readily available for guests to help themselves to seconds and thirds.

A stylish way to do this is to incorporate food as part of the table's arrangement. Invest in beautiful serving platters, plates and bowls to display different elements of the meal. Then, dot them around, squeezing them in wherever there's space. Not only does it create a fun, communal atmosphere, but it also brings a bit of life and colour to the table.

Keep a pitcher near

We don't like to overcrowd tables, but one thing that should never be overlooked is keeping your guests hydrated. In our Houses we work on the basis of anticpating our members needs to ensure they're always comfortable. No one wants to have to remind their host about water, so a full pitcher on the table all night keeps everyone at ease.

A vintage pitcher from an antiques shop works well, or choose a neutral or glass design so that it never looks out of place.

Make candles a centrepiece

Nothing brings atmosphere to a dining scene like candlelight. For an evening meal, long candles placed in interesting holders set the mood and create a sense of intimacy.

'Group an odd number of candles in the middle of the table to act as a centrepiece,' says Candy Murray, Soho Home Interior Style Manager. 'I like sculptural holders such as our Kalik and Liza styles. They're versatile to work with most schemes, while still bringing a unique edge.'

Don’t be precious about glassware

'Good glassware is important, but don't take it too seriously,' says Howarth. 'It's fine to use a coupe for a cocktail, or a water glass for a gin and tonic. Have a little fun with it.'

Instead of cluttering the table with multiple glasses, stick to a water tumbler and whatever you're serving guests - be it wine, spirits or cocktails. If you decide to move onto something different as the night progresses, for example, after-dinner Espresso Martinis, start afresh to save space.

Consider cutlery

'I always go with stonewashed cutlery as it looks more relaxed,' says Murray. 'It adds another layer of texture and polished can be too formal, depending on the occasion.'

Echo this with a simple place setting. Most of the time there's no need for different types of cutlery - a dinner knife and fork will usually do the trick, and it means there's more room for elbows.

Finishing touches

'Personally, I love to incorporate some natural elements to my table setting for a final flourish. Small flowers picked from the garden dotted around in odd bottles, jugs or small vases add colour and charm without fussiness,' says Murray.

'A sprig of herbs placed on a napkin also adds freshness and fragrance. It's especially nice if it complements the food.'

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