When Dan and I entertain, we always divvy up the duties. He cooks, since about all I can make is microwave popcorn. And I dress up the table, which is one of my all-time favorite things to do in the world. While I love coming up with creative place settings, doing the centerpiece is my favorite part.

Whether it’s a simple arrangement that will grace your dining table year round or a more elaborate display for a special dinner party, creating a memorable centerpiece is fun and easy. I asked Nell Hill’s visual team members Becky and Marsee to show us how.

First, Set the Table

Before I even start on the centerpiece, I always set the table first so I know exactly how much space I have left over for the centerpiece. In the past, I used to create the centerpiece first, but on more than a few occasions, I got so carried away there was no room left on the table for the plates. I’ve learned my lesson, and now I get the essentials in place first. Then, every inch left over is fair game!

For today’s example, Becky and Marsee went with a decidedly summer look for the table. Instead of using a heavy tablecloth, they let the cool, clear table top show through. In the summer I also like to use about a yard and a half of fabric, either hemmed or folded under and pressed, as a table topper. We have so many amazing and affordable fabrics at Nell Hill’s Briarcliff, you can pick out an assortment to use as table toppers so you can easily change out the look of your table for each season and occasion.

The visual team started each place setting on a simple wicker tray, available at Nell Hill’s Online. Then they layered it up with the blue and white Spode transferware I got at market for a steal. They added simple clear glass goblets and white linen napkins to round out the look. With this beautiful base, they’re ready to finish off the table with a wonderful centerpiece.

Then, Pick Your Look

The beauty of centerpieces is that they can be as simple or elaborate as you want, depending upon your time and tastes and the occasion. Today, we’re going to show you two treatments – one that’s stylish in its pure simplicity, the other a bit more elaborate and sophisticated.

Look One: Simple and Sleek

Start your streamlined centerpiece with an interesting container of some kind. Becky and Marsee chose an antique wooden dough bowl. I decorate a lot with wooden dough bowls because they add rustic texture to dining table displays—I love them paired with fine china and silver. They are also incredibly versatile tools you can use over and again in your seasonal decorating. They look wonderful filled with seasonal foliage, sitting at a table’s center, on a buffet, above an armoire or on a ledge.

Instead of a wooden dough bowl, you could also use an English foot bath, cachepot,  basket or antique wooden box.

Next, fill the container with something fun, interesting or colorful. Marsee is fitting our wooden dough bowl with several faux potted ferns. These little guys are one of my favorite accents to use in summer decorating. But you could also use moss balls, wicker balls, green apples, forced bulbs—you name it.

If you want a fast and easy centerpiece that looks lovely, you’re done! This simple arrangement is perfect for a casual dinner party or as a standing display you can leave up year round.

Look Two: Sophisticated Elegance

To create a centerpiece that’s a bit more elegant and elaborate, start by picking out a few statement pieces that will serve as the base of your display. You’ll want pieces with some heft and intrigue. For our sample centerpiece, Marsee and Becky selected two blue and white Asian ginger jars to complement the dishes in our place setting. These ginger jars are one of my go-to decorating tools right now because they are so affordable (just $22 each!) and can be used in a million ways in your home.

Four our third statement piece, the team added a wonderful china jar. I like how they paired this costlier piece with the inexpensive ginger jars, following the Nell Hill’s principle of mixing the everyday with the precious.

Notice that they used three statement pieces, following the design principle of using an odd number of pieces in your displays to create visual intrigue.

For the next layer, the visual team added clusters of clear glass jars. These little cuties work perfectly as votive holders or vases. You could also fill them with a treat, like candy, to give to guests as party favors. Check them out at Nell Hill’s Online – they’re a great price. Instead of the jars, another option for this table would be to tuck in small glass or pottery vases.

To finish the look, the team filled the jars with adorable bouquets of fresh flowers. I often use fresh flowers when I entertain, weaving little bouquets into my existing tableaux, because their presence alone makes an occasion feel special.

