4 Pretty Table Linen Ideas for Picture-Perfect Parties

Set the right tone for your next party with these gorgeous table linen pairings.

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Amazon.com/Occasion GalleryAmazon.com/Occasion Gallery

Nail down the 3 T’s

With so many beautiful colors and patterns available in table linens today, where do you start when choosing the tablecloth, placemats, napkins or table runner for your next event? Now I know, sometimes you just want to haul out the paper plates and the plastic silverware and leave it at that, but what about those times you’d like to set a table that’s a little special? Make it easy on yourself by following the rule of 3-2-1.

Need help with planning the dinner menu, too? These easy (and affordable!) recipes will save the day.

When choosing table linens, it’s easiest to start with what you know, so focus on the three T’s: the type, time and tone of the event. Is it an easy backyard shindig or a formal sit down dinner? Is it in the afternoon or the evening? And what kind of tone do you want to set—casual, exotic or elegant? Keep the three T’s in mind when deciding on your table linens and you’ll be on the right track.

Choose the 2 C’s

These elements are the most crucial when deciding on table linens: color and contrast. Choose one main color that will dominate the color scheme. Then consider fun ways to contrast that color. You’ll want two to three supporting colors and a mix of solids and patterns. Look for a pattern with multiple colors so you have a range of options and can create different looks for different events.

Pick your B

Then go to the rule of one B: busy or bold. Start with either the busiest pattern or the boldest color to build your mix of table linens. From there, you can pull in supporting pieces that complement the main attraction. Here are some examples of rule 3-2-1 in action.

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Amazon.com (4)

Bistro Brights Table Setting Idea

Perfect for a ladies’ lunch or an easy dinner with friends, this bright group of table linens keeps the setting lively and interesting. Go French bistro by serving up these delicious French-inspired recipes.

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Bistro Brights: Tablecloth

You know the saying: Go big or go home. It doesn’t get any bolder than black and white stripes, so we’re definitely starting with bold instead of busy here. The nice thing about black and white is that the combo goes with any colors that are vibrant enough to hold their own.

Find the tablecloth here.

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Amazon.com/Occasion GalleryAmazon.com/Occasion Gallery

Bistro Brights: Napkin

Think you can’t put two patterns together? Yes, you can, if you chose wisely. For example, a delicate little pattern would be overpowered by the show-stopping tablecloth, so choose a larger, vibrant pattern for an accent piece. This napkin sports bright colors and bold strokes that can stand up to the strength of the black and white stripes.

Find the napkin here.

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Bistro Brights: Placemat

Yes, another pattern. But it has only two colors, and it’s a simple and classic all-over pattern with the same feel as the tablecloth. The lime green color appears in the napkin, and the white connects with the white in both the napkin and the tablecloth.

Find the placemat here.

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Bistro Brights: Table Runner

Ground all the patterns with a solid magenta table runner that matches the napkin color. The subtle white stripe at each end nods to the stripes in the tablecloth without creating more busyness overall.

Find the table runner here.

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Garden Fresh Table Setting Idea

Perfect for a mid-morning backyard brunch, this fresh combination of table linens celebrates nature with lively garden colors and design. Imagine the table filled with a delicious Amish breakfast casserole, one of our top ten fruit salads and sparkling peach bellinis, and you’ve got a brunch everyone will enjoy. So let’s break down what makes this group of table linens work.

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Garden Fresh: Placemats

To dress up a daytime garden party, this floral placemat sets a breezy tone for your table. The busiest pattern in the mix, it also works well to drive the color scheme, offering lots of options to choose from.

Find the placemat here.

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Garden Fresh: Tablecloth

This simple, all-over polka dot print is a fun counterpoint to the delicate flowers on the placemat. Again, it works because it’s limited to two colors, one of them white, which mirrors the main color of the placemat. Plus, lime green often acts as a neutral when combined with other colors. Just look at nature.

Find the tablecloth here.

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Garden Fresh: Table Runner

Draw attention to the center of the table and provide a striking solid to contrast with the busyness of the placemat and tablecloth by adding a bright pink table runner. It brings a lively note to this garden-inspired palette and picks up on tones in the placemat.

Find the table runner here.

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Garden Fresh: Napkin

Like the bright yellow center of a daisy, this butter yellow napkin adds a cheery pop of color and contrast to this grouping of table linens. It picks up on the same yellow shade of the placemat, blending the two together perfectly, just like the cherry on an ice cream soda.

Find the napkin here.

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Eastern Nights Table Setting Idea

Picture large multi-colored paper lanterns winking on just after sunset, padded pillows on the patio surrounding a low table, and the smells of exotic coconut curry shrimp floating out from the kitchen. Or maybe just a bunch of good friends around the dining room table noshing on Chinese carry out. (You can also make these copycat Chinese take-out recipes.) Either way, this blend of ethnic-inspired table linens adds warmth to a magical night.

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Eastern Nights: Placemat

Although it’s not overly busy, this placemat’s pattern provides the color palette that drives the entire look. It’s Asian-inspired illlustration adds an eastern flair that helps set the evening’s tone.

Find the placemat here.

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Eastern Nights: Tablecloth

Continuing the ethnic flair, this two-tone tablecloth has an east Indian feel that adds to the evening’s exotic aura and mimics colors in the placemat. It’s okay to blend patterns from different cultures if the colors match up and neither piece is overly busy. Because the colors of the tablecloth’s two stripes are close neighbors on the color wheel, the striped contrast isn’t overtly distracting. (Just in case you haven’t seen one, here’s a color wheel.)

Find the tablecloth here.

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Eastern Nights: Table Runner

To add a cool note and a grounding solid to this table linen grouping, an aqua table runner is the perfect choice. Do you see how well it matches the border color of the placemat?

Find the table runner here.

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Eastern Nights: Napkin

Another yellow napkin, but notice how this shade is more muted than that in the garden grouping. It supports the color of the birds in the placemat and adds just the right amount of contrast. Close your eyes and imagine this group of table linens without it—still nice, but some of the life goes out of the mix, right?

Find the napkin here.

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Pretty in Pastel Table Setting Idea

Is there a bridal shower in your future? How about a baby shower that works for a boy or a girl? (Here are 11 things you should know before hosting a baby shower.) For so many events, pastels are always a popular choice.

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Pretty in Pastel: Table Runner

Going with the one B rule, this table runner is the busiest element in this group of table linens, so it’s the place to start. The geometric design offers color options galore, with a contemporary yet subtle pattern that is serene and versatile.

Find the table runner here.

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Pretty in Pastel: Placemat

This perky polka dot placemat pulls out the the purple in the table runner, and the white dots are a light neutral that doesn’t interfere with the other colors..

Find the placemat here.

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table cloth
Amazon.com/Ultimate Textile

Pretty in Pastel: Tablecloth

The pretty peach tablecloth provides a light, solid background and hints at the peach in the table runner. These lighter tones of purple and orange in the tablecloth and placemat are almost opposite colors on the color wheel, allowing each to enhance the other.

Find the tablecloth here.

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Pretty in Pastel: Napkin

This plain napkin with a yellow stripe acts as a blank canvas, pulling in just a hint of color in a nod to the table runner. Anything but a simple stripe on the napkin would make this table linen mix overly busy. No matter what linen you choose to go with, make sure you also know how to set a table.

Find the napkin here.

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Dana Meredith
Dana is an editor and writer who shares her passion for travel, food and the beauty of American landscapes. When she's not wielding her red pen, she can be found tending her flower gardens, remodeling her house, creating one-of-a-kind jewelry or dancing to "Uptown Funk."