Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tablecloths, place mats, and napkins: Dressing the table from a wardrobe consultant's perspective

Here is the text and picture from my latest Home and Garden article! Enjoy! For more information about Lori Wynne, visit her website at www.fashionwithflair.com.
BOSTON - I am writing this article in Boston. My family and I are here visiting my sister, Lori Wynne. She is a wife, a mother, and a wardrobe consultant.

Along with a having a passion for fashion and a soft spot for good causes, she also has a harmless addiction to table linens. Lori loves dressing her kitchen and dining room tables almost as much as dressing herself or her clients. This being said, she has amassed quite a collection of tablecloths, runners, placemats, napkins and napkin rings. In fact, she has more placemats than bath towels. Lori’s double-door linen closet has one shelf for towels and two shelves filled to the brim with table linens. She counted 21 sets of napkins, 14 sets of placemats, 16 runners, and 20 tablecloths.

Table linens serve double duty; protecting your table from damage and they serve as decoration. Table linens appeal to both Homies (Home and Garden enthusiasts) and Foodies (Food and Dining enthusiasts) alike. Both would agree that a well set table makes a meal more enjoyable and appetizing.

Lori’s personal philosophy on setting a beautiful table is, “Presentation is everything.” One or both of her dining tables are always decorated with linens and centerpieces. In an effort to be “green,” Lori says, she will leave her tablecloth on the table two to three days until laundering becomes necessary.

“I use cloth napkins instead of paper. In my house, the napkin stays at the family member’s place at the table. After each meal, the napkin will go back in the ring until its next use. When the linens get dirty, once or twice a week, I change them. It’s like redecorating in a minute’s time.”

Our mother set our feet on the path of appreciating a nicely set table. Growing up in the Clark household, the use of table linens was commonplace.

As children we understood that a formally set table signaled the advent of something special. Eating at the dining room table, as opposed to the kitchen table, we sat up a little straighter, held our forks delicately and properly, instead of the dagger position, and only caught the disapproving eye from our mother when we tried to compose a symphony by circling the rim of our water goblets with wet fingers.

Lori doesn’t believe that you need to sacrifice civility or style just because there are children in the home.

She says, “You may think that tablecloths and napkins are not appropriate for your current lifestyle. On the contrary, I have used cloth linens since the day I was married, then had two small, messy eaters and now dine with a couple of voracious teenage boys. The solution is clear plastic placemats over the cloth placemats when feeding toddlers. Whether in fashion or dressing your table there’s no need to forgo style when living with young children.”

She adds, “As a mother of two sons and the daughter-in-law of a woman who wrote an etiquette book, I feel it my duty to teach my sons the proper use of cloth table linens and to not be intimidated by them. Equally important, I have taught them to set a proper table. Just like jewelry and shoes, dishes and napkin rings are the accessories for the table that complete the look you are trying to convey.”

Visiting Lori and perusing her collection of table linens has rejuvenated my own interest in making a better effort to set a nice table for my family. She has always believed in making her dinner guests feel special.

“I want to present my home in the best light possible. Just like the perfect outfit can make a great first impression, table linens can make your family and guests feel like you were expecting them, and their presence makes every day a special occasion.”

Lori’s tips for table linens

For a casual dining setting a tablecloth should have an overhang of at least 8 inches. For a formal setting the overhang could be anywhere from 15 inches to all the way to the floor.
Napkinfoldingguide.com is a website that has instructions and pictures on how to fold cloth napkins.

Use a rod in your walk-in pantry or hall closet to hold hangers filled with tablecloths. This keeps tablecloths from getting wrinkled.

If your collection of napkins is small, keep them rolled up and upright in a basket on the counter near the table. They will be decorative as well as close at hand.

Keep napkin rings in drawers with dividers, much like how you would store jewelry.
Store vinyl or plastic placemats in the same upright cupboard as you store your cookie sheets. When they are no longer used to protect your nice linens, use them as cutting boards. They can easily be washed in the dishwasher.

Don’t be intimidated by table linens. If you have never collected linens, start with one set of at least four place settings of coordinating mats, napkins, and napkin rings that can be easily maintained by laundering or wiping clean. They are widely available at many price points.


  1. Very nice. It puts it back in perspective for me... as I always use the excuse "but I have kids..."

  2. Thanks for all the tips. I love tablecloths. I really appreciated the tip about how far they could hang over the table, since I always worry when mine get pretty close to the floor.

  3. How uplifting and inspiring. I have been wanting to get my family behaving better at the table. I will be trying some of the tips you have shared.

    I noticed the black apron your wearing. I know you love your apron just wondered if you took it with you?

  4. Your article inspired me. I can't believe I am almost 30 and I have no table linens. I bought my first set of place mats and napkins today! Thanks Annie and Lori.


  5. I love table linens, and I have lots of tablecloths! I just needed some encouragement to pull out those cloth napkins and actually use them! :)

    Thank you for a GREAT post! :)

  6. I'm so happy to know that I'm a Homie AND a Foodie! ;)

  7. Excellent article. It has inspired me to go register for table linens.


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