How to Set a Table Like a French Galimage source: Anthropologie


If you aren’t sure how to set a table, take a few notes from the Parisians. They have a strong sense of tradition, which is why you will often find even their most casual weekday dinners adorned with fine silverware and candlelight. Even though their tables are always beautifully set, rest assured that their tablescapes are usually also simple to put together.

We are fascinated by everything from the French way to light a room to their technique for styling a mantelpiece. The French have perfected a table styling manner that looks both chic and effortless—a true feat. I am spilling their entertaining secrets below.

Forgo Full Sets of China

To set a table for a dinner party, there is no need to invest in a full set of china. The table should reflect what you have, and not be overly coordinated. Au contraire, the china can be a mottled collection of your finds at flea markets. In other words, mixing and matching also apply to the art of the table in France.

Mismatch Your Glasses

Your glasses don’t have to match either, but they should be clear (nothing colored) and should all have stems. In fact, when held properly, the stem serves an important purpose: It keeps the wine at the intended serving temperature. The French are not about to mess with the quality of their wine for a trendy stemless glass.

Show off Your Monogram

For the napkins, it is nice to use old embroidered white ones with a monogram. These cost next to nothing on eBay or can be taken from your grandmother’s drawers. The French pass china, flatware, and even linens down through generations, so don’t be afraid to buy vintage. There’s no need to fold the napkins into complicated origami either; simply place them on or alongside the plates.

Cover Your Table

It is probably better to cover your table unless it’s a truly beautiful one. Old linen sheets make excellent tablecloths. They can be white or dyed. But don’t spend precious minutes ironing your tablecloth. Do as the French do, and keep it effortless. Linen is made to look wrinkled anyway.

Stay Hydrated

On every table, there is an open bottle of wine and a carafe of water – not a plastic bottle. In fact, no drink or condiment bottle is acceptable on the table, save for a bottle of wine, and maybe a jar of Maille’s traditional Dijon mustard.

Showcase Your Salt

If you don’t have a salt shaker, put salt in two small dishes on either end of the table. The French prefer fleur de sel de Camargue over regular table salt.