A Note –

I’m so thrilled to have Mary here guest posting today! If you don’t know Mary, you are in for a treat! Mary and I met at The Southern C a few years ago and hit if off instantly. She’s truly one of the funniest and fun-loving humans I know… and ALWAYS the life of the party! But more than that, she’s a total queen at all things party. Not only does she own the largest party rentals company in Nashville, Please Be Seated, she runs the lifestyle blog Mrs. Southern Social, is an author of one of our ABBC picks, Without a Hitch, and she also (as if all that wasn’t enough!) has a tabletop line at Dillards.

This woman is a powerhouse! And I’m so excited to hear all of her tips and tricks for setting a beautiful table for a dinner party… you know I love a good hosting situation!

How To Set A Gorgeous Table (For Your Next Dinner Party!)

Guest Post By: Mary Huddleston
creator of Mrs. Southern Social

Hi, all! I’m Mary Huddleston, aka Mrs. Southern Social. First and foremost, a huge congratulations to Ashley and Ryan on the arrival of baby Laurens! Ashely, I love you and am absolutely over the moon for y’all. 

I’m so flattered that Ashley asked me to share a guest blog post. Mrs. Southern Social is all about modern entertaining—I say let’s keep the tradition of southern hospitality but update the rules, because I don’t have time to do things like my mother and grandmother. For me, this means focusing on my favorite part—setting a pretty table—and delegating the rest (i.e., bringing in the food because I can barely turn on my stove, ha!). My background is in event and wedding planning, so my strength is knowing how to set a fabulous scene. I don’t feel like I have to do it all when I entertain, and I encourage y’all to similarly do the parts you enjoy and find shortcuts for the others. 

With that in mind, I’m sharing my top tips for setting a gorgeous table for your next dinner party or gathering. And if you aren’t sure where to begin, check out my tabletop collection at Dillard’s—everything is mix-and-match, so it’s easy to set the perfect table. Happy hostessing! 

Layer it up

My #1 tip is layer, layer, layer. This not only brings depth to your table but also showcases your place settings more sharply. For example, I love using both a tablecloth and chargers or placemats. The tablecloth obviously gives you a base, but your plates need somewhere to “land” or else it can look like they’re floating on the table. A charger or placemat helps to anchor everything. Similarly, I love stacking the salad/dessert plate on top of the dinner plate (again, depth)—you can remove it to serve. Bringing in different textures (bamboo flatware, rattan pieces, earthy ceramics) also helps create dimension and gives your table a sophisticated edge.

mrs southern social

Use pattern play

A trend we’re seeing a lot these days is the “more is more” look—lots of pattern and color. It’s such a fun aesthetic but I think that people get intimidated to try such a bold design. To avoid a mismatched mess, here’s my trick: select one color and build your table around it. As you can see here, we pulled out the green, so the tablecloth, placemats, and napkins all coordinate with a complementary color palette. When you have a lot of patterns, I also think it’s important to break things up with some neutral elements such as the white florals and dishware, which help to balance this colorful vignette.

mrs southern social

Try a fun napkin fold

It’s easier than you think! I love to tie napkins in a knot for an easy, unique look, but there are so many great options such as my signature “Diamond Fold” and “Napkin Pocket.” I contributed to this Southern Living article which shares a ton of folding techniques, including the three I mention here. Try one at your next dinner party—your guests will feel like they’re at a 5-star restaurant!

mary hudleston

Incorporate chic centerpieces

As much as I love to “delegate” and call a florist, there are so many budget-friendly ways to decorate your table. Potted plants (mini myrtle trees or topiaries, or potted flowers) are a terrific option that last a long time, and especially in summer and fall, you can do some really beautiful things with produce. Imagine big bowls of citrus, apples, pomegranates…you can also intersperse produce with seasonal greenery for an elegant look.

I always love good ol’ Trader Joe’s hydrangeas in alternating colors, or an ombré arrangement of spray roses. Another easy option is clustering lots of bud vases in the middle of your table, each containing a different flower in a similar color palette (thank you to Ina Garten for that idea!). If you want to attempt simple mixed arrangements, I suggest using water glasses—say, 5-7 down the middle of your table. They’re a good size to do a pretty nosegay, but the mouth is narrow enough that it makes the flowers easier to arrange. And never forget candles! Whether votives, tealights, or tapers, everything looks better in candlelight. 

mary huddleston

Use paper, but elevated

There is no shame in a paper table, especially since there are so many resources these days for elevated paper goods. I especially love the ease of disposable pieces for outdoor and poolside entertaining, but that doesn’t mean it can’t look fabulous! Set your table as you normally would: charger, dinner plate, salad plate, a full set of plastic cutlery (Sophistiplate is the best), and a pretty napkin (all paper, of course).

A tight color palette helps with the chic factor—resist any temptation to decorate with the full rainbow (that’s when you get into “kid party” territory). And of course, always add some pretty décor like these festive oranges. Some of my favorite paper brands include Sophistiplate, Paper Eskimo, Meri Meri, Hester & Cook, Lucy Grymes, Caspari, Momo Party (great for kids parties), and Gatherings by CP

mary huddleston


Mary Huddleston

creator of Mrs. Southern Social lifestyle blog

founder of Please Be Seated rental and event company

author of Without A Hitch novel

creator of Southern Living x Mrs. Southern Social collection at Dillard’s

Thank you, Mary, for all the hostess tips and tricks… now I can’t wait to set a gorgeous table!


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  1. Your posts are always so lovely, Ashley. And another warm welcome to Baby Laurens. I’d love to know the source for the Christmas China that Mary used in her photos. Do you think she would share that with us?

  2. Those tabelscape pictures are GORGEOUS! I also loved Without a Hitch and passed it on when I was done to a wedding planner friend who loved it as well. What a fun guest post!

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