HR-021416-Cathy-2Over the years I’ve given lots of tips about decorating your table for the holidays. Today I want to share tabletop challenges and solutions for other special occasions. Last month I threw a wine-pairing birthday dinner for my husband Darrell and pulled out all the stops. I hired a chef and invited 12 guests. Now, I’m not proposing that you go overboard for all occasions. We certainly don’t dine like this every night! But these photos illustrate simple fixes for common challenges with special dinner parties.

First challenge: My dining table seats 10. Aarghh! So while things would be a bit cozy, I seated two people at each end. And instead of setting out everyone’s complete set of wine glasses and flatware at the outset, I had them brought out with each course.

Second challenge: My plan was to have dinner inside, then move everyone to a table on the lanai for dessert and a game. But while I wanted to tie the look of both tables together, I wanted one to be more formal and the other fun and casual.

My solutions? The name cards at each place setting in the dining room became names scribbled on gift boxes on the lanai. This was fun because it turned everyone’s “name card” into a present while allowing me to move people around to mix up couples. And the boxes were practical: Inside each was a pen and paper for a game.

To keep the look of the party cohesive, I repeated color schemes. Both tables had chocolate brown tablecloths and white chairs, creating the same rich contrast. And I repeated the tabletop palette of white and green: in formal dinnerware and napkins inside, a more natural look outside. I found some white vases in my closet, got flowers from Costco and went all Martha with the arrangement.
Since we are talking about very special occasions, don’t forget a bit of sparkle! Whether you use crystal, glass, metallics or candles, they don’t have to match, but you should vary the heights. Then carry your themes from your table to wherever else you’ll be entertaining — and that person you’re celebrating will feel extra special.

Cathy Lee is a home style expert, speaker, president and designer of Cathy Lee Style. Her redesigns of residential and business spaces have been featured in local and national publications and on HGTV. For more info and inspiring photos of design projects, visit