by By Louise M. Felsher, CMP, CMM | February 01, 2011

Few event elements trump the value of upgraded table linens. For example, by simply replacing a standard-issue polyester-blend black or white cloth with a richly textured gunmetal dupioni silk (for as little as $30 per table), you can take an event from pedestrian to regal. Similarly, a bold harlequin pattern or even brightly colored oversized satin cloth can instantly raise the energy level in a room.

Below are some guidelines for choosing elegant linens.

Patterns and Themes Before selecting your linens, consider the audience, the menu, the style of service, the surrounding décor, time of year and locale. It is helpful to list these elements and use them as a filter to vet your choices before ordering linens that are gorgeous but not appropriate. Some extremely expensive materials will seem incongruous and detract from the desired effect. For example, heavy quilted winter fabrics won't work in tropical locales, and lacy and floral fabrics will clash with a stark loft space.

When in doubt, go subtle: The slightest contrast in a bold environment, such as adding slightly softer colors and gentle curves in an angular, masculine setting, will stand out.

Artfully chosen linens can ramp up branding efforts and event goals. Playful, edgy linens (such as Pucci-inspired swirly patterns) say, "Get ready for an exciting lunch" or "We are a quirky, young, fun company," or they can simply electrify a product launch, with their color and shape echoing elements of the product. Similarly, lavish linens such as paduasoy or intricately textured, pleated or embroidered European linens can make VIPs feel pampered and appreciated.

Use Discipline Warning: When you upgrade  linens, you can easily fall prey to dangerous overspending. Upgrading tablecloths, for instance, might make you feel you need to elevate your table settings, centerpieces, chairs, etc. But simply going up one level with linens (for example, adding color and texture) can be enough. Some linens have so much character that tapered candles suffice as a centerpiece.

Similarly, show restraint when mixing prints; when in doubt, consult with the linen company's resident designer. Test out any complicated combinations on a duplicate table before you confirm your order.

Last but not least, note that overlays, underlays and chair covers escalate your cost very quickly. If your budget is very tight, stick with one very bold layer, or limit overlays to accent tables or other structures in a  prefunction space or bar.

Play with Geometry Don't feel the need to abide by the traditional table setting of a round cloth for a round table, topped by the square overlay. Linens come in all shapes, and square overlays can be folded into triangles with great results. Mixing geometry adds interest and ramps up the ingenuity.

Simple overlays, such as those made of a translucent organza fabric, can be draped and pinned to heavier underlays to create sculptural interest. Similarly, you don't need to drape all linens to the floor. Some tables have beautiful legs that bear showing off. Less attractive table legs can be wrapped with contrasting fabric, feathers, ivy or mesh.