imageVase and Pinch Bowl, Walmart.

When the sun sets earlier and a brisk chill returns, there’s nothing quite like generating a come-on-in-from-the-cold feel. “For fall, I really respond to a warm, modern sensibility with rustic ranch and country influences,” says lifestyle expert Peter Som, who has worked with brands including Calvin Klein, Bill Blass, and Tommy Hilfiger, in addition to founding his own label. “I gravitate toward textured, cozy, and hand-sewn-looking materials, but reinterpreted in clean lines.” 

Though Som finds that a timeless, seasonless route is fail-safe, he says he is partial to a “nod to the occasion.” Using items from Walmart’s Fall Style lookbook, he administered his rule of three—solid + feature pattern + small-scale print—to create a tablescape that’s subtle but lively.

Step 1: Pick the Palette

Cake Stand, Walmart.

Som’s tablescapes are event tailored, though lightly so. “If it’s a brunch, I usually keep it lighter and brighter: whites, off-whites,” he says, whereas a celebratory gathering may merit deeper colors. For an autumnally tinged setting, he likes to bring in a pop of color via seasonal florals, skirting anything heavy-handed (skip the pumpkins). Lighting crosses over with palette as a key mood creator—it heightens or softens, be it candlelight, lamplight (“Turn off your overheads,” he advises), or daylight.

Step 2: Pile on the Layers

Once the hues have been selected, “table linens are like your wardrobe,” Som reasons. Three or four table runners are useful to have on hand and swap out (here, he went for a tasseled version), plus pretty cloth napkins, simple stone plates, and black flatware are part of the tool kit of basics, with easy adaptability. 

Step 3: Position the Flowers

“You don’t have to do some big, elaborate arrangement,” says Som. “You only really need a handful of flowers. Put bud vases all the way down the table and…done!” he says with a laugh, adding that it’s easy to weave candles in between. This set of bud vases comes on a small wood tray, “which I love,” adds Som, “because they’re a wonderful cheat sheet for buying a few flowers and making them last.” He favors dahlias, which blossom in August and extend through fall in a range of colors.

Step 4: Prep the Food

The ideal host is relaxed—but “relaxed doesn’t mean just sitting around,” Som clarifies. He suggests prepping food well ahead of time and seeing cookware as synonymous with nourishing fall dishes (think: stews, braises, baking). Though his style screams “Instagram” (his own account features tons of beautifully plated meals), “the number-one rule is about IRL,” he says. “It is really about being with people together in person and being present.” In that sense, he sees serving as a host and being a guest as almost interchangeable: “It’s looking around the room and noting that everyone is having a great time. The mood of a dinner party always comes from the host.”

How to Create a Cool Fall Tablescape With No Pumpkins in Sight