From Casual Summer Soirees to Formal Fall Feasts, Here’s How We Use the Best Placemats
Gingham, stripes, scallops, and more.
Published Mar 26, 2022 1:00 PM
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The best placemats are key to a well-styled tablescape. Although they’re a completely optional addition to your dining setup, Domino editors love to tap this versatile textile to layer in punchy palettes and patterns, no matter if it’s a weeknight dinner for one or a formal get-together with friends.
Don’t know how to choose? With so many options, from materials to styles, picking out the perfect placemat can feel a little overwhelming. But there are three features Kathy Kuo, interior designer and founder of Kathy Kuo Home, recommends weighing carefully to help find what you’re drawn to: color (are you going for a calming or contrasting detail?), pattern (is your tablecloth patterned or solid, or do you prefer to leave your surface bare?), and durability (if you are home to a few messy eaters, high-maintenance materials can be tricky).
At the end of the day, the purpose of the best placemats is to add dynamic elements to your table—including textures and shapes—for a layered elegance, Kuo adds. Here’s how we imagine using our favorite picks, below.
- The one for weekday meals: Chilewich Heddle Placemat
- The one for casual guests: Mirth Navy Placemats
- The one for patio picnics: Maison Maison Design Light Pink Placemat
- The one for dinner parties: The Ark Elements BiBi Placemats
- The one for formal feasts: Kim Seybert Capiz Shell Placemat
- The one for summer soirees: Goodee x Ames Jipi Placemats Set
- The one for overstated brunches: BedThreads Scalloped Placemats
The One for Weekday Meals: Chilewich Heddle Placemat
Dimensions: 14-by-19 inches | Material: Vinyl | Number of pieces: 1
What we like:
- Bauhaus-inspired design
- Made in the U.S.
- For indoor and outdoor use (weighty!)
- 90-day satisfaction guarantee
- Not sold as a set
Why we chose it: Heavy, easy-to-clean loomed vinyl adds pizzazz to your balcony or backyard.
Durable vinyl is given a spring feel here with woven stripes in a blend of lilac, blue, coral, and yellow. Vinyl is also incredibly easy to take care of—if you happen to spill over your glass of wine or your sriracha bottle goes astray—all you need is a damp, soapy sponge to wipe it down. No other damage control is necessary. Hefty in weight, you can also move this placemat outside without worrying about it blowing away on a windy afternoon.
The One for Casual Guests: Mirth Navy Placemats
Dimensions: 14-by-20 inches | Material: Cotton | Number of pieces: Set of 4
What we like:
- Free returns
- Goes-with-anything print
- Artisan-made by master printers in Bagru, India
- Lightweight (and a bit thin)
Why we chose it: For a sophisticated tablescape made simple.
When friends drop by very last minute for a get-together at your place, keep these block-print, hand-dyed cotton placemats on standby to set a laid-back table that still feels tidy. Their embroidered edge adds a little flair to the contrasting navy-and-white floral pattern—all of which is easy to pair with a wood or marble dining table or neutral-colored tablecloth. And to really drive the look home in a pinch, color-coordinate with cocktail napkins.
The One for Patio Picnics: Maison Maison Design Light Pink Placemat
Dimensions: 16-inch diameter | Material: Raffia | Number of pieces: Set of 4
What we like:
- Natural fibers
- Cute color
- Shipping lead time is 2 weeks
Why we chose it: What says outdoor dining more than woven palm decor?
Skip the plastic checked tablecloth for your next picnic outing; all you need is a set of these braided beauties by Maison Maison. The interwoven mix of natural raffia and muted pink is great for adding an element of texture that will take any surface, even a worn picnic table, from dull to summery chic. It’s the perfect protective barrier between your barbecue, tossed salad, or grilled corn on the cob.
The One for Dinner Parties: The Ark Elements BiBi Placemats
Dimensions: 13-by-17.7 inches | Material: Reed | Number of pieces: 1
What we like:
- Fun fringed edges
- 6 color choices
- May take up to 6 weeks to ship
Why we chose it: Buy every color option for your very own Rolodex of table settings.
If nothing brings you more joy than hosting weekly dinners with family or friends, then these BiBi placemats (which come in six colorways) are a must—especially if the same guests are routinely gathered around your table. With options on hand, place settings can be switched up as quickly as your mood changes—is there anything more cheerful than a sunflower yellow through summer? Keep your material interesting by purchasing enough hues to mix and match.
The One for Formal Feasts: Kim Seybert Capiz Shell Placemat
Dimensions: 15-inch diameter | Material: Shell | Number of pieces: Set of 4
What we like:
- Large size
- Natural variation
- A Kuo-approved gift
Why we chose it: Splurge on a luxe material to save for special occasions.
The typical placemat can often be grouped with general table linens, but to really pull out all the stops for formal festivities, whether it’s throwing a birthday bash or having the whole family over during the holidays, we recommend investing (or dare we say, indulging) in a unique material like capiz shell. Its natural luminosity looks similar to mother-of-pearl (and has a price tag not far from the matching caviar) and can be amplified with equally lustrous metallic napkin rings and serving utensils, which will signal to guests this is no normal occasion.
