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When Dan and I entertain, we each have our assigned roles: He spends hours in the kitchen crafting our cuisine. And I’m out in the dining room, dreaming up an intriguing tablescape. Armed with dishes, table linens and seasonal accents, I play around until lightning strikes and I find a look that lights up my heart.

Love tabletops as much as I do? Experiment with these tips we use to create our stunning tables:

Add drama through height: Want drama on your table? Go up! One of the biggest mistakes I see people make when creating tablescapes is to only use elements that are low to the table. Instead, select some tall accents for your centerpiece.

We repurposed glass candlesticks as risers and topped them with clear glass votive holders, reimagined as candy dishes. What can you use as a riser to add lift to your centerpiece? I’ve used cake plates, urns, pottery, even a birdbath! Let your imagination run wild as you raid your china hutch or garden shed.

Toss in a splash of color: In the spring and summer, I am ravenous for color. Whether you want a splash or a dollop of color on your table, an easy way to get your fix is with bright table linens. We crisscrossed a long table with pretty pink table runners. Table runners are my new crush because they allow you to get lots of different effects, depending on how you use them. Napkins that boast color and pattern are also a great tool. You can use a set of white dishes or those with a minimalist pattern, add splashy napkins, and your table is reborn. Accent plates are another great way to bring in color.

Mix the rustic and refined: We love to mix the rustic and refined, the elegant and the everyday. On one table, we used crystal, silver, china … and a bird’s nest as a charger. What? Yes! Polish your silver, dust off your crystal and set an elegant table, then poke in a natural element or weathered accent as a counterbalance. How about a crumbling concrete statue from the garden? Or an old wooden dough bowl holding ferns?

Blend old and new: When I go to market, I’m always on the look for new table accents our customers can use to make their tables unique. But while new dishes, linens and centerpiece items are a great addition, don’t overlook the fabulous pieces you have sitting in your own china hutch. Chances are you have some killer dishes, serving pieces or family heirlooms that just need to be dusted off and reimagined.

Add an element of surprise: When you’re designing a table, add in a touch or two of whimsy, something that will surprise your guests and make them smile, like bunny ear napkin rings. When your table doesn’t take itself too seriously, your guest will feel more relaxed.

Set your table in advance: This is a cautionary tale: I used to put off setting my table until my event was set to begin. I nearly caused myself an ulcer with all my photo finishes, rushing as I put the last touch on the table minutes before my guests arrived. One time, I was literally running down the stairs pulling curlers out of my hair as the doorbell rang. I’m now older and wiser, and I try to get my table set at least a day before my event. It’s easier on the nerves, and it gives you more time to revisit and revise your design.

This column was adapted from Mary Carol Garrity’s blog at nellhills.com. She can be reached at marycarol@nellhills.com.

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