It’s official: backyard party season is here, and I know I’m not the only one who wants to shout “hooray!” from the rooftops every time I step outside and feel the sunshine on my skin. We’re in that blissful early summer moment when I want to eat every single meal outside. And this year, after a winter that dragged on as we huddled behind masks and zoom calls, feels especially celebratory. As we emerge from our social distanced caves and start re-gathering with friends and family, my focus is on bright seasonal recipes and simple table setting ideas to elevate the vibe. It doesn’t take much: think a beautiful tablecloth or a set of handmade bowls that take center stage on an otherwise minimal table.

I’ve been stocking up on a few pretty things to elevate my table setups for brunches, barbecues, and dinner parties. For me, the table is a place for creativity and expressing my personal style through food and aesthetics that bring me joy. And it doesn’t take a lot to make a table feel really special.

My formula for the perfect table setting? Simple linens, a few candles, dishes that feel handmade, and a decorative touch inspired by the natural world.

By stocking my supplies with a few different twists on these four elements, I can change things up based on the seasons and the gathering, and my table will always feel fresh and inspired. Read on for a dinner party table I set in my backyard last week — I’m breaking it down with my design process and the exact products I used. Then, hop over to my Instagram to see the video in action later this evening.

 

 

A “Farm-to-Table Feast”-Inspired Table

The concept: This table is basically a compendium of everything I love: rumpled linen napkins, handmade earthenware dishes, textural details in neutral shades. My inspiration is spring’s bounty of herbs and vegetables, and they play a starring role in the decorative touches as well as my dinner party menu.

These bowls from August Sage are inspired by the west Texas sky and earth with a desert vibe that I’m majorly feeling this season. They have such a beautifully heavy weight, and I love that each one is unique. Shop it here:

Keep it simple. Really.

When I’m setting a table for a dinner party, I usually lay the foundation with favorite items I already own (like this linen tablecloth and the ceramic pitcher), then add a few special new items that I add to my collection each season. The great thing about mostly sticking to a palette of neutrals is that you can mix and match seamlessly–if you only have 3 or 4 of a certain type of bowl or cup, alternate every other one and it’ll look intentional. It’s all about embracing imperfections, so don’t overthink it–just go with the flow.

What’s on my summertime menu

A grazing board starring local cheeses and artisanal jam; a loaf of sourdough with good salted butter, big salad filled with lots of summer herbs and baby lettuces, and a bowl of simple pasta with green peas, pesto, and burrata.

This stoneware pitcher looks handmade and high-end, but it’s a total steal at $15. It made the perfect artisanal vessel for the spring tulips I found that morning at the flower market. Shop it here:

The Place Settings

Here’s that mixing-and-matching of neutrals I told you about. I was determined to use those desert-inspired stoneware bowls I’m obsessing over, but didn’t have any other pieces from the collection. So, I paired with glazed dinner plates from Anthropologie and I loved that it created a unique combination all my own. These recycled glasses handmade by artisans in Morocco are my new summertime go-to’s: they’re the perfect multi-purpose size for white wine or sparkling water, and I love that they add a bit of texture while keeping things really simple. Each glass has natural variation, a recycled glass tint, and the subtlest bubbling. They’re also a total steal at just $8 per glass.

Shop them here:

The Table Linens

I’m usually one to fuss with linens–you’ll never see me ironing a starched tablecloth, that’s for sure! That said, especially during the warm months, there’s just something about a rumpled, stonewashed linen tablecloth draped over a table. It’s breezy and makes me feel like I’m at a long lazy lunch at an Italian villa.

Since I didn’t have a tablecloth quite big enough to pool on the ground how I was envisioning, I used two simple white linens that I’ve had for years (one of them is actually an old curtain!, then I laid them going opposite directions so there was drape on all four sides of the table.

Let’s talk about these gorgeous stonewashed grey linen napkins. I love the warmth and earthiness they brought to our place setting. Hand woven in India, they’re Belgian flax linen, and you can feel the quality in their soft, substantial drape. Swoon. 

Shop then napkin set here (shown in blush, I used the gray):

Another total steal are these Soapstone candleholders I found at Target. I honestly couldn’t believe how heavy they feel for being so affordable. These are a timeless piece that I know I’ll get out again and again for both holiday gatherings and everyday dinners alike.

The Centerpiece

My original plan was to skip flowers and instead let my farmer’s market haul serve as my table decor–I love placing fresh fruits and veggies in a wood bowl or woven tray for a centerpiece that’s effortlessly gorgeous. But then I spotted these tulips at the flower market, and I was a goner…

The tulips were such stunners that I wanted to let their beautiful color and ruffly edges take center stage, so I placed them in that simple white pitcher (above), and then kept the rest of the table minimal with a simple snack board and a big bowl full of limes.

These handpainted plates are made in Portugal with a beautifully glazed pattern that’s subtle enough for mixing and matching with other pieces. The mix of taupes and beiges (with just the subtlest hint of sheen) makes these feel really special, while sticking to my neutral palette across the table.

Shop them here:

 

Okay okay, the DRESS

Major “summer on the riviera vibes,” amiright? I popped into the new LoveShackFancy store in Austin the other day and immediately fell in love with no fewer than five white dresses. I had to choose one (alas, the ole budget), so I finally landed on this sunshine-ready Lupita Midi Dress in antique white. It’s a worthy splurge, since I just might wear it to every gathering all season long. (Price per wear, do you feel me?)

One more necessity to any outdoor dinner party is a sturdy tray for transporting food and supplies back and forth from the kitchen. This chunky seagrass tray is so in line with my beachy style–when I’m not using it to carry out glassware, it usually lives on my dining table full of citrus fruit.

Hope you guys got a few simple table setting ideas for hosting a summertime dinner of your own! It’s such a fun and inspiring way to kickoff the season with friends, and I promise it doesn’t have to be complicated. Use what you’ve got, get inspired by the seasons, and view setting the table as an opportunity for creativity and beauty. Don’t forget to hop over to my instagram where I’ll post the video today.

 

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Photography

Michelle Nash