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KitchenSmarts: A summer refresh for the al fresco tabletop

Socializing and outdoor entertaining carry an extra kick this summer. What better time to freshen up your al fresco tabletop and entertaining gear?

To me, outdoor entertaining is the perfect time to get a little untraditional with an eclectic mix of tableware, or repurposing an unusual piece as serveware. You might serve chips in small planters. Put wildflowers in small pitchers. The energy of an eclectic table adds to the fun of outdoor dining.

Matching or not, a welcoming table with colorful new dishes and serveware lets guests know they are in for a festive time.


While paper and plastic (recyclable please!) are an option, today’s durable, reusable plates are a notch above for both looks and sustainability. There are outdoor-friendly items made of melamine, bamboo and other lightweight materials that look like china or pottery.

Certified International has some cool melamine choices, including their Medallion line, which has a cheery floral pattern, and comes in both cool and warm colorways. There’s also a creamy French Country line with sweet embossing on the edges.

Tag Living makes all kinds of bowls and plates in colors and finishes reminiscent of ceramic pottery (truly, you might be surprised when you lift one and find out how light it is!). Fable has a series of lightweight bamboo plates and bowls with clean lines in a variety of shapes and colors; pick one hue, or blend different ones.

As for serveware, also plenty to choose from. I love my set of lightweight Bamboozle nesting bowls in pastel, candy-like colors; the various sizes are perfect for salads, chips, piles of cherries, dips, what have you. They are durable, made from biodegradable bamboo fiber, and dishwasher-safe.

Fortessa makes melamine serving dishes in that fun, speckly, camp enamel pattern, only – hey! – it’s melamine, so perfect for outdoor dining. Ekobo makes recycled bamboo-fiber serving trays in cheery summer colors like lemon yellow or lagoon blue.

Drinks-wise, Vinglace makes modern-looking wine chillers that keep that rose or sparkling wine icy (choose from colors like navy and sea glass). And check out their insulated stainless wine glasses and tumblers that have glass on the inside to keep drinks cold with no metallic taste.

Or lay in a set of acrylic reusable Govino wine glasses, with an elegant shape and a smart little thumb notch that allows the glass to sit comfortably in your hand. They come in various shapes, sizes and colors and are reusable, and ultimately recyclable.

Cheerful napkins can make a table. The paper selection is vast, but don’t rule out cloth napkins. Using cloth napkins in an al fresco setting instantly elevates the dining experience; just toss in the wash after use. No need to iron.

And for a larger group, no worries about having all the napkins match. An assortment of patterned or brightly hued napkins gives a table an instant lift.


Citronella candles are an important part of outdoor entertaining, and there are some pretty ones out there.

Skeem Design makes a nice selection with delicate insect illustrations on the outside. Yield makes minimalist citronella candles and incense sticks, lightly fragranced with gardenia, eucalyptus and citronella.

Citronella candles can be scented or not; some people love a fragrant candle, others prefer a more neutral scent.

Murphy’s Naturals has an expansive line of plant-based mosquito-repelling products which smart hosts know to keep at the ready. They offer assortments including mosquito-repellent candles, incense, sprays and insect-bite balms.


When the sun goes down and the temperature drops, you can be the classiest host in town by having a pile of soft blankets ready for your guests. Consider some buttery soft throws from Bole Road Textiles, handwoven in Ethiopia. Or some Alpaca blankets from the Modalatina store on

For streamlined, contemporary-looking torches to keep the party going after dusk, check out the Blomus line.


You can find ample selections of the above items at some of the bigger chain stores, from Target to West Elm. But it’s worth seeking out smaller companies or independent makers, especially if you want your table to look unique.

Local houseware stores often have nicely curated selections of items for summer entertaining. Etsy is always an option. And when you are looking for more inspiration, a spin around Pinterest or Instagram can get those tablescape juices flowing.

And I must make a pitch for flea markets and tag sales, where it’s common to find entire sets of dishware, or a funky serving bowl, or some vintage linen napkins.

So, go forth and entertain! Soon enough these summer nights will be but warm memories, so let’s grill while the grilling’s good.

Get more recipes and dinner ideas from The Washington Times food section.

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