Elegant yet simply adorned, many of today’s wedding reception designs include a crisp color palette with complementary napkins and tablecloths, and simple glass and crystal accoutrements. Photo courtesy of Sami Renee Photography.

For decades, standard white tablecloths and their crisp white napkin counterparts were the classic choice for wedding events of all sizes—and rightfully so, as these timeless table accoutrements often provided the background for both simple and lavish affairs. And while white linens are still a mainstay, many of today’s tabletop settings of linens, china and stemware boast colors, textures, and patterns aplenty—setting the stage for the entire gathering.  

What’s trending

While the classic white and gold setting will never go out of style, Mary Kathryn McConaghy, director of marketing at Curated Events in Charleston, S.C., loves the “more is more” maximalist style that is trending today. This can mean mixing and matching china patterns, adding an unexpected napkin with a complementary pattern, and using a charger of a different texture, such as rattan. 

“Chargers are definitely in,” McConaghy says. “They not only define where the place setting is centered, but also catch spills, help to keep dishes hot, and are also visually beautiful.”

The team at Curated Events is also seeing a lot of pattern play in today’s tablescapes—namely, the same pattern on the dishware continued onto the table linen, that is then tied in with the seating card. 

“It’s a very impactful and creative way to incorporate a strong pattern into event design,” McConaghy says. 

Amber Lamkin, owner and lead planner at Blush and Blossom Events LLC in Indianapolis, Ind., says colors and patterns within tabletop designs are here to stay, as she’s seeing couples embracing dishes with patterns—from floral to butterflies to classic blue and white toile—as well as stoneware dishes that offer a natural and organic design to an event. 

Indeed, industry experts agree that stoneware in various earthen tones such as off-white, gray, rust and black is a leading trend in weddings. “Round is the predominant shape but people are wanting round with an organic feel. We are finding the farm-to-table-style event is very popular, with a family feel to the overall design,” adds Rhonda Pedersen, owner and managing director at Pedersen’s Event Rentals in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. “Cut crystal glassware and cocktail glasses and a matte finish flatware in various metal tones are at the top of the list for most wedding style events, and incorporating gold is still a hot commodity but the brushed stainless is a good substitute.”   

Pairing the bare wooden tables of the ever-popular farm table look with delicate floral china and more modern flatware and beverage designs makes a unique statement for events of all types. Photo courtesy of McSween Photography.

And while classic white, clear glass china and gold flatware are popular choices for weddings, so too are mismatched and vintage china settings, smoked glassware and black flatware. “Bold colors are the most popular for 2023,” says Maxine Brown, outside sales representative at Grand Central Party Rental in Madison, Tenn. “I’m also seeing some traditional and unique trends surrounding dishes, glassware and utensils. Classic styles are also still very popular.”

Katie Thomas, sales and event designer at Beachview Event Rentals and Design in Brunswick, Ga., agrees that bold colors, especially in black and modern shapes, are trending. “Layering of different dishes and colors is popular as well. Colored glassware is a huge standout right now,” Thomas says.  

And when it comes to table linens themselves, selections vary dramatically with the seasons. Textured heavy textiles, such as jewel-toned velvets, are favored in fall and winter while a lighter version of a natural cloth, such as cream-colored linen, is sought after for spring and summer. 

“Tablescapes have also extended beyond the table,” Lamkin says. “Canopies draped in lush florals and hanging installations have been increasingly popular over the past couple of years. “Large tree-like structures have also been trending on tabletops.” In addition, lighting has become an important part in creating an intimate feel at the table. 

The elegance of gold cutlery and crystal is softened with wooden chairs and pale pink and cream linens at this reception. Photo courtesy of Bailey Elle Photography @bailey.elle.photography.

The design process

When working with wedding clients regarding tablescapes, McConaghy advises them to think about what they want guests to experience. Do they want the decor and tabletop to take center stage? Or do they want to keep the tabletop more monochromatic and minimal to let the artistry of the food take the lead? What is the menu and how will it present on the tabletop decor? 

Likewise, prior to selecting a tablescape design, McConaghy suggests clients start with their color story—namely, two colors they want to thread throughout the design. 

“It is easy then to look to linens in your color story and make selections, then choose your tabletop items, and from there you can get a feel for what does and does not fit into the event’s design motif,” McConaghy says. 

For Lamkin, if clients come in knowing they want a specific color palette and want specific flowers, then she works around that when choosing the tabletop rentals. If she’s designing the wedding and has “free rein,” she usually starts with linens and chairs and goes from there.  

“My designs are inspired by my travels, architecture, textures and patterns,” Lamkin explains. “Once I have the wedding design completely done, I share it with the floral designer so they have the color palette prior to starting their design. I know this is a different process for floral designers that also do wedding planning and design.”

White on white linens may be traditional, but they are still very much on-trend, creating a clean and elegant look suitable for all occasions. Photo courtesy of Grand Central Party Rental.

