I love to decorate - well, its what I do for a living, so naturally I like to surround myself with beautiful things. When I entertain, I not only spend time planning the menu and preparing healthy food, I also make sure my table looks equally as beautiful as the food I am going to serve my guests. The key in setting a great table is to combine bits and pieces that will come together to create a unique, cohesive look.
Having great pieces for your table doesn't have to break the bank. I love scouring thrift stores for odd pieces of silverware and interesting dishes as well as quirky plates and bowls, sugar bowls, vases...the list goes on (my props bin is beginning to overflow)!
I don't fixate on everything matching, either - there is something quite charming about a table that doesn't quite match (for me its about rescuing those pieces that have been tossed out and given to the goodwill, then sit on a shelf calling my name: "Please take me home..." so by cohesive, I don't mean everything matchy-matchy - as long as the overall colours and style of the pieces go together, you are off to a great start. I also like to think outside the box - re-purposing items and using them in unexpected ways - like sugar bowls as dessert nappies; small platters as chargers; bud vases for egg cups...you get the idea, right?
I find that guests feel particularly special when they have a specific place allocated at the table. You can arrange the place cards so that people who normally always sit beside each other are put next to someone new and this will definitely stimulate conversation (as long as everyone is on good terms, the mood will be light...).
There is no right or wrong way to set a table - it should feel like a reflection of you, so use the pieces that resonate with you to create a look you really love. Whether its a romantic theme as in dinner for two, or a fun birthday gathering for eight, or even an ethnic dinner, just have some fun with table setting, using quirky colours in table cloths, napkins and dishes and unique pieces - which will always generate fun table conversation.
And finally: USE THE GOOD CHINA!!! There is no point in leaving it in the buffet hutch to collect dust - it is meant to be used - you don't have to use the entire set, just pull pieces out like the dinner plates and then mix and match with other pieces to reinvent your precious set over and over again!