The One for Summer Soirees: Goodee x Ames Jipi Placemats Set
Dimensions: 12-by-15 inches | Material: Palm | Number of pieces: Set of 6
What we like:
- 3 fun color choices (magenta is our favorite)
- Handmade in Colombia
- Socially conscious design
- Biggest set sold out of our favorites
Why we chose it: Elevate the everyday this summer with cheerful checks.
Is this the embodiment of Domino in a placemat? Maybe. Bright colors (made from all-natural fibers!) and a checked pattern (we’re not letting gingham go) will have you smiling through every meal, from breakfast to dinner. Thanks to its palm material (made with jipijapa leaves), it’s easy to maintain—crumbs slide off with a shake and spills quickly wipe clean. Founder Ana Maria Calderon Kayser, a native of Colombia, has reimagined a whole collection of traditional crafts into contemporary home accessories.
The One for Overstated Brunches: BedThreads Scalloped Placemats
Dimensions: 15.7-by-21.2 inches | Material: Linen | Number of pieces: Set of 4
What we like:
- Matching napkins
- 5 color choices
- Shipping is free in the U.S. and arrives in a swift 2-to-7-day timeline
- Do not bleach, iron, or dry-clean
Why we chose it: A great gift for the trend seeker.
A curvy, contrasted edge and luxe linen? This is for bringing the of-the-moment lunch spot home. Get dressed up, then dress your dining room to host all your pals for pastries and bubbly. And if a friend has one too many mimosas, you don’t have to worry about these getting messy—linen is inherently durable; add them to your laundry pile and wash in a cold, gentle cycle.
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How We Chose These Products
Our list of the best placemats proves that this often formal decor detail can be far from stuffy or boring—we reached for those with bright colors and playful patterns that toe the line of casual and sophisticated. We prioritized a versatile selection of placemats for various occasions, from laid-back dinners with family and friends to elevated at-home brunches ready for a tablescape photo op. But we also made sure our picks didn’t just satiate our aesthetic appetite; durable materials that are known to last and easy to take care of was essential, since this is an extra layer of protection between a food spread and your dining table.
Our Shopping Checklist
Surprise—placemats aren’t just a final finishing touch; they protect your dining table from spills, stains, and overall wear. “I always advise making a selection that’s easy to clean, in anticipation of the worst,” says Kuo. Placemats are also a strategic way to organize your dining space with a designated zone for plates, napkins, and glassware.
When styling, we say have fun! But remember to balance the bold—think: solids with patterns, or muted backdrops and saturated accents. Currently, we love the look of bright, spring-inspired stripes and gingham checks paired with French-inspired Splatterware. If you have a busy block-print tablecloth, try a solid, luxurious material like glazed earthenware or stone.
Like any decorative element, there are all sorts of materials to choose from, but both McClure and Kuo advise selecting a fabric based on intended use. These are the most popular options they suggest:
- Linen and cotton placemats are the gold standard. Soft and lightweight, these natural picks are almost always machine washable.
- If you’re looking for a more cost-effective choice that’s easy to clean, vinyl placemats might be best for you. They typically offer a range of patterns and colors so you don’t have to sacrifice style for practicality (as Chilewich proves!).
- For luxurious appeal, Kuo will splurge on metal, marble, acrylic, and wood; all of which are her personal favorites as they tend to not only be durable but set your table apart with a unique detail.
- Hemp, raffia, and wicker are also great for layering and adding interest to your setting if you’re purely making a decorative statement.
Following a meal, all you typically need to do to take care of a dirty cloth placemat is to toss it in the wash (you’ll likely have to limit it to the cold, delicate cycle)—and the quicker you do so, the less likely a stain will have time to set. For particularly stubborn markings, try soaking the fabric for a bit first before attempting to scrub it out, and laying it flat to dry to prevent wrinkling and shrinking. Other materials that are designed to be a bit more durable, like vinyl, are inherently stain-resistant and should only need to be wiped down with a sponge in between meals.
Q: What is the standard placemat size?
According to McClure, the standard placement falls anywhere between 12 to 14 inches wide and 18 to 20 inches long.
Q: Should I use round or rectangle placemats?
While there are no hard-and-fast rules as to whether you should use an angular or oval placemat, we find it’s best to match up your shapes. Circular placemats fit nicely on rounded dining tables; however, size can also be an important factor: Rectangular placemats tend to take up a lot of surface area and often are large enough to replace a tablecloth. Usually smaller in diameter, a round placemat works well on a compact table.
Q: I have so many old placemats I don’t use anymore—any fun DIYs I can use for them?
Just like our style director, Naomi deMañana, suggests doing with old, overused napkins, you can dye your fabric placemats a darker color to disguise discolorations. It’s one of just seven creative ways Domino editors have thought of in order to give overused linens a new lease on life. Other DIY-friendly suggestions include using your cloth as wrapping paper or covering old baskets.
The Last Word
Fun or fancy—but always functional—the best placemats can quickly dress up your table settings to elevate the everyday and add a punch of personality. Our favorites prove this formal decorative accent can be chic and not too fussy at the same time. All you need is a bright color or playful pattern to cheer up a casual meal and make your table pop—no matter what’s on the menu.
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