Glam Your Dining Room on a Budget


Fewer folks have the money for fancy meals out, but dining in does not have to mean paper plates and other acts of culinary artlessness.

The good news is that cooking at home is often healthier and cheaper then eating out. Even better news, with a couple of inexpensive purchases, you can give your kitchen (and what comes out of it) a high-end look that makes meal time more enjoyable.

For suggestions on how to set a fancy table for less MainStreet spoke with chef Farina Kingsley, an instructor at San-Francisco-based Tante Marie’s Cooking School and the author of four cookbooks.

1. Choose dishware that only looks high dollar. “Invest in affordable plates and platters of different shapes and sizes,” Kingsley advises, because they add chic-ness to the table. Then when serving the meal, keep the plate sparse and not overly decorated. “Colorful vegetables and a nice cut of meat served on a clean white plate make a beautiful presentation,” she says, and suggests cb2, West Elm and IKEA for restaurant-style options on the cheap.

Our fave mix-and-match combo? Funky white comma plates ($.95 to $3.95) in three sizes, paired with square serving pieces ($12 to $14 each) and a collection of round hold-anything ramekins. We also like the 12-piece BIA Cordon Bleu set for seasonings, dips, condiments or ice cream.

2. Add chic glassware. Since you’ve got money left for glasses, spring for IKEA’s $10 18-piece water, white wine and red wine set or these swanky cocktail glasses perfect for happy hour at less than 10 bucks for two.

3. Fetch some fancy napkins and placements. Placemats with matching napkins are an inexpensive way to show that you care about details. Woven fiber placemats last longer than cloth and are easy to clean. We’re eyeing this stylish black set from World Market for less than $10. Pair them with this set of six napkins for less than six bucks in black or white. And for that extra touch, add silver napkin rings, at $17.94 for six.

4. Select simple centerpieces. Unscented candles and low-lying flower arrangements are ideal for adding warmth, says Farina, and most gourmet restaurants follow this same less-is-more mentality. Simple votives are available at general merchandisers and dollar stores.

We found 36 15-hour votives for $16.49 (and less than $6 for shipping) online. Arrange them individually on appetizer plates or place several on a single large dish. Another option is a budget-friendly bouquet of daisies, stems cut low, arranged in a small old-fashioned glass.

5. Search for stainless-steel cookware. Watch enough reality TV and you know the pros ditch the colorful pots and pans for sleek functional industrial-style designs. This 15-piece Classic set from Farberware caught our eye—it comes with non-stick pans, plus four essential cooking tools for $119.95.

Another option, a 12-piece collection from Paula Deen, boasts chic copper styling can be had for less than $150.

Top it off with a modern pot rack from Container Store which can display it all for less than $50.

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