How to Create a Chic Outdoor Tabletop

Forget the disposable dishware and wow your guests with a beautifully set table outdoors

Credit: Ausden Inc.

Host the best BBQ on the block with these tips for creating a chic outdoor tabletop

Sure, nothing says summer quite like wolfing down a juicy, chargrilled burger outside over a white paper plate (and washing it down with a ice cold beer), but there’s also no denying the excitement that a properly set dinner (or lunch) table can bring.

“People tend to put a lot of thought into food in the summer,” says Janette Ewen, interior stylist and owner of creative studio, Parker Barrow. “What are they going to BBQ? What are they going to serve ahead of time? How long does it have to marinate for? And then they just kind of toss it on the table without any thought to it.”

So forget the disposable dishware – ahead, Janette’s top tips for creating your own stylish outdoor tabletop as she prepares to share her expertise at the Vancouver Home + Design Show this fall, from October 22–25.

Pick a Theme

Whether you’re dreaming of a Gatsby-style garden party or plotting a red-and-white celebration of our nation strong and free (O Canada!), Ewen stresses that it’s worth selecting a theme – and sticking to it.

“Themes are really important because they keep you on track throughout the planning process,” she says. “Try to do something different that appeals to you.”

To really speak to your outdoor theme, Ewen suggests writing down its primary elements before you hit the shops. Perhaps you’ll need striped wares for a seaside party or bright pinks and greens for an ’80s-prep vibe – a popular trend that’s one of Ewen’s favourites for summer.

“It’s an easy way to help make your overall look more cohesive,” she says.

Toucan melamine salad plate from The Bay, $4.50 each

Don’t Forget Centrepieces

Similar to how a beautiful piece of art can make a statement indoors, a stunning centerpiece can help elevate a tabletop to stylish heights. And with a little creativity, it can also serve as a convenient conversation starter for guests.

“I love bringing natural elements into the outdoors,” says Ewen. Instead of the typical flower arrangement, for example, she suggests running a number of mini bouquets down the centre of the table for a more relaxed look.

“Another fun trick is to slice an apple – or any fruit that can be carved – in half so that you can put a tea light in it,” Ewen says. “You can use six of those as a table runner.”


If you’ve got some time to spare, try going the DIY route when putting together your outdoor tabletop.

“Get a roll of wallpaper or wrapping paper that suits your theme and use it as table runner over plain white linen,” Ewen says. “Your guests will instantly get the feel of your theme and at the end of the party, it can easily be rolled up and recycled.”

Working with a colour theme? Ewen suggests weaving ribbons atop a white tablecloth for an inexpensive-and imaginative-touch. Old mason jars and decorative tea cans also be transformed into striking table pieces when filled with blooms or delicate string lights.

Blue white polka dot sheet wrap from Indigo, $6


Go All Out

Just because you’re outside doesn’t mean you have to skimp on the accessories. From placemats and napkin rings to a variety of glasses and full cutlery sets, a chic table setting is all in the details. And they make a much larger impact, too.

“I love dressing up the outdoors as opposed to dressing them down,” says Ewen. “I think it makes the experience a lot more special.”

Water hyacinth placemat from Pottery Barn, from $98 for set of four

Have Fun

“The most important rule is to have fun!” says Ewen. “Try to bring in a wink – something cute or whimsical that will make people smile.”

Think edible place card holders made from sliced pineapple or small dinner party favours placed atop guests’ plates.

“The better your table is set, the longer your guests will linger, and the more memorable the night will be,” says Ewen.

Brass Mr. & Mrs. Muse place card holders, $98 for set of four (available at Mint Interiors)