Choose your colour wisely
Ever wondered why red is such a popular colour for restaurants and dining rooms? It's because it stimulates the appetite. It's also an energising colour and therefore a good backdrop for social situations - thus its status as a classic dining room colour. However, choose the shade carefully - you want to create warmth rather than an oppressive, angry atmosphere.
If your room is small or dark, use it subtly. It might be more effective to paint or paper one wall red, or hang a red-based painting.
Other colours to get your mouth watering are orange and yellow. And neutrals always work well. Avoid pinks and purples as they have a sedative effect - not ideal for eating or entertaining. Blue doesn't affect the appetite but is considered good for encouraging communication. It also gives a clean, classic look to a table, particularly when teamed with white - be inspired by Delft ware and Cornish blue crockery.
Create a flattering light
For daytime use, dining rooms should be light and airy and make the most of natural light. If the room is naturally dark, have pale or neutral blinds rather than curtains on the windows, which will only block the light even more.
In the evening, try to create a warm, mellow ambiance, so avoid harsh lighting from above.
- For a gentle glow, if you have a picture rail, consider having hidden strip-lighting along this (in a low wattage) to uplight the cornicing and ceiling.
- Use lamps and uplighters dotted around the room at different levels to vary the light in the room.
- Candlelight is the softest light and creates an intimate atmosphere, perfect for dinner parties.
Have enough storage
If you don't already have a cupboard in your dining room, there's no better time to invest in a sideboard as they're seeing a revival since their heyday in the 1950s and 1960s. As such, they are widely available both new and second-hand. Once you have somewhere to store tableware, glasses and table linen, you'll wonder how you managed without it.
The other benefit of a free-standing unit, such as a sideboard, is that it creates a focal point in the room and provides an extra surface for drinks and nibbles.
Laying a formal dinner table
- Whether or not you use a tablecloth depends on the state of your table. Nina left the mahogany dining table bare, as she considered it too attractive to cover with a cloth. The reflection of flickering candlelight and crystal glasses in the wood adds glamour and sparkle. For a less formal, more modern look, a runner is a good idea. This is a long strip of material, which is placed down the centre of the table.
- If your table isn't in the best condition, use a clean, crisp tablecloth. White is the classic option (though easily stained). Otherwise use a coloured or patterned cloth that complements the room.
- Placemats: Nina's advice is 'always'.
- A charger plate is optional. This decorative plate is the same size or slightly larger than a main course plate. Apart from looking pretty, its only purpose is to stop a hot plate from marking the table.
- Another optional extra is a starter plate. Placed on top of the charger plate (if you have one) in advance of food being served, it's ideal for 'sharing' starters, such as antipasti.
- Napkins should be folded neatly and placed in the centre of each setting. A squirt of starch when ironing them will ensure a more professional, crisp look.
- Cutlery: depending on the number of courses, arrange cutlery so that guests start from the outside and work inwards. Polish with a clean, dry cloth before laying the table to remove fingerprints and tarnish.
- Glasses: use large glasses for red wine and smaller ones for white. Save coloured glasses for white wine or water as wine buffs don't like to be served red wine in anything other than clear ones.
- Nina doesn't like to drink water out of a tumbler and so always serves it in a stemmed glass. However, this is a matter of personal choice, so whatever style you choose, keep it consistent at each setting.
- Fresh flowers should be either long-stemmed in a tall vase or cut short in a bowl or short vase so that people can talk over or under them. Heads of peonies or roses in a pretty cut-glass bowl work well.