Because orange is one of the hottest colors this season, Becky and Marsee picked up inexpensive cash-and-carry bouquets of orange tulips and roses. To fill out the bouquets, they tucked in boxwood twigs snipped from Marsee’s garden. I’m a huge fan of pairing orange accents with blue and white china. For instance, in the fall, I set my table with blue and white transferware then add in displays filled with bittersweet, pumpkins and orange gourds.

Just for fun, Becky and Marsee pulled together a second version of a more elaborate centerpiece to show you some other ways you could dress up the blue and white table. They placed a black wooden cake plate at the table’s center to elevate the lidded jar, resting the jar upon a white plate for contrast. Then they brought in an assortment of chunky mahogany pillar candlesticks in a variety of shapes and sizes. (Anyone recognize these from last week’s blog on how to decorate your mantel? Shows how versatile these great candlesticks are!) The visual team then finished off the look with the same flower-filled glass jars they used in the first centerpiece. I can’t decide which look I like best – they are both so fresh, fun and interesting.

Next Week …

Stumped by how to style your buffet? Next week, we’ll show you how to create a light and lovely look for summer that you can easily change up for each season. Come check it out!

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49 Responses to “Style a Sizzling Summer Centerpiece”

  1. Mickie Says:

    I really enjoy these “how to” blogs….keep them coming please!!

  2. Sandra Says:

    Just found your blog!
    More please…… :)

  3. Mary Carol Says:

    YEAH—I love it too! It’s a lot of fun to do

  4. Carla Says:

    Can you tell me where you got the center ginger jar with the name Alicia on it? My daughter-in-law is Alicia. It would make a great gift for her.

  5. Kat Harmon Says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for the tips.

  6. Vicky Berry Says:

    Mary Carol,

    I too love your blogs! You are the most talented woman I know! And you so graciously share your talents! Thank you. It’s a joy to know you and do business with you!

  7. Karon Huey Says:

    Mary Carol,

    I’m so glad that I found your site! I look forward to reading your articles. I’ve bought most of your books and hopefully, I can plan a trip from Texas to Kansas in the future. The pictures you present give me so many great ideas and I’m excited to know that some things can be bought from your shop on-line. Blessings to you for sharing such wonderful ideas with us.

    Abilene, Texas

  8. Donna Didde Says:

    After living in the same house for 33 years, we’re moving into a new home.
    Downsizing, with no basement now, how do I decorate in our new home with the same items that I’ve used all these years and yet make them look fresh in a new way?
    Thanks for your ideas!

  9. Amarilis Says:

    Nell Hills, Here I come! Love the Blog, Love the ideas!

  10. Dee Ann Doxsee Says:

    Wonderful…informative…always interesting….
    Mary Carol always adds the “Personal Touch” to everything. This is no exception….you girls do a fabulous job!
    “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City”…
    “Nell Hill’s” sees to that!
    I appreciate you, so much!

  11. Mozelle Mangus Says:

    Thanks so much for these tips. It is so nice to have unique ideas to use when entertaining. It would be great to get these blogs on a weekly basis.

  12. Traci Says:

    Read this blog, had a moment and was inspired to re-do the dining room table. So inspired in fact that I sewed a new table runner, and retrieved some twigs from the outdoors. Although I don’t have orange, I used an unusually large amber depression glass bowl, and will try to find some orange poppies for the little glasses tucked in the arrangement. Very cool, simple. Thank you – am loving these blogs.

  13. Gerry Marie Rhodes Says:

    You are amazing! Even after all these years, you still inspire me. My “thumb’s up to both Becky and Marsee.

  14. Marilyn Comer Says:

    Lovely, lovely, lovely!

    I’ve got the wood dough bowl, blue & white china — but where can I get large ginger jars for $22?

    Also…regarding decorating mantle shelves, I manage well the fireplaces in my family and dining rooms, but the fireplace in my bedroom — which is a see-through located between the bedroom and sitting room areas, and has a three-sided narrow shelf with the wall that continues up to the cathedral ceiling. Decorating this particular mantle shelf type gives me fits! Arrrgh.

  15. Bobbi Says:

    I love, love, love the combination of blue, white and yellow! Also love this “blog thing.” Please keep them coming.

