These Runners Will Make Your Dinner-Party Table Look Instantly Set
Styling dos and don’ts included.
Published Nov 30, 2022 1:00 AM
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After a holiday that revolves entirely around a set table, maybe you’re a little more aware of the gaps in your tabletop collection. As in: You almost had enough napkin rings for 12 settings or you realized that your vases were a bit too tall and blocked conversation. If things just felt flat, it’s very possible that adding a table runner would take care of all the jazzing up you need.
Some use a runner as a substitute for a tablecloth, while others prefer to layer the two. We say there’s no right or wrong. If we’re being honest, table runners serve no function at all; but like adding a throw blanket to the end of the bed, they just make things look a little more complete.
When it comes to picking the best table runner, we can lead you in the right direction—but it really comes down to personal style. Are you all about linen? Looking for a natural woven moment? Pattern or no pattern? The good news is that a runner is often less expensive than a tablecloth, which means you might be able to pick up a little of everything.
- Best overall: Cultiver Cara Edged Table Runner
- Best value: CB2 Eria Linen Table Runner
- Runner-up for best value: Five Two Everyday Soft Cotton Table Runner
- Best splurge: Serena & Lily Catalonia Woven Runner
- Runner-up for best splurge: All Roads Grid Runner
- Best basic: Sferra Festival Runner
Best Overall: Cultiver Cara Edged Table Runner
Material: 100% flax linen | Dimensions: 20-by-79 inches, 20-by-157 inches
What we like:
- Contrast edging
- Offered in 4 colors
- Makes linen feel a little fancier
- No bleaching, soaking, or dry cleaning
A neutral colored linen is a great base to start from—something that could be styled to match any aesthetic. Cultiver’s bedding has stood the test of time, and its runners are made of the exact same trusted linen. The piping adds just enough personality.
Best Value: CB2 Erica Linen Table Runner
Material: 100% linen | Dimensions: 14-by-90 inches, 14-by-120 inches
What we like:
- Frayed edges add to a laid-back linen feel
- Edges are embroidered as to not unravel
- Available in just 1 color
The deep moss hue is timeless and versatile, giving your table color while still feeling of the natural world. At $40, it’s lower in price than most 100% linen options.
Runner-up for Best Value: Five Two Everyday Soft Cotton Table Runner
What we like:
- Comes in 5 colors
- Pre-enzyme wash makes it feel broken in from the moment you take it out of the box
- Wrinkle-resistant finish
- 1 size
Material: 100% cotton | Dimensions: 14-by-90 inches
This one, from Food52’s in-house line Five Two, takes you from everyday meals to full-on dinner parties, all while being low-maintenance—no ironing or dry cleaning necessary. A price tag of $45 means it won’t feel too precious to use.
Best Splurge: Serena & Lily Catalonia Woven Runner
Material: 100% abaca | Dimensions: 16-by-85 inches, 16-by-110 inches
What we like:
- Scalloped edge gives the woven organic look a preppy touch
- Can only be spot-cleaned; not ideal for young families or clumsy wine drinkers
The heavier weight of the Catalonia runner reads like a jute rug, making it feel more substantial and longer lasting than a loosely woven grasscloth. It also gives you more bang for your buck—while many runners are more mealtime-specific, you might leave this one on the table as decor.
Runner-up for Best Splurge: All Roads Grid Runner
Material: Handwoven cotton | Dimensions: 16-by-90 inches
What we like:
- Handwoven in Chiapas, Mexico
- Cheery pattern and palette automatically add interest
- 1 size
Handmade is always better. Period. While its beauty and detail may make it seem as though it needs to be handled with great care, the 100% cotton All Roads runner is just as low-maintenance as a big-box buy; think: washer-and-dryer–friendly.
Best Customizable: Sferra Festival Runner
Material: 100% linen | Dimensions: 15-by-54 inches, 15-by-72 inches, 15-by-90 inches, 15-by-108 inches
What we like:
- 101 colors and 4 sizes
- Hand-thread, drawn hem stitching make a basic piece feel more formal
- You can buy matching tablecloths, napkins, and placemats
- Monogramming adds to cost
You may not need an endless pool of color options on a daily basis, but Sferra’s infinitely personalized runner might be your BFF when shopping for something super-specific like a themed get-together. Rather than looking to Amazon or a party-supply store for a quick-hit buy, why not invest in one you’ll actually want to use again?
If you’re entertaining, you’re already planning on having a good time. So why not bring on the pattern? Balance a patterned runner with a solid tablecloth underneath and you’ve got the only centerpiece you’ll need. The graphic stripes of Dusen Dusen will give you a fresh, modern look, while Lisa Corti’s festive Italian-made floral runner says “Yes, I will have a glass of amaro with my affogato.”
Our Shopping Checklist
Table runners range in size a good amount (meaning they’re all over the place). Widths can be as narrow as 12 inches or as wide as 20 inches. Many are offered in multiple length sizes to match different tables. On the smaller end, you’ll typically find 72 inches, which is appropriate for a table that is 4 feet and under. On the larger side is 157 inches, which fits up to an 11-foot table.
We like to see at least a foot of the runner hanging down on either side so that it flows elegantly and doesn’t end too abruptly, and it’s important that, if you are layering your runner with a tablecloth, the runner is equal or shorter in length; a panel hanging off the end might look awkward—it’s cleaner to see a straight line. If you’re running into that issue, you can always fold the runner over itself in the center of the table and hide the seam with a centerpiece or serving bowl.
Material and Weave
Because table runners aren’t a functional aspect of tabletop, they could be any material or weave your heart desires. Lace, grasscloth, velvet, linen—it’s all great as long as you love the look of it. However, we do recommend washable fabrics for convenience.
Because table runners are offered in such a wide variety of patterns and hues, we recommend owning a few. With a couple of solids and a great pattern in your linen closet, you’ll be ready for anything.
Q: How do you know which runners and tablecloths to pair together?
Our advice is to cast one as the star of the show and the other as a supporting actor. For example, if you have a bold floral tablecloth, consider selecting a runner in a solid that matches or complements a color found in the pattern.
Q: Is it okay if my plates overlap with the edge of the runner?
Yes, we actually prefer when something breaks the lines of a runner, as to not make it feel like a runway going down the middle of the table.
Q: How do I DIY a table runner?
DIYing a table runner is a great way to save money and get the dimensions exactly as you want, down to the centimeter. Just cut the fabric and sew a simple hem. If sewing is not your thing, stitch witchery will get the job done. And if you’re looking to make it even simpler, keep the edges unfinished.
The Last Word
If your table feels like an overwhelming blank canvas, adding a runner creates structure to accessorize from—line up tapers, flowers, little bowls of condiments, or seasonal decorative produce. While a runner may seem over the top for casual dinners, it actually simplifies the table-setting process and makes it look more complete with less fuss.