Legendary designer Tricia Guild's style secrets for how to entertain outdoors

Entertaining a crowd is an art form. Tricia Guild, OBE, founder of Designers Guild, shares how she creates a convivial outdoor space

outdoor table with pink tablecloth and fig tart
(Image credit: Future)

For me, entertaining outside is a vital part of life - it’s what forms our relationship with the wider landscape. And that can be both urban or rural. It's not about how much space you have, or what it looks like, but what you make of it that counts.

As we move into summer and start thinking about long afternoons filled with long lunches, there are some decorative tricks you can employ to enhance your alfresco life.

Making the best outdoor furniture choices is part of it, but of course I think color and pattern go a long way, too. Here's how I like to entertain, and what you can do to kick summer off in style.

1. Get the table itself right

blue and green laid table

Table laid using Lario linen from Designers Guild

(Image credit: Designers Guild)

I prefer rectangular tables for dining. It's easier to pass bowls across, to share jugs and bottles and dressings and salads. The way to make your lunch table feel like an occasion is to dress it well. 

I love textiles on a table rather than hard surfaces, so I use a lot of linen, often in an array of colors. I take around three colors, often blue, green and one other, then mix them up with two sizes of placemats and napkins. The result is an informal but special-seeming blend of a table, which is both relaxed yet feels exciting.

Adding some simple flower stems as a table setting creates a sense of abundance, magic, and helps to form that relationship with our landscape I was talking about above.

2. Mix pattern and plain

table laid in grey linen and marble print napkins

Table laid with Delahaye zinc table cloth, runner, placemats and napkins from Designers Guild

(Image credit: Designers Guild)

I enjoy mixing pattern and plain, which creates a more layered look than going for lots of patterns, or all plains. Sometimes I'll use florals and stripe, other times I'll go for an ombre effect. At the moment, I'm really into marble prints, which I'll pair with plain linens in corresponding hues.

3. Actually lay the table

outdoor table laid with pink table cloth and grey plates

(Image credit: Future)

Just because you're dining outside, I don't think that all the rules you stick to indoors should go out the window, too. I like outdoor dining to be relaxed and informal, although I always lay the table properly. I’m not a fan of a stack of cutlery and plates left at the end of a table. I don’t have a table plan but I do have an idea of where I would like people to sit and mix.

4. Include subtle decorative additions

outdoor table laid with flowers in vases

(Image credit: Future)

It's wonderful to add a few decorative additions to the center of the table, but they should be light touches, not huge statements. I like to place flowers, such as dahlias in small vases, or succulents in pots, so as not to interrupt the flow of conversation or the food. Remember that anything too tall or high will stop people being able to see each other, while also being obstructive as to where you put the food. I light votives in small ceramic pots or glass jars and either dot them or line them up. 

5. Create an informal seating area

I love square seating areas, with a mix of chairs and benches, where people can come and go for pre-dinner drinks or cocktails. I often serve Negronis, Margaritas or Martinis with nibbles like crudites, parmesan biscuits and pickled cucumbers served on rustic chopping boards and small ceramic bowls.

In a drinks area, I’ll have a runner that links with the dining table, and an eclectic mix of glassware. It’s vital to have enough space for lots of ice and slices of lemon, fruit, herbs and salt.

6. Don't forget to factor in the lighting

festoon lights

(Image credit: Cox & Cox)

Garden lighting is just as important to get right as indoor lights. If possible, arrange your outdoor lights on a dimmer switch, which makes it easy to control and dial up or down depending on the mood you're trying to create. As well as this, I  like to arrange masses of candles in jars and hurricane lamps that add instant atmosphere.

And speaking of evenings, If it’s going to be nippy as the sun sets and dusk settles in, I prepare some throws and shawls for people. 

Tricia Guild, OBE, is the founder of Designers Guild, who sell a dazzling array of outdoor table linens, furniture and accessories.

Designer and founder of Designers Guild

Tricia Guild, OBE, is the founder of Designers Guild, and she is known for revolutionizing the way pattern and print was used in the home when she launched  her business in London in 1970. Over the years, Tricia has created many original textiles herself, while also collaborating with some of the best artists in the world to put their prints into production.  A regular in the pages of Livingetc, among her many awards she won the Homes and Gardens Designer of the Year in 2020. The Fashion and Textile Museum curated an exhibition all about her work called Out of the Blue in the same year. A prolific author, she is just about to publish her twentieth book.