Rustic elegance: A rust and gold-swirl tablecloth with gold
lamour chair covers
from Cloth Connection
Sure, a hotel can provide you with linens, and
at an upscale establishment, they’re probably quite nice. For a
sophisticated banquet, however, so much more can be done, even on a
“It was probably about two years ago when clients started to
recognize the value of linen,” says Steve Kemble, president of the
Chicago-based International Special Events Society and owner of
Dallas-based Steve Kemble Event Design. “If budget is a concern and
you don’t have a lot of money for lighting, why not spend your
money at the table?”
Read on for a crash course in selecting fitting and fabulous
linens for your next event.
Table manners: Yellow tablecloths and
gold napkins in poly/cotton;
the place mats are mini-Persian rugs. Linens by BBJ Linen
With the vast array of colors and patterns available today, picking
what will work can be a little more difficult than in years past
but also more exciting.
Coordinate the venue. Find a color that matches
the carpeting or something else that dominates the room. Or,
according to Mark Musters, owner of Musters & Co., based in New
York City, pick a tablecloth that matches the general color of the
venue, and order an overlay that “picks out one of the subtle color
details in the room, such as a wood or metal accent,” he says.
Neutralize the room. Dark walls merit lighter tablecloths, and
light walls call for slightly darker linens, says Ruth Schlosberg,
marketing manager of White Plains Linen/Linens à la Carte, based in
Peekskill, N.Y. For example, if the walls are brown, use beige
tablecloths. If they’re a stark white, a light yellow might work
wonders. If the room looks like a warehouse, use fancy, colorful
linens to make it more cheerful.
Shocking carpeting might have to be neutralized, as well. Pick
a neutral color out of a busy carpet and emphasize that in the
linens to calm the room.
Find the “it” color. Chocolate brown has been
the rage for almost a year. “Brown connotes a lot of warmth,”
explains Jo Dermid, national director of sales for the Novi,
Mich.-based BBJ Linen. “It’s a comfort color.”
Other hot colors, says Dermid, are dark rose shades and persimmon,
a deeper version of salmon. Next year, though, “it” may change. How
to predict what’s going to be hot? Borrow from the fashion world,
advises Kemble. Linen trends tend to follow clothing trends.
Consider the season. Appropriate colors change
with the time of year. Spring and summer hues are bright, like
lemon yellow and periwinkle (a bluish purple). Floral and Hawaiian
prints are more commonly used in the warmer months or when it’s
really cold and everyone wishes it were warmer.
In autumn, pick earth tones, such as pumpkin orange, olive
green, rust and chocolate brown. Metallic colors (gold, silver,
bronze and copper) are hot in winter, as are rich, festive choices
such as burgundy, navy blue, red and green. Use heavier fabrics,
too, to give the room a plush, warm feeling.
Keep in mind that these rules are not written in stone, notes
Mix and match. Put colors together in
unexpected ways for the most impact. The following combinations can
either be layered or changed from table to table. Steve Kemble
likes to divide the room into quadrants and use different linens in
each corner. Some interesting mixes:
" Saffron with magenta
" Aqua with citrus green
" Hot pink and orange
" Chocolate, apricot and gold, which look good in organza (a
thin, shiny fabric) and satin
" Chocolate with burgundy
" Plum and magenta, especially in velvet or lamour
" White, blue and turquoise
Brand with color. Try using the colors in the
company logo. Or, match the tablecloth colors to the event’s
Pick a safe color. Some clients won’t want the
linens to shock anyone. White and ivory will offend no one’s taste.
Though more adventurous, black, copper, gold and silver also will
always be in style. A black tablecloth with a metallic fringe is a
good bet, says Michael Davis, owner of Cloth Connection, in Spring
Valley, N.Y. Pick chair covers and napkins that match the color of
Avoid all white. While white may seem the
safest color, don’t overdo it. “All white will deaden the room,”
says Dulany Noble, owner of Baltimore-based Gala Cloths by Dulany.
For an event that needs to be white, Noble advises trying ivory as
“White is a tricky thing to pull off,” says Wendy Dodds,
co-owner of New Rochelle, N.Y.-based Indigo Moon, a custom linens
firm. “It comes close to suggesting that you simply used the
hotel’s stuff.” Dodds suggests white chair covers, white
hemstitched linen napkins and white beads on the fringes of the
A gold scroll damask over a champagne
from White Plains Linen
After picking colors, choose the fabrics. Finding textures
to stimulate through touch can be even more fun than arranging a
color palette for the eyes.
