Lifestyle Entertaining

This is How You Set the Table Like an Italian

Designer J.J. Martin brings her maximalist style and Italian sensibility to the tablescape.

We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

The Italian life: The phrase conjures up superlatives of all sorts: the freshest pastas, the boldest tiles, the bluest seas. La Double J’s J.J. Martin tells us how to tap into this state of mind every day, by setting the table in an Italian way.

To live like an Italian, you need to entertain like an Italian. Martin first got a glimpse of this maxim before her wedding. An Italian friend said to her: “What are you doing registering for 10 plates—you need 30!”

Martin has been living la dolce vita ever since—she married an Italian and lives in Milan—and setting a table with an Italian feel is now “instinctual” to her. Perhaps this wedding exchange was the initial spark for Martin’s tabletop collection, La DoubleJ Housewives (shown here), a delightful smattering of print and pattern on plates and linens. Martin’s signature bold personal style translates seamlessly into beautiful table.
As she says, “I wanted to make it easy—everything goes with everything. And we mixed the plates in pairs to take the guess work out of it.” While rather anti-Italian to have prescribed rules for entertaining (or anything for that matter), Martin gives us pointers on how to tap into the Italian spirit and set a great table for entertaining. 

Setting the Table: 8 Tips from J.J. Martin

1. Keep themes for different table elements, then mix it up.

“I like order in my chaos…Vases in all glass, but in different colors, or placements in one pattern with varied napkins, for instance. It helps to have a category in the same family as a starting point.”

2. Avoid using a caterer’s tableware, even for a big party. 

“I always use my own plates—it’s special when everyone has something different. And mixed plates look beautiful stacked on a buffet table.” 

3. Go fresh, colorful, and small with flower arrangements.

“I am never too specific about flowers—it’s about what I find at the flower market near my house. And let’s be honest: No one likes tall flowers on a table. You can’t talk! I make it festive by breaking down the flowers, cutting them short and doing small groupings in bud vases to create a tablescape.”

4. For the classicist, try linens for a pop of color. 

“If you already have a conservative dinner service, spice it up with a fun placement and napkin.” 

5. Glassware is an unsung hero. 

“Italians are so into glassware. And the water glass and wine glass are never the same. For instance, I’ll use Hermes water glasses with vintage champagne flutes from my parents’ wedding.” 

6. Lose the idea of sets—combine and contrast your tableware for a fresher look. 

“I never have a fear that I won’t have a set of 8 and 10. I love a mix and match table.”

7. Dessert plates for the win. 

“Dessert plates are always a conversation piece. I make a ceremony of bringing them out. At first glance, the plates in our Double J Housewives collection have nothing to do with each other — but they look great together.”

8. If all else fails, know this one reigning truth to entertain the Italian way.

“Don’t feel confined to have everything the same.”


Related reading:

Where the Locals Go In Coastal Italy Estate of the Art: Tuscany’s Villa Lena The Ultimate Travel Guide to Florence