A table setting designed by McMillin Interiors' designer Paul Nguyen. Photo by Paul Nguyen.

Designer tip: Paul Nguyen on elegant everyday table settings

It’s time to reveal a comforting truth: You never need a reason to break out the fine china. According to designer Paul Nguyen of McMillin Interiors, a standard Sunday meal might just be the perfect occasion.

As this dining room designed by McMillin Interiors’ Meghann Landry proves, classic china and heirloom furniture never go out of style. Photo by Melissa Oivanki.

“You only live once, so why is your nicest dinnerware sitting in a cabinet?” says Nguyen. “Every Sunday, I bring down the china. It doesn’t need to be daily, but at least once a week.”

Especially now, amid COVID-19 distancing and restrictions, it’s evident that people are looking to make the ordinary a bit more extraordinary. One way to accomplish this is by pulling that “fancy” set off the shelf and upgrading takeout to an elegant evening dinner.

“The home is more important than ever,” says Nguyen. “We’re allowed small gatherings, so why not? If you’ve already spent the money on a nice set, so why not get the most use out of it?”

If you’re new to the world of place settings, Nguyen says it doesn’t have to mean a high price tag. Adler’s Towne Center and New Orleans’ Friend and Company are wonderful places to search for your next set of china, he says, but those only looking to dip their toes in the water can browse at Bed Bath & Beyond for a simple set while staying on a budget. For lovers of antiques and vintage style, Nguyen suggests visiting stores like Circa 1857, where you can find special and unique pieces to incorporate into your table design.


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Perfectly pink Princess Victoria five piece plate setting by Herend. Use the good china! #tablesetting #tableware #pink

A post shared by Adler’s New Orleans (@adlersneworleans) on Jun 13, 2020 at 7:05am PDT

Nguyen recommends starting out small by investing in a six-piece set of china, as well as a basic linen tablecloth and napkins. By opting for white when it comes to table linens, you sidestep grandma’s stuffy florals and instead give yourself the freedom to mix up your tablescape often.

According to Nguyen, another crucial means of creating a polished dining atmosphere is by having a basic understanding of table etiquette. Placing a glass on the right side of the plate may seem a tad frivolous, but the proper place setting of dishes and silverware can make serving dinner a more seamless process.

And don’t forget the finishing touches.

If you have a garden, go outside and get fresh cuttings,” says Nguyen, noting that a touch of nature is a simple way to bring warmth to any table. “If you approach it in a fun way, then planning out your place settings will be much more enjoyable.”