For the sake of durability and ease of cleaning, most fabrics
these days are synthetic, which can look and feel like any fabric
on earth. Don’t be alarmed if the linen tablecloths contain
polyester. It’s far less expensive, and most people can’t tell the
Go traditional. For upscale, muted events, pick
a basic poly/cotton blend, or one of the following specialty
" Brocade, a regal-looking heavy fabric with raised metallic
" Damask, a heavy yet elegant tone-on-tone embossed linen most
common in white, ivory and champagne, but exciting in brighter
" Velvet, particularly good for elegant winter banquets
Pick something unique. Another option is to try a fabric that
hasn’t been done to death. Dodds says her natural collection, using
fibers that look like furs or straw, is popular. Or try:
" Bichon, a shiny, crinkled faux silk
" Burlap, good for a natural-looking room. Use a muslin or
domestic burlap for a smooth texture.
" Dupioni, raw silk that creates an uneven surface, has a great
range of colors and looks good with beads.
" Iridescent crush, a crushed satin that reflects a myriad of
colors in light
" Lamour, a thick, rich satin with minimal shine that comes in
" Organza, a thin, sheer, sparkly fabric
" Quilted fabrics, usually custom-made, consisting of diamonds
or squares of two fabrics combined like a quilt
" Satin, which looks lavish in bright colors such as purple,
green or pink
" Shag, a furry linen with a metallic shine
" Sheer, a wispy, diaphanous fabric that works great with
embroidery, beads or silk-screened patterns and looks best when
layered over a solid-colored linen
It’s a Stretch
Stalactites from Pink Inc.The world of linens extends well beyond the table.
Tension fabric structures, made of Spandex stretched over specially built frames, look futuristic and particularly dramatic when accented with colored lighting.Pink Inc.,
based in New York City, makes columns, projection screens and costumes using this technique. The group has dressed up New York City’s Rockefeller Center and created permanent installations at Sony stores.Designer/CEO Debra Roth,
a sculptor who segued into fabric art, particularly adores “tornadoes” tall columns that flare open at the top. “When lit in a dynamic way,” she says, “they’re really a wow.”Pieces for rental or purchase
can be ordered from stock or custom-made. Pink Inc. will send help for complicated arrangements. Pricing varies from about $150 for a simple creation to thousands for long tunnels and elaborate sets. (212) 253-6666 or (886) PINKINC - J.V.
Often, the method of presentation has as much impact as do the
Layer the linens. Especially for tables without
chairs, it’s very common to layer tablecloths. Often, you can use
the hotel white underneath to save money. Just be sure that one of
the layers reaches to the floor and the priciest linen goes on top,
where people can see it. Some examples:
" White over black
" Red iridescent crush over black satin
" Silver organza over red linen
" Chocolate brown lamour under another color of brown suede
print (for a Southwestern look)
" Silver damask over espresso bichon
Swag selectively. When linens are layered, swag
the head table by pulling the top linen up to the table edge eight
times around the edge, like a theatrical curtain. But note: Unless
linens are beaded, indiscriminate swagging will turn the event into
a wedding, says Michael Davis.
Put down runners. Musters overlays 18-inch-wide
runners spread across dressed tabletops to add extra color. Often,
he’ll get the runners silk-screened with a design that ties into
Light the linens. Especially when using white,
Kemble puts an electric light under the table to highlight the
linens. He also lights them from above using variously shaped
Napkins and chair covers
Linens denote more than just tablecloths. They include
napkins and chair covers, as well as drapes and curtains.
Practice good chairmanship. Fancy up the chairs
to change the look of the room at a low price. Adding colorful
sashes also will create an impact. Dodds offers creative chair
covers that look like corsets, complete with grommets and
Make a splash with the napkins. Schlosberg uses
a gold satin napkin over a white, black or royal blue tablecloth;
Dulany Noble pre-ties the napkins with a metallic-edged organza
Elegance on a budget
It’s easy to splurge on linens. Cutting back while still
making an impression is a bit trickier.
Pick one color. On a limited budget, Kemble
suggests creating a bold monochromatic effect. Pick a few different
fabrics with the same color, and put them at different tables
around the room. Then use the same color for napkins and flowers.
“You’ll have a stronger impact by using one color than by mixing
and matching,” Kemble says. “And avoid designs,” which can cost
too much to coordinate.
Focus on one element. If the budget is slim,
Dodds uses hotel linens (usually for free) and rents napkins,
napkin-holders or chair covers.
Go square. Even with round tables, use square tablecloths. When
they’re all the way to the floor, guests won’t notice, and they’re
Rent smaller tablecloths. For informal events,
don’t hang cloths all the way to the floor; 90-inch square cloths
are about half the price of 120-inch rounds, explains Diana Bair,
president of Beyond Elegance, an inexpensive linen rental company
in New Sharon, Iowa.
Avoid the East. Often, says Bair, it’s possible
to save a substantial amount by ordering from a company not located
on the Eastern Seaboard.
A word of caution: When hotels say they have linens to the floor,
be sure that they don’t overlay two smaller tablecloths. “It’s the
ugliest thing you ever saw,” says Noble.