Ask The Expert: Caroline McDonald from Ballard Designs on Creating the Perfect Outdoor Table

Tips on mixing patterns, perfecting color combos, crafting a gorgeous centerpiece and more.

Whether you are hosting a sunny brunch or a more formal evening soiree, there’s no question that the outdoors is the perfect place to entertain during early summer months. Caroline McDonald from the Ballard Designs team is sharing her tried-and-true tips for creating an enchanting outdoor table that will draw your guests in. Caroline manages the inspirational content for the Ballard Designs blog, so take a look at the gorgeous tables below then use her tips to create a look that is uniquely yours!

Image courtesy of Ballard Designs

1. When setting a table from scratch, what is the first element you decide upon? Do you start with one inspiration piece and go from there?

I always start with an inspiration piece—that could be a tablecloth, dinnerware pattern, or, oftentimes, whatever flowers look best at the store. When entertaining outside, you should always consider what’s blooming in your yard.

On this table for example, the blue-and-white pattern of our melamine is the perfect jumping off point. From there, I’d try to pick up the dark browns in the bamboo accent with maybe some bamboo flatware or woven placemats. Though the greenery looks great here, I would also opt for blue-and-white flowers like hydrangeas, or anything bright yellow. Use complementary colors to your advantage—or colors across from each other on the color wheel.

2. Do you have any tips on flowers/greenery?

I have so many flower tips! Where to start? My best tip is to use a floral frog, or if you don’t have a frog, a piece of chicken wire about 10×10 inches can be molded to fit almost any container. It’ll help your blooms stay in place and makes grocery store flowers look like they came from a florist!

blush and green table setting
Image courtesy of Ballard Designs

You definitely don’t want your flowers to be too tall, so I usually like to use a low, wide-mouth bowl.

Another trick I’ve used that can be really charming is to group bunches of herbs in small cups down the center of the table. The smell is amazing, and it feels more laid-back than a floral centerpiece. I’ll do bunches of basil, rosemary, mint, and sage.

For an outdoor table, a few small potted plants clustered in the center of your table can be an easy way to entertain on the fly. Plant a few small pots, and your centerpiece is ready on a moment’s notice.

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