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Create beautiful summer place settings

One of my all-time favorite topics is building a beautiful tabletop, whether it's for everyday dining or entertaining. In today's hurly-burly world, where we often grab meals on the run, there is nothing as sublime as enjoying a lovely meal at a table that's a feast for the eyes.

Chery, one of the talented designers at my store Garrity's in Atchison, and I want to share some simple tips you can use to make your table sing for summer.

* Step one: Pick your theme.

Do you want the overall look of your table to be stately? Romantic? Playful? Do you want to build your presentation around a certain color scheme, a favorite set of dishes or a special theme? To make a tabletop shine, all the components on the table must work together, so take a few minutes to create a plan.

For a sample tabletop treatment, I've picked a garden theme because I'm dying to get outside after this long winter. And to bring it to life, I'm wedding two dynamite color combos: black and white (my perennial favorite) with orange and green, this season's hottest hues.

* Step two: Start with a great base.

When I entertain in the summer, I love to let as much of the natural wood of my tabletop show as possible, so instead of picking a tablecloth, I often use wicker chargers, trays or place mats as the base of a place setting. We just got some darling two-sided black-and-white place mats in. I really like how they are thick and quilted, which gives the table a more casual feel. Plus, they are so easy to launder you'll be able to use them for everyday dining.

* Step three: Pick powerful plates.

I like to build place settings on top of interesting chargers or dinner plates. Consider using a perky green floral plate. Then add a salad plate in a similar pattern but contrasting color. I love how the splash of lime green and tangerine orange pops against the black-and-white place mat.

* Step four: Add flatware.

To keep things interesting, I like to use a variety of flatware on my tabletops. Sometimes I mix vintage patterns. Other times I pick flatware that follows my theme, like using faux-antler-handled flatware on a hunt-club-themed table. Today, I'm going with simple, streamlined stainless to match the clean look on our summer garden table.

* Step five: Select gorgeous glassware.

Mixing up the glassware on your table gives the display more visual intrigue. Often I'll use glasses with three different patterns and colors on a tabletop. Today, I've picked one of our most popular patterns: clear bubble glass (brides love this glassware, and it comes in a rainbow of colors). Then, to bring in a bit of organic texture, I tucked in wicker-covered tumblers, which are the perfect size for juice or wine.

* Step six: Tuck in a napkin.

While I'm normally not a fan of a matchy look in decorating, I couldn't resist using napkins that go with the place mats. I folded them so the contrasting fabric showed, then sheathed them in a white napkin detailed with flowers embroidered in black, binding the bundle with a black metal napkin ring. I also love to use cute dish towels as napkins because they come in millions of patterns, are affordable, launder easily and are a generous size that will completely cover your lap.

If you are pressed for time or want a simple, edited look on your table, you can stop here. But if you'd like to add a few more layers to bring more depth and interest to your display, keep going.

* Step seven: Add layers of fun.

Glass cloches have long been a mainstay of the Nell Hill's look, and one of my favorite ways to use this classic decorating tool is to cover each place setting with a cloche, giving the tabletop a bit of grandeur. Before topping our floral plates with a cloche, Chery and I stuck in fun garden-snail figurines. They add whimsy to the table and make great take-home gifts for guests. We also added an individual vase with perky daisies, one of my favorites for summer.

You'll want to finish off your tablescape with a dramatic centerpiece and interesting accents, like a playful teapot that's the crowning touch for our fresh summer tabletop.

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