Let's go Outside
Eating outdoors is one of summer's special pleasures. Gabrielle Fagan reveals how to set a perfect table for those al fresco feasts...
Sunny days and sultry nights cry out for meals eaten outdoors, and the setting - whether sheltering under the canopy of a tree or gazing up at the stars - can ensure every al fresco occasion is special.
All eyes will be drawn to the table, and its decoration can work marvels on the atmosphere and enhance the enjoyment of the food.
It doesn't need to be elaborate or expensive. All you have to do is pick a theme - either a colour or decor effect - then plunder the huge array of outdoor tableware ranges.
"This summer, we're seeing a shift away from the playful colours and geometric patterns seen in trends from the last few seasons, and instead a growing popularity for a more grown-up, elegant feel," says designer Nina Campbell.
"This reflects our increasing use of the garden or patio as a year-round outdoor room, where we want to entertain in many different ways - not just for picnic-style informal gatherings, but also for sophisticated occasions." John Lewis also confirms that trend, reporting an 11 per cent increase in sales of melamine tableware suitable for outdoors.
So turn your attention to the table and then sit back and bask in the compliments.
Blue and white's the perfect combination for an ocean-inspired table top, and instantly conjures a breezy beside-the-sea atmosphere.
"Vibrant blues and turquoises flow into bright aqua and emerald greens to create a sense of serenity for an ocean-inspired table setting," says Emma Mann, head of home design at Sainsbury's.
"Fish motifs and bold spot and stripe patterns bring the feel of a Greek island holiday to the home, and watery prints are reminiscent of the sun shimmering on the sea. Textured ceramics and recycled glass add depth and authenticity to this contemporary look."
Top Tip: Beachcomber finds, like sea shells, displayed in clear glass jars, are an appropriate decoration. Fill a Set Of Three Clear View Lanterns With Rope Handles, £200, In Spaces.
Get the Look: Do a supermarket sweep at Sainsbury's for brilliant blue and white tableware and accessories decorated with fish and deckchair-style stripes. Two stars of the 'by Sainsbury's' collection are an Aqua Print Jug, £12, and Fish Print Napkins, £5 for a set of two.
Equally striking is the Maritime range at Gift Wrapped & Gorgeous, which has plundered the ocean depths for inspiration, and features ships, anchors, fish and sea creatures on tableware and accessories. A Maritime Coupe Plate, featuring an octopus, £24. One of House of Fraser's interior trends this year is contemporary coastal, and its Linea Maritime Serveware Range starts from £12, and a Stripe Napkin Set is currently reduced to £11.20 from £16.
Finishing Touches: Nina Campbell's new blue and white Heritage melamine tableware is elegant enough for the smartest meal indoors or out. Its pattern is a contemporary interpretation but derivative of ancient Chinese blue and white porcelain. Plates start from £5 each.
Ramp up the colour with vibrant, zingy hues for tableware and bunting, and you'll feel as though you're in a tropical hotspot.
"Garden parties and barbecues usually involve plenty of guests, so it's fun and easier to use disposable tableware, which can look just as good as chinaware but avoids the worry of breakages. Reflecting our increasing enthusiasm for colour indoors, there's more pattern and zingy shades featuring on al fresco tableware," says Clare Harris, managing director at Talking Tables.
"The range of designs and colours available has moved on leaps and bounds in recent years, and designs range from faux porcelain to granny-style florals and, one of my favourites, tropical brights, to conjure thoughts of exotic climes."
Top Tip: Bunting's been a staple of outdoor celebrations since the 1940s and instantly evokes a celebratory feel. Groups of honeycomb baubles or tissue paper tassel garlands in classic white, acid brights or pretty pastels can create huge impact on a small budget. Pineapple Bunting, £8.50, from the Tropical Fiesta collection, Talking Tables.
Get the Look: If you truly want to embrace this look, spray-paint an old garden table and chairs in a vivid shade. Try Rust-Oleum Mode Lime High Gloss Spray Paint, £12.48, B&Q.
Talking Tables' Tropical Fiesta range also includes paper Honeycomb Pineapples, £8.50 for a set of three, and Canape Plates and Cups, £3.50 each for a set of 12, which sport a lush pelican, foliage and fruit design.
Habitat's ranges reflect global influences, and its Nadi Bamboo Multi-coloured Dinner Plates, £8 for a pack of four, and Mimosa Patterned Melamine Plates, from £2 each, are appropriately exotic. House of Fraser's spotted the pineapple trend, and their Linea Pineapple Serveware Range, from £4, is so appropriate. Match the theme with Graham & Green's yellow or pink Decorative Paper Pineapples, £7.90 each.
Finishing Touches: Alice In Wonderland Style Floral Paper Lanterns, £6.74 for a set of three, Luck & Luck. Sip from Acrylic Palm Tree Wine Glasses, £3.50 each (matching Jug, £12.50), Marks & Spencer. Enjoy a night-time glow with a neon coloured solar powered glass; Suck UK Sun Jar, £15.50, Red Candy.
Rolling fields and sweeping lawns are the perfect setting for picnics, cream teas or leisurely lunches, but even a modest plot can be transformed into a rural idyll with a country-style table.
"If you want to create a natural, rustic look for your dinner table, opt for serving dishes and dinnerware made from materials like bamboo, woods and rattan," says Nikki Stuart, assistant tabletop buyer at Habitat. "Handwoven baskets, wooden platters and natural, unglazed stoneware will create a relaxed vibe for your table.
"If you're having a garden party, we've also used introduced the new Palmer collection - bowls and plates made in India from fallen palm tree leaves. The leaves are cleaned and heat pressed into moulds, so are an entirely eco-friendly and a disposable option if you just can't face washing up."
Top Tip: Lay strands of ivy along the length of a table and entwine it around a collection of glass tea light holders. In the centre, make a focal point of a clear glass water-filled bowl, with floating flower heads.
Get the Look: Simply set a scrubbed wooden table with bamboo bowls or white pots filled with pink and white blooms, and then add to the charm with vintage-style print placemats. Retreat Home's full of beautiful products, including decorative large, white Filigree Flower Pots, £16.99 each, a White Tin Can T Light, with heart-shaped cut-out, £13, Ditsy Print Placemats, £7.98 each, and Pink Butterfly Napkin Rings, £7 for set of four.
Habitat's Palmer Palm Leaf Square Plates and Small Bowls, both £15 for pack of 25.
For a more formal gathering, look no further than the Japanese Blossom porcelain tableware at Dotcomgiftshop. Bowls, £4.95 each, and Dinner Plate, £14.95.
Make a place setting special with a Fleuris Vintage Style Cutlery Set, £34.50 for a 24-piece set, from Within. For an evening gathering, arrange a collection of Stainless Steel Top Panel Lanterns, £15 each from Matalan stores.
Finishing Touches: A Strawberry Jam Jar And Spoon, £5, Tesco, is perfect for that Wimbledon high tea. Floral Drink Dispenser, £17.50, Marks & Spencer.