These Runners Will Make Your Dinner-Party Table Look Instantly Set
Styling dos and don’ts included.
Updated Jan 11, 2024 5:48 PM
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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 pattern? Looking for a natural linen moment? Seeking a graphic stripe? 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 bit of everything.
- Best solid: Sferra Festival Runner
- Best striped: Matouk Apollo Stripe Tablecloth
- Best floral: Furbish Yadira Table Runner
- Best budget: Food52 Everyday Soft Cotton Table Runner
Solids don’t have to be boring. Contrast stitching, fringe, and crochet trim are subtle, but give the following picks a bit of interest. We’re partial to Sferra’s Festival runner, not only for its delicate hem stitching but because it comes in 22 colors. Categorized by neutral, earthy, cool, warm, and bold, Sferra offers an entire rainbow of colors.
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again: You can’t go wrong with a stripe. Matouk’s take, inspired by antique textiles, comes in trending baby blue–printed cotton. Made in the U.S. with fabric from Portugal, the subtle black zigzag pattern makes it stand out from your typical lines on lines. While the brand’s bedding is certainly a splurge, we were delighted to find that the Apollo runner is just $79.
Runners cover only part of the table, but with the right pattern, they can still pack a punch. These eye-catching floral options are strong enough to stand on their own, making the rest of the styling process a breeze; your table will look festive even with simple white plates and everyday glasses. Furbish is known for its block-printed table linens, and its runners are no exception. (Just look at the Yadira runner’s scalloped contrast edging.) Offered in 13 colorways, they’re 100% cotton and made in India.
Even though runners are often more affordable than tablecloths, they can still cost a pretty penny. We love these budget options just as much as the rest, and they just so happen to be a fraction of the price. Our favorite is from Food52’s in-house line, Five Two. It’ll take you from everyday meals to full-on dinner parties, all while being low-maintenance—no ironing or dry cleaning necessary. It’s on sale for $18, so won’t feel too precious to use.
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—they’re all great as long as you love the look. 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.