  16. Jenny Says:

    While the blue jars are lovely, to me they are so big they feel like a barrier between the people at the table. It looks as if they wouldn’t even be able to see the people sitting across from them.

    Otherwise, it’s spectacular, and I’d love to see more posts like this.

  17. Linda Zimmerman Says:

    I see you are using the wonderful willow square chargers under your plates…I was so thrilled when they arrived here at my home in British Columbia from Nell Hill’s. They were exactly what I wanted after seeing them in your books Mary Carol…and I knew where to find them…’Nell Hill’s On-Line. We’ll have many years of fun decorating and great meals using them. I’m so pleased that you ship to Canada. Your blog is great. Thank you.
    Linda Zimmerman

  18. Marian Medine Says:

    I love that you show how to “build” a tablescape! In our garden club, we have a
    meeting that we dedicate to doing this with a particular theme and it is always
    so interesting to see what people come up with. Seeing how you construct
    yours is so inspiring, I think it is the perfect way to show the layering of the
    place setting, decor and so forth. Keep more seasonal ones coming, they are always fabulous!!

  19. Linda Says:

    Love your blog and wonderful ideas. Where do I purchase the blue and white containers that are shown on the table? I collect blue and white and these are a must have for me.

  20. Jean Angell Says:

    To Donna Didde,
    Relax. And have a ball! First, thoroughly inspect all of your items. Are they in good shape? Do you love them? (A good way to answer this is, “If I had to go out and buy it, would I?”) Give away or throw away anything that’s in bad shape or that you don’t love. Clean all of the items till they shine. Then collect, e.g., all of the pictures together, the pillows together, the vases together, etc. DON’T put all of the things you had in the living room together, and the master bedroom etc. together unless you want the new house to look like the old one. Gather all of the items in one room, if possible, and as you decorate, you can “shop” from this room, picking items. You will be amazed how fun this is! It seems that after we have things in the same place for a while, we tend to look right past them. But when we move them, or re-purpose them, they become new once more and we fall in love with them all over again. I’m jealous of your opportunity! Best wishes.

  21. B. Lisenby Says:

    Keep these great ideas coming!
    My neighbors the Winklers were in your store
    in April, they bought a blue and white vase.
    This vase came to my home as a present for my
    birthday,what a great gift, from wonderful neighbors,
    who knows the best place to shop.

  22. Charlene Wilson Says:

    I love your tips on creating these clever and interesting centerpieces! Especially enjoyed the one using the antique wooden dough bowl as I have one very similar and love finding different ways to display it!

  23. Becky Says:

    Wow I love the look and all the instructions!

  24. Brenda Says:

    What good idas it looks it makes me want to go
    fix my table.

  25. Brenda Says:

    makes me want to fix my table right now.

  26. marilee barnes Says:

    Love the ginger jar. Would love to have one. Are they in your store.If so PLEASE LET ME NO!

  27. Merit N Hellman-Funk Says:

    Mary Carol: Since I am Swedish I have always been a fan of blue and yellow……..So many of our homes is Sweden are decorated using white blue and yellow. Pink is another fabulous color to accompany blue with white. We find that to be very fresh with much of our swedish white furniture. Keep up your great blog. Love it. Merit

  28. Merit N Hellman-Funk Says:

    Would love to purchase the large blue and white ginger jar with Alicia printed on it. Is it on your shop on line web site. Still living in Evergreen, Colorado. Merit

  29. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi All,
    Thanks so much for the wonderful feedback on the blog. I’m still new at this, so your thoughts and ideas are great! I’ll be posting a new blog every week, so be sure and come back, and tell your friends who also love to decorate so we can enjoy the fun together!
    So many of you asked about how to get the blue and white ginger jars. These wonderful pieces are available at (where else?) Nell Hill’s. Call Janet, our concierge, for ordering and shipping info, at 816-746-4320. Happy decorating!
    May Carol

  30. sally windsor Says:

    i miss you, mary carol. and your stores. love california but miss you…..no stores here like yours. love the blog….keep up the great style.

