With summer’s unofficial kickoff behind us, I’ve often caught myself dreaming of the warmer months ahead. Because anyone who calls Northern California home knows our summers are truly second to none. I’m talking about four months (five if we’re lucky) of clear skies, perfect temperatures, and countless alfresco dinners spent sharing beautiful meals with all the ones you love. Not to mention those Indian summers…
Of course, this season, our dinner parties will be decidedly different in light of social distancing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create a memorable evening all the same. With some thoughtful planning and a few key pieces, I’m convinced that anyone can pull off an elevated dining experience in their own backyard.
Enjoying a meal is one of life’s simplest pleasures, so creating that restaurant-level atmosphere without leaving the house? Sign me up.
via Riviera Mason
AL FRESCO TABLE SETTING
First things first — for a small yet special dinner party with your family, we have to set the scene. That means planning out your tablescape with textiles, dinnerware, and centerpiece selections. I like to think about designing tablescapes the same way I do about designing interiors. Start with the end in mind and work to create a warm and layered scene for an elevated yet inviting feel.
As you style each place setting, think about your dinnerware, drinkware, flatware, napkins, and everything in between. And before you feel tempted to reach for the melamine plates, let me encourage you to reach for your most beautiful pieces instead. It might not be quite as practical, but your dishware selections are definitely the secret to leveling up your at-home dining experience.
via Jenni Kayne
With your tablescape design fully underway, complete the look with some fresh flowers sourced straight from your garden (read more about my garden here) as a table centerpiece. Snip your garden blooms and arrange them in a single vase or smaller bud vases scattered throughout the table. This is my favorite end-of-work-day activity, especially if you have little ones. You want to create a natural, organic floral arrangement, so don’t worry about being a perfectionist. You can also get creative by lining your table with small potted herbs, plants, pillar candles, or anything that catches your eye. We just stocked up on beautifully minimal, timeless pieces in our studio, so email us here to place an order.
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THE AL FRESCO AMBIENCE
Whether you’re planning a meal for two or a family affair with kids, the ambience shouldn’t be an afterthought. This is the time to light up your fire pit, curate your playlist (I love this one from Ashley Kane), and help design an evening to remember. It’s also important to note that for al fresco dinners, lighting is always key. Ensure you have the perfect soft glow by adding string lights, candles, lanterns, or all of the above. Solar power options are getting better and better – I think they make the perfect “right-now” solution.
Along with lighting, bring in some texture by layering your favorite outdoor rugs. Incorporating something soft underfoot helps add a touch of warmth and a much more inviting feel. For an extra touch, place some woven blankets in a basket in case of chilly weather.
Tayler Haney via Domino
Al fresco dinner is my love language – my favorite summer menus always take a farm-to-table approach. Summer is the perfect opportunity to focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients sourced as close to home as possible. Here in the Bay Area, Farmers Markets are back in action, and with current social distancing measures, it’s about the only place I feel shopping these days.
If you feel stuck on menu ideas, try honing in on a specific dinner party theme to help get you started. Put your own spin on taco Tuesday, grill up your favorite meat and veggies, go for a Mediterranean night, or try your hand at something brand new. With an emphasis on seasonal items, you’ll have a winning menu every time. Bonus points for incorporating any herbs or veggies from your own garden!
No al fresco dinner is complete without a curated drink menu, and whether it’s a crisp rosé or a summer-inspired cocktail, you really can’t go wrong. I’m so inspired by Eye Swoon’s beautiful cookbook and interiors, I also find myself mixing up her cocktails as well. This one feels so fresh and bright in the summer heat. Once you’ve put in the work to create your at-home dining experience, it’s time to raise a glass and enjoy.