Oprah's place settings
Photo: James Merrell
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Table: Casual tablecloths and napkins can be cut from any material—cotton, even burlap—then hemmed or trimmed with pinking shears. Designer Todd Moore suggests layering colors, textures, patterns. For anything messy—a barbecue or crab feast—cover the tablecloth with sheets of butcher paper (for windy days, secure with tablecloth clips from any party store).

Chairs: An inexpensive way to doll up old garden chairs—instead of organza, use unhemmed sheer curtain panels or any lightweight gauzy fabric. (Find sheer panels at SmithNoble.com; or call West Elm catalog at 866-428-6468.)

Place settings: Think texture and contrast. Moore topped a rose china service plate with another of amber glass. More ideas: mismatched vintage floral china; one strong color like cobalt blue on a red-checked cloth; crystal plates and goblets and silver on a white cloth.

Centerpiece: Give an outdoor table personality—small crystal glasses filled with fresh mint at each place setting; a shiny champagne bucket and masses of tulips; a dozen weathered pots planted with red geraniums on a silver tray; a wood box of grass and pansies; a large crystal cachepot filled with lemons.

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