punch bowl in the center of a table

Photo: Adrian Mueller

Punch Up Your Centerpiece
"A unexpected trick is to combine the bar and the centerpiece. Set a beautiful punch bowl in the center of the table—it makes a great-looking decoration, and people can serve themselves drinks. Put fruit, edible flowers or large frozen chunks of ice in it, and surround it with votives. You'll save money on flowers and table decorations, and, if you're serving punch, you avoid having to stock a full bar for all your guests." —Linnea Johansson, author of Perfect Parties: Recipes and Tips from a New York Party Planner (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012)
skip the sunset tones

Photo: John Kernick

Skip the Sunset Tones
"If you're hosting a fall party, don't feel obligated to use the usual red, orange and yellow. Try unexpected pairings of khaki and rose, pomegranate and camel (seen here), amethyst and moss, chartreuse and chocolate or forest green and terra-cotta. The key is to balance a brighter tone with a duller one, at the opposite end of the color spectrum, in order to get a sense of the season without it feeling predictable." —Danielle Rollins, author of Soiree: Entertaining with Style (Rizzoli, 2012)
orange runner with coffee cups at the end of a table

Photo: Copyright 2012 Peter Rosenbaum

Downsize the Tablecloth
"Instead of a tablecloth, I'd rather just put down a wide runner or swath of fabric—it can be high impact on a low budget. A really good way to make a runner is to get 1 1/2 yards of fabric—most home-décor fabrics are 54 inches wide and are Scotchgarded, so they're easy to clean. To finish the sides, get some fusible hem tape, or use pinking shears to create a decorative raw edge and cut a 4-foot square (most dining tables are no wider than 48 inches). You can place a big square in the middle of the table or put the fabric at an angle or even put it on one end of a buffet and designate it as the place to get plates, silverware and food. (You can use it again and again, or even layer it over an older tablecloth to freshen it up.)" —Monica Pedersen, author of Make It Beautiful: Designs and Ideas for Entertaining at Home (Agate Midway, 2012)
turquoise bowls on white plates

Photo: Lisa Romerein

Invite Your China to Meet Some New Friends
"Mix and match your china and flatware. You can pair your fancier dishes with vintage plates, fun rattan chargers or melamine salad plates to have a colorful, fun look that doesn't feel too stuffy." —Cheryl Najafi, author of You're So Invited: Panic Less, Play More and Get Your Party On (St. Martin's Press, 2012)
Tulips in trophies

Photo: Copyright 2012 Matthew Klein

Give Tequila a Second Life
"I don't use vases for flower arrangements. Instead, I find quirky things to put flowers in, like a grouping of trophies. I also save all kinds of old glass vessels—mustard jars, glass beer or tequila bottles — I soak the labels off, and they become the perfect thing to hold flowers because they're low and your guests can still talk over the arrangements—even green weeds look great sticking out of them." —Cornelia Guest, author of Cornelia Guest's Simple Pleasures: Healthy Seasonal Cooking and Easy Entertaining (Weinstein Books, 2012)

Photo: Danny Seo Media Ventures

Let a Staple Gun Be Your Guide
"For extra seating, get some flea market chairs and make them right for the season by changing out the fabric on the seat cushion. I buy inexpensive, chunky sweaters from Goodwill and use them to reupholster the chairs. It's as simple as unscrewing the seat cushion, ripping off the old fabric, wrapping it in the sweater, staple-gunning it into place, trimming the excess and screwing the seat back into the chair. Instant cozy makeover." —Danny Seo, author of Upcycling Celebrations: A Use-What-You-Have Guide to Decorating, Gift-Giving and Entertaining (Running Press, 2012)

Photo: Rick Souders

Think Beyond the Dining Table
"For a warm and welcoming atmosphere, I decorate the dining table and the dining room. Greenery, autumn leaves, twigs, pumpkins and squash, accented with strings of tiny white lights, adorn the top of my china cabinet, bookcases and, most importantly, the mantel over the hearth. They create an overall effect that is both seasonal and hospitable—the perfect reception for guests!" —Christy Rost, author of Celebrating Home: A Handbook for Gracious Living (Bright Sky Press, 2012)
Fall tablesetting

Photo: Safeway, Debi Lilly Design

Make Over a Classic
"Instead of relying on an old favorite tablecloth, pick a neutral cloth and layer colorful ribbon stripes down the length of the table and then across, for an instant update that's easy to do-it-yourself. To combine candlelight into your table's centerpiece, layer colorful nuts and dried beans in a glass cylindrical vase and top with a pillar candle, making sure the flame is below the rim of the vase. Group a few of these among clusters of floral arrangements for a soft glow. Last thing: Wrap fresh rosemary around your napkins and secure with a twist tie for an instant, fresh, fragrant napkin ring at each place setting." —Debi Lilly, author of A Perfect Event: Inspired, Easy Elegance (Dunham Books, 2012)
Living room tablesetting

Photo: © Johnny Nicoloro

Switch Up the Venue
"Throwing a dinner party? Move the table into the living room and use your dining room as a buffet. Whether you bring a table up to the couch or have your guests gather around your coffee table, it will feel cozy, intimate and immediately make people feel at home." —Nathan Turner, author of Nathan Turner's American Style: Classic Design and Effortless Entertaining (Abrams, 2012)
Flower arrangement

Photo: Carolyne Roehm

Follow Mother Nature's Lead
"For your centerpiece, pick blossoms that are in season. During autumn, Astros, chrysanthemum and dahlias are all in bloom and can be found in wonderful deep reds, russets and golden yellows." —Carolyne Roehm, author of Flowers (Clarkson Potter, 2012)
Place setting

Photo: Kimberly Yorio

Put Every Guest In His Place
"Create your seating plan thoughtfully, making sure to keep any feuding family members at opposite ends of the table, and handwrite place cards at each setting. Another homemade touch: Menus at each place to let your guests know what they can expect during the meal; they're inexpensive and turn out quite beautifully!—Alex Hitz, author of My Beverly Hills Kitchen: Classic Southern Cooking with a French Twist (Knopf, 2012)

Next: Dining room mini-makeovers