Lamkin also always encourages her clients to upgrade when it comes to linens, napkins, glassware, chargers and flatware, in that order. She feels the plates aren’t as large of a priority because typically they aren’t part of the tablescape until the catering staff brings out the meals or until the guests go to the buffet.

So what size of wedding receptions are industry experts seeing and how does that affect today’s tablescape designs? Many industry experts agree that smaller receptions were on the rise as the pandemic first emerged, but now larger receptions are continuing to be a favorite among couples.  

Lamkin is seeing 150-plus people as the “sweet spot” in reception sizes. “I think with around 150 to 200 guests, you can still incorporate personal touches without completely breaking the bank,” says Lamkin, who is seeing more plated meals, rather than buffets. 

“The table settings don’t drastically differ between buffet and plated because with both, the plates are not on the table when guests arrive,” Lamkin says. 

A simple, rustic linen table runner complements a wide-planked wooden table, while more contemporary stoneware and gold-accented flatware anchor each table setting. Photo courtesy of Pedersen’s Event Rentals.

For Thomas, over the past year, she has seen larger weddings that still have many design details. “I think in response to COVID people wanted to go big,” Thomas says. “I still see some big weddings coming up, but I anticipate that they will get smaller but keep the elaborate details. Cutting down the guest list will help on budget, but still be able to create the desired look.”

And as budgets continue to tighten in this downturn economy, there are some things that can be omitted from the tablescape. 

“Simple is best,” Pedersen says. Overcomplicating the “mix and match” trend can lead to spending unnecessary money with elements that most likely wouldn’t bring any added value or substance to your event.      

“Stick to the basics and add one or two upgrades instead of choosing the top end in every category,” Pedersen says. For example, clients may choose a more basic tablecloth and splurge on glasses and flatware since it is the one thing you see on the table before the guests sit down.  

“Glassware is an easy way to elevate the table to be luxurious, but it can also get pricey,” McConaghy says. “I would cut specialty glassware from the table before flatware or china. You want to ensure you have quality flatware because it will impact the guests’ ability to enjoy their meal.” 

And while chargers are seen as that “special extra,” they really “ground” the table for Lamkin, so she advises that if they are really beautiful chargers, then they should stay.  

In Pedersen’s experience, charger plates are used sparingly and not everyone has the budget to have them. She suggests that if someone comes in with their heart set on them and doesn’t have the budget, utilize chargers at the head table and perhaps any special tables and the rest can be dressed with a dinner plate.  

“And if the client isn’t opting for gold flatware, then I think many times you can get away with using the caterer’s silver flatware, rather than cutting something that’s more visually appealing like crystal cut glassware or patterned linens,” Lamkin says.

Brown says the biggest mistake wedding couples make is designing a full place setting. “Yes, a charger, dinner plate, salad and dessert place look nice, but is it necessary? If you’re not having salad, then skip the salad plate and fork. Choose a budget-friendly linen or chair instead of the fanciest option. The details will still look fabulous.” 

Maura Keller is a freelance writer based in Plymouth, Minn.

SIDEBAR: Social media misperceptions

Quality linens are critical elements in a successful tablescape. Photo courtesy of MKMc Photography.

Thanks to the wealth of images available online via social media outlets such as Pinterest and Instagram, many couples come to their meeting planners with images of the ideal tablescape for their wedding reception. Unfortunately, there are some common misperceptions that emerge of design elements that simply are not affordable or available. 

“Buying linens online is a misconception,” says Maxine Brown, outside sales representative at Grand Central Party Rental. “Brides see linens online at a great price; however, they don’t consider the quality. We usually tell brides to order well in advance so they can see the quality of the linen first.”

If couples are relying on social media to inspire them, Rhonda Pedersen, owner and managing director at Pedersen’s Event Rentals, suggests they should consider what the budget is prior to getting fixated on design elements. “Sometimes you don’t need every single thing in a photo to get the overall look.” 

SIDEBAR: Stemware statements

A couple of stylish Bohemian Embossed vintage stemware in royal grey can accent a wedding color palette nicely. Photo: ©Polina Tuliakova | Dreamstime.com

At many wedding receptions today, people are serving drinks as a piece of art. They are using cut crystal cocktail glasses and vintage stemware to serve various signature cocktails. “Sticking with the color palette of the wedding seems to be trending more than just choosing one of your favorite drinks,” says Amber Lamkin, owner and lead planner at Blush and Blossom Events LLC. “I’m seeing lots of herb-infused cocktails and botanical drinks. Crystal-cut rocks glasses are wildly popular right now, as well as champagne coupes over traditional flutes. Clearly the champagne tower is also trending.”

Katie Thomas, sales and event designer at Beachview Event Rentals and Design, agrees that signature drinks are the “hottest trend,” as is having a unique way of serving them.  

“Couples are using drinks that are important to the couple or relate to how they met,” Thomas says. “I had a New Year’s Eve wedding that served mint julep cups, as it played into their theme of lots of silver, clear and white. Even heavy disco balls were installed in the tent ceiling.”

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