  31. Mary Carol Says:

    Carla—-Please call Janet @ 816-746-4320–we do have the Alicia jar in the Briarcliff Nell Hills store—she would love to help

  32. Mary Carol Says:

    Merit and Marilee–The hand painted blue and whilte porcelain tobacco jars with brass verdigris lids (The Alicia one) are very special works of art. They are located at the Briarcliff store. Call Janet @816-746-4320 for availability–easy to ship.

  33. Pam Says:

    Please keep these “how-to’s” coming! They are SO helpful.

  34. Karen Arrambide Says:

    Since I collect blue and white china, I especially loved your decorating examples for centerpieces. I have a question though…I’m reminded of a dinner guest that, after having been seated at my table, stood up and removed my centerpiece, saying that she couldn’t see over it! Since then I’ve wondered what the rule of thumb is for the height of tablescapes. I noticed that yours were actually taller than the one my “friend” removed.

  35. Mary Carol Says:

    Karen—Absolutely NO rule of thumb then you are setting a beautiful table—do what you love. Last night I was at a beautiful dinner and my hostess had gorgeous wildflowers in the middle small urn. When we sat down to eat dinner she graciously just pulled out the flowers and we had a fabulous dinner. I know this may really bother some of you —but we at Nell Hills don’t always follow the rules—-we do what we what!

  36. Debra Looney Says:

    I love such a beautiful settings, I can see that talented train eye can display lovely arraingments with ease. sadly I live on a limited budget, these items beautiful they maybe are not always cost effective for me . I would like to challenge your team to create arraingment with a frugal mind and creative spirit could do, for some of us with limilt budget but a expansive desire. Please continue to inspire, motivate, draw us in to constanly to find beauty.
    many thanks to you and a creative staff for such attention to details.I look forward to see new ideas you always present.

  37. Mary Carol Says:

    Debra—That is the beauty of decorating—using the same concepts, just decorating with different priced items. If you have looked at my books you know that I love to decorate with nature. Tree limbs, pinecones (all shapes and sizes), seashells, bird nests, fruits and veggies–coupled with things you already own or one new inexpensive piece to get the creative juices flowing. Look to future blogs—great idea Debra–to address! Thank-you

  38. Vernette Says:

    A couple of years ago I purchased 2 ginger jars at the Atchison store and can’t wait to create this. Love your website and blog. I always look forward to see what interesting concepts you so kindly share. We all miss your weekly article in the Sunday KC Star.

  39. The Style Sisters Says:

    HI Nell,
    I just started a new link up party called Centerpiece Wednesdays and would love it if you would link up with us. I have always loved your creative ideas. I own one of your Christmas books and love the ideas in there. Please stop by and check out my creative memorial day table..I used old jeans, rootbeer bottles, paper popcorn holders and lots of other fun things for a really fun and unique look. Please link back to the They Style Sisters if you decide to join in the fun linky party.

    Karin :)

  40. Kristie Dyer Says:

    Can I purchase the ginger jars online? I would be interested in doing so immediately. Thank you. Please let me know at rkdyer@att.net.

  41. Jayne Christensen Says:

    Thanks to your creative ideas – my ginger jar is displayed on a coffee table with a collection of White House garden books. Compliments are always the rule.

    Are the wicker placemats still available? I love the combination with the blue and white plates. I can’t wait to get back to Atchison this summer.

  42. Mary Carol Says:

    Kristie—Check your e-mail for the blue and white Ginger Jars.

  43. Mary Carol Says:

    Yes Jayne, we still have the wicker placemats available. They are available both in the stores and our on-line shopping.

  44. Sonya Mogenson Says:

    Mary Carol…and everyone…I’m searching for some fab ideas for a morning after the wedding brunch. It is inside/outside and catered. Any ideas for 9 tables, some round, some oval. They have layered summery linens in a variety of cheery summer colors,(blues, greens, yellows, golds, white. very crisp) each table will be different. So far my best bet is bouquets of fresh cut flowers and herbs, clear vases, and fab ribbons…but would love something really unique! Any ideas?

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