14 Things Everyone Should Have Somewhere in Their Dining Area

published Nov 7, 2023
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Having friends over for dinner doesn’t have to be a big production — especially if your dining room is set up for easy hosting. The last-minute scramble to figure out if you have an old tablecloth stashed somewhere in a closet or trying to assemble six matching plates is what makes entertaining stressful. So having all of that already on hand in your dining room makes it a breeze to say, “We can’t get a dinner reservation? No big deal — I’m happy to host.”

Here are 14 things your dining room (or dining area, if you’re living that small-space life) needs for hosting your next dinner party (although, truly, all you really need is good food and good conversation — everything else is just icing on the cake!).

1. A China Cabinet

China cabinets went the way of the donation pickup sometime in the early aughts, but it might be time to bring them back. They’re perfect for storing all of your dining room essentials, and you can find stunning solid wood antique china cabinets in the $100 range at secondhand stores and thrift shops.

2.  Your Own Spin on China

Just like the cabinet, gone are the days when getting a set of fine china was a rite of passage in some circles. Now you can put your own spin on what chinaware means to you. Want to pick up plates from IKEA? Great! Prefer to thrift a mismatched but complementary set from secondhand stores? Gorgeous! Want to scour replacements.com hoping to track down the missing pieces from your grandparents’ set? Love that.

3.  A Dramatic Chandelier 

If the harsh light from the boob light above your dining table is throwing off your dinnertime ambience, you should feel empowered to replace it. You can find an inexpensive chandelier that’s easy to install, whether you decide to tackle it yourself as a DIY project or enlist a task rabbit or handyperson to help. It’s worth the couple hundred dollars — especially if you plan on being in your home for more than a year or two.

4. A Beautiful Tablecloth

There’s no need to go neutral with a solid white tablecloth! Pick something beautiful that you’ll love to decorate around every time you host dinner. Or go with a tablecloth that’s somewhere in between neutral and bold, like this tablecloth that looks like quick paint strokes scattered across the fabric, which reads ever so slightly like an animal print, but with an artsy edge. Or, try this delicate floral option from Zara Home. 

5. Cloth Napkins

Using cloth napkins is one of those things that makes you feel like an adult. And if you match them to your tablecloth? Then you’ve officially hosted your first grown-up dinner party. However, you don’t need to wait for entertaining friends to pull out the cloth napkins. Using cloth napkins for dinner every night elevates your weekdays and is more sustainable.

6. Napkin Rings

For a fancy dinner party where you want to add a little something extra, put napkin rings around your cloth napkins. Think of them like jewelry for your table, as they add a bit of color, sheen, and texture to the tablescape.

7. Candles

Keep a collection of taper candles in your dining room and you’ll be ready to create a twinkly ambience anytime you have guests over. Have a stockpile of less expensive ivory or white candles, but, every once in a while splurge on some beautiful colors like these autumnal beeswax tapers.

8. Candlesticks

Different heights of candlesticks add visual interest and a gorgeous glow to your dining room. You can mix and match thrifted finds with new candlesticks you’ve purchased. Try mixing materials, too, by blending brass, glass, and wood. This is one of those places where a mismatched array creates a beautifully unified scene.

9. Place Cards

Bring back the place card! From a guest’s perspective, seeing a place card sitting at the table can be an incredible relief — particularly if they don’t know many others. And, even if they do know everyone, there’s something special about seeing your name written out in a hand-drawn attempt at calligraphy — regardless of how that attempt turned out.

10. A Centerpiece

Your centerpiece could be a floral arrangement that blends foraged finds from your yard or neighborhood with flowers you picked up that morning from Trader Joe’s. Or it could be something more permanent, like a bundle of preserved eucalyptus, or something higher-end like this floral ceramic bowl that’s both a centerpiece and an impressive work of art.

11. A Lazy Susan

The lazy susan is a time-honored accessory for a reason. You can use it to store condiments, salt, and other seasonings that guests might need throughout the evening, or stock it with accouterments for a signature cocktail for your party. And, of course, you can use it for its traditional purpose of making it easy for everyone to reach dishes while seated at a big round table. Its rotating surface makes whatever you place on it accessible for everyone.

12. Serving Dishes

One of the most versatile serving dishes you can have is a large bowl that you can use for salads, grains, or other dishes where you’ll make a large quantity. A resin bowl makes a functional serving piece as well as a bold centerpiece when it’s not in use.

13. Thrifted Tablescape Items

If you enjoy pulling together tablescapes, then keep a cabinet or drawer full of thrifted items that can make a table feel seasonal and whimsical. Try brass candlesticks and brown-and-white ceramic figurines in the fall, add crystal items in the winter, or pull out pastel eggs in the spring. In any other situation, they may be tchotchkes, but not when you’re entertaining.

14. A Bar Cart

The bar cart still has a time and place in the dining room. It doesn’t need to be perfectly styled, but it can be a practical spot to serve drinks and store glassware. Set up a drinks station here, and send your guests over for self-serve cocktails as soon as they walk in.