The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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November 15, 2012

Tips for "decor-taining" in the dining room

(Continued)

5. Invest in cloth napkins. You do laundry often anyway, so what's a few more cloth squares to throw in the wash? Just make sure you spray them with stain remover once you clear the table — then you don't have to worry about washing them right away.

6. Mix and match china. Gone are the days of the five-piece place setting. It's so much more interesting to layer your grandmother's china with your everyday pieces (not to mention more practical). I use dishwasher-safe plates for dinner and fancier antique plates for dessert, mostly because the latter are easier to hand wash. Also, think about varying patterns, textures and materials. Wood, china and glass plates, when mixed together, give a table visual interest. This means varying glassware, too. I often set the table with fanciful stemmed Juliska wine glasses alongside my Diod tumblers from Ikea — the mix is unexpected and fresh.

7. Odd-numbered groupings usually look better than even. For example, three centerpieces on a long table look better than four, and seven votives look better than six.

8. If you are serving a buffet, vary the height and shape of your serving dishes. Nothing makes a buffet look more unattractive than putting all of the food at the same height and in the same size bowl or platter. If you don't have a footed cake stand or footed compote, you can always elevate a plate by putting it on top of a glass cylinder vase.

9. Add whimsy. I like to put a little party favor at each place setting. I have used such treats as a frosted cookie from Eleni's New York, chic paperbacks from Penguin Classics and picture frames with a photo of the guest.

10. Relax and have fun. Decor-taining is about having things look good. But more important, it's about spending time with friends and family. Every table will look beautiful when it's surrounded by smiling faces.

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Mayhew, a "Today" show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of "Flip! for Decorating."

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