There's nothing quite as deliciously down-to-earth as fall. As sure as leaves drift downward, autumn is grounding, and it's also a traditional time to gather friends and family, setting the table for a season of hosting. The simplest way to make sure that table looks inviting all through the season and into the winter? Choose an elegant-yet-relaxed look that can be changed with slight variations to serve a weeknight dinner party or a full-on holiday celebration. Take your cues from these four elements:
1. Rustic cloth
We went straight to the hardware store for one of our favorite materials: canvas drop cloth. A $22 drop cloth creates a neutral canvas base and keeps the table relaxed. Let it hang dramatically long, or trim to the correct size for your table if needed. Then toss the cloth into the wash, allowing the edges to fray. The same technique can work with a simple length of linen.
2. Dark dishes
Our plates, from Target, have a mottled glaze of mossy green that fades to a dark edge. Though inexpensive, the dishes nod to classic '60s and '70s pottery and reinforce the earthy look. Any dark plate that sticks to a casual feel and invites layering could serve the same purpose. We added a smoked glass (ours are $1 thrift store finds) and flatware with oxidized handles to build the look.
3. Dramatic flowers
Flowers in deep tones with interesting shapes add drama and a touch of formality, elevating the table beyond the everyday and balancing more rough-hewn pieces. Keep the focus strong by using one color family (ours are a mixture of purples) to unify a casual arrangement and emphasize the unexpected choice of all dark blooms. Shapely dried stems with pods or interesting leaves and silvery tones can extend the life of your bouquet and make it easy to repeat similar arrangements for multiple occasions.
4. A touch of shine
Among our favorite recent discoveries are copper pipe caps from the hardware store that perfectly fit votive candles. The copper mellows to a gleaming patina that tips the table toward festive, while its unexpected origins keep things interesting. If you're concerned about heat, use a self-adhesive felt circle (available at craft and hardware stores) on the bottom of each copper cap to protect your table.
To shop the look for your own table, check out our photo gallery here.
Looking for the right menu ideas to complement the earthy table? Tribune Food Editor Joe Gray says keep these things in mind.
Keep it seasonal: Fall and winter vegetables will be fresh and feel appropriate; they extend the idea of entertaining that is a natural fit for this time of year.
Look for color: Though braises and stews are some of the most delicious cold-season recipes, remember to include ingredients or elements on plates or platters that are not just brown food.
Texturize: Both for the visual appeal and just plain deliciousness of the meal, remember to include a crunch to balance those melt-in-your-mouth meats.