willowbrook farm

historic yellow springs

The Summer Table

The Summer season, even though not officially here… is here! The days seem longer with the lingering light, the kids are out of school, allowing for a little more flexible schedule and the weather is finally cooperating by showering us with sun and warmth. This season provides countless opportunities to languish around a dinner table well after the meal is over and frequently we like to take the whole kit and caboodle outdoors. I LOVE to dress up a table and my dad has pulled many a “too tall” flower arrangement from the center of the table that block the view of the person across from him…. lesson learned. If any of you reading this, have been to one of our Barn Sales, you know that I love height and layers on my tables in my vignettes. I also love to use height and layers on my tables when I entertain. The key is to use height and layers when you will not be blocking the view of that important someone across the table. Placement of the items that might be taller than you typically would want on the center of a dinner table, but provide the aesthetic you want, can be strategically placed so as to go in between the guests sitting at the table. When serving a buffet type meal, height is not an issue for you are not blocking the gaze of that someone across the table so up you can go!


This year, I am focusing in on what nature provides as my base element in table decor. All year long, the seasons provide us with so much material for decor and the summer is even more prolific. This season is filled with fresh vegetables and fruits, flowers a plenty, moss, grasses and the likes… all great fodder for design and decor. Below I will show you some of my favorite table designs based on these natural elements as well as a few others.  Inspired by these fabulous vegetable paper placemats from Hester and Cook, I decided to fill our beautiful rusty galvanized planters with what else but vegetables as the centerpiece of the table. They bring the design element of the vegetables on the paper placemats to another level visually, thus bringing your eye around the table. I love the colors of them as well. 

You can fill these gorgeous planters or others that make a statement with an organic material, even just a large bunch of greens such as fresh mint. If you grow it in your garden, you know that it soon overtakes anything else so there will be no shortage of it! These adorable turnip placards, also from Hester and Cook and available for sale in our barn, would be adorable with the name of each guest penned on them to be tucked in beside the plate.

I love to label the food that I am serving when I entertain so I am always on the lookout for interesting ways to do this. One of my favorite little placecard servers that I have made is this cute little terracotta pot with a vintage silver fork. These are easy to make and only require the fork, the pot, some styrofoam to insert into the pot and some moss to cover it up. I have made a bunch of these and some I have painted white to use in winter. They could be painted any color you like if you use a plain terracotta pot. Interesting glassware on a table is always eye catching as well as little accoutrements, that are both functional but add color or interest to your tabletop. These little green cocktail forks that I picked up at a party store incorporate the greens on the table, again bringing your eye around the table.  

It is even better when the food you are serving is tied to the design of your table! Absolutely not a requirement but kind of cute when it works!

Another natural element that I love to use in table decor are lemons and limes or any citrus fruit for that matter. I love their color palette for summer. They also make adorable placards at each persons seat. This is simply done by writing the guests name on a tag and inserting a pin into the tag and then the lemon or lime to secure it. To make sure the fruit does not role off the table, simply slice a section of the fruit to make a flat level sitting area from the peel. This will enable the fruit to sit flatly and stay put. When you add natural silverware that is compostable, some colored paper straws and some cute paper inserts that can also be mounted in the lemons or limes, you have a simple but pretty table. When entertaining outside it is often very helpful to use items that corale your silverware, plates and napkins if serving a buffet. I found these vintage commercial bread baking pans that are perfect for that purpose. They have handles and you could use them in a variety of ways on your buffet table. 

Aren’t these little birds adorable? I found these in a package with the straws at TJ Maxx. You never know where you are going to find delightful little add ons like these that interject personality into a table.

Here I used the same concept for a sit down lunch that we had at our Soul Restoration Retreat. 

Side note: We have another Soul Restoration Retreat coming up on our farm in October! If you’re interested in attending, click here. 

In keeping with tabletops utilizing things that nature provides us, in this tablescape, my inspiration was the deer antlers, rope and recyclable bamboo plates and paper serving cartons. I am cheating here in that nature does not totally provide us with all the materials but the majority of the items used here are made by man from natural materials… the wood as well. I used vintage printing blocks to tie a tag around for place cards and popped a grape leaf beside each place setting to add a little color to the monochromatic color scheme. 

The salad served in the little brown paper to go boxes also injects color and height into the flat lay place setting. 

Using the same vintage blue and white ticking as a tablecloth, I punched up the color here with vintage red and white china mixed up for an American theme which would be great when entertaining at the 4th of July, Memorial Day or any summer celebration for that matter.  Have I ever told you that I have a fetish for vintage china… shocker, I know. I love the feel and the look of it and often use it in my tablescapes. Vintage and new glass bottles are another one of my favorites for adding color and design to a table top. Above, I used the red and white College Club soda bottles, one at each place setting which I could pop in a flower bud or tie on a tag to utilize the bottle and incorporate it into the design.

If I know my color palette before I head out shopping for the food and beverages for the celebration, I often try and find beverages that might be bottled in pretty bottles that can incorporate that color palette. Sometimes the entire color scheme might be decided by a bottle that I find that I just cannot pass up! This happened here with the pink lemonade bottles that I found at Trader Joe’s. I could not pass them up but since it was a large party, I did not want to buy 20 bottles to serve the guests we were having due to cost. It made much more sense to purchase 3 bottles and then I made pink lemonade and served that in a pretty glass pitcher next to the bottles and it looked lovely. After the celebration and those three bottles had been finished off, I washed them out and now keep them for decor.

The crowning jewel of any table top are the florals. I am just in love with flowers and I don’t think there has ever been a time when I have not used them on my table. That is what motivated me to plant my first flower garden in a little plot of land on the side of our townhouse many many years back. The hobby has grown and I now relish in them. They often determine my color palette for a table top design and often they are the flowers that I have grown and planted here at Willowbrook Farm. Note the vintage china on this table top!

Often times, flowers can hold their own down the center of a table and they are all you need. Add in cohesive bits of color in your napkins and you are good to go!

Tablescapes and design are really all about color, scale and interesting little tidbits that add personality to your table. The hope is that you are not only gathering with a group of people that you love to spend time with but that you are elevating their experience and making them feel special by the little touches. We are going to be highlighting summer entertaining and entertaining in general the entire month of August when we launch a Summer Blog series that will kick off with Creative Ideas for a Family Reunion and be followed up with tidbits and tricks all having to do with summer decor and entertaining. Our Blog posts in July will focus in on the garden and our picking trips to stock us up for our next BIG Barn sale this Fall. There is lots of exciting stuff going on here that we cannot wait to share with all of you so please check backing with us and let us know if there are any tabletop ideas that you incorporate into your summer tables that you would like to share with our readers. We love photos!


“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”- F.Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

May we all feel the same as F. Scott Fitzgerald!

Happy Summer!




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