Easy Summer Entertaining:When Merely Pretty Is Enough

19 July 2011, East Hampton–One of the joys of giving a dinner party is doing up the table; and one of the drags is not having time to do it. Of course you tell yourself it doesn’t matter because what’s important is getting your friends together, and the gracious setting of your home or garden is atmosphere enough. And you’re absolutely right. You needn’t convulse with anxiety over creating a spectacular table when the merely pretty will do.  Besides, summer entertaining should be easy-breezy. Here are two versions of the same table, merely pretty, done for back-to-back dinners at Bee Cottage last weekend, plus Sunday lunch.

Tablesetting in Bee Garden
Friday night: rented lavender cloth, hefty hurricane lanterns with sand and sprigs of salvia, my mother’s “bird plates”, celadon napkins with more sprigs of salvia laid across them. The color scheme is nice, and that salvia is the one little thing that gives it a special touch.

And here’s a secret: In lieu of acquiring vast inventories of linen and china,  and if you don’t live next door to the fabulously inventoried (and fabulous) Carolyne Roehm, look into renting from a local party supply company. You have a big selection, and it may be easier and cheaper than you think. This past weekend I rented two lavender banquet cloths for Friday and Saturday nights ($30 total), and a dozen lovely coral napkins ($30) for Sunday lunch. Hell it’s worth 60 bucks not to have to wash and iron the dern things.

Tablesetting Lavender/Green - Bee Cottage
Saturday night: same tablecloth, candles, silver, and common ol' garden salvia; now with green plates and white napkins and a few hydrangeas--which I later decided looked dinky and removed. Dinky is bad.
Place card with bee
Place cards can make a small creative splash with little effort. These bees from a florist supply shop come attached to wires, and I just punched 'em through the cards.

As for flowers, you needn’t be tied to conventional arrangements. If you don’t have a cutting garden, pick up a few bunches of something that will hold its shape out of water (for a while, anyway), and strew along the center of your table, or across your napkins, by the place cards, or stuck in the simplest glass vases or hurricane lanterns.

My dining room only seats eight, but I can accommodate more in the garden. Unlike linens and china, tables and chairs don’t need much washing and ironing. So rather than rent those I invested in two 6-foot folding tables and un-offensive neutral colored folding chairs. Because they are plastic (but sturdy), they are light enough for me to tote around myself if I have to, and they survive the winter in the garden shed.

The tale of two tables ends Saturday night. For Sunday lunch we are under the awning on the porch because it’s too dang hot in the sun. Again, the merely pretty will do. These coral napkins were just the thing to jazz up tin picnic plates, and that was that. Sunday lunch should be about relaxing, your décor along with it.

Sunday lunch setup with coral napkins
Sunday lunch: Mottahedeh tin picnic plates are elevated by pretty (rented) coral napkins and fortified by wicker chargers that act as trays.
Sunday lunch buffet
The Sunday lunch buffet of smoked sturgeon and salmon, a green salad, avocado and crabmeat salad, and quiche (not in photo) is set up on the ledge just outside the kitchen door. Ivy and rosemary growing in pots and is all the decoration we need. The meal was prepared by chef Stephanie Valentine, who I can't hold a candle to, if you want to know the truth.