The great debate… Placemats or Tablecloths? Which are better?

Making a table look beautiful is an art, and there are lots of ways to do it.  Two of the most common ways is to use a tablecloth or placemats.  Which is better really depends on the look you want and even the kind of table you have.  Either option can make a dining room look fantastic and stylish or dated and dowdy.

Personally, I like using both, but with our current table, a tablecloth isn’t really an option… keep reading to find out why.

When we had our round oak table, I loved using tablecloths.  They gave the table, and the whole room, a soft romantic look.  A table can look beautiful with a tablecloth when it’s done right. I’m not a fan of plain white tablecloths, because they look a little too “banquet hall” to me in a home. A tablecloth has to have some kind of detail to elevate it from utilitarian.

Table with Tablecloth
Beautiful table with a tablecloth

Here’s our old oak table with a beautiful tablecloth I bought at the Linen Store in Nassau, Bahamas, many years ago. It’s a crisp white and makes everything look pretty.  Even so, I did add some additional layers…a pale green napkin and two smaller placemats to give it a little more interest.

Table Setting
Table setting with china from the 1940s.
The china is one of my four sets… Yes, I’m nuts for china. I love being able to mix and match these two patterns from the 1940s.

Our “new” rectangular mahogany table fits the space we have for dining so much better than the round one did, but I miss how pretty the round one looked with the tablecloth.  The truth is, as much as I love my current dining set, I think it looks a little dowdy with a tablecloth because of the Duncan Phyfe style chairs.

Make a formal table more casual
Pretty placemats give formal table a casual look.

Our current table looks much better with placemats. The placemats don’t hide the beauty of the mahogany wood. It definitely has a more formal look, which is downplayed with placemats. A tablecloth looks out of place in our tiny little house, because it would be over the top formal.  Plus, a tablecloth hides all the detail of the table, which makes it look plain and unappealing.

Informal Place Setting
Mixing different pieces on a placemat.

One thing I’ve enjoyed with this table is being able to use lots of different styles of placemats.  I’ve learned, however, that I do not like the square or round ones that I would sometimes use on our round table. They are just the wrong shape.

Round placements with a round table.
Table topper with round placemats

This shows how the round placemats looked on the round table. The table topper was a nice addition to the table, because it didn’t get in the way when you wanted to sit down.  Some people don’t think you should use tablecloths and placemats together, but I disagree…when done right, it can look very charming.

Formal Placemats.
Another more formal look with placemats.

We’ve actually donated these wood placemats, because the color clashed with the table and they slid around too much.  But I loved the look of the gold plates with the black and white napkins.

As you can see, you can get lots of different looks with tablecloths and with placemats.  You can get a formal look both ways just by the dinnerware you use.

Square Placemats
Pretty in pink with square placemats

Which do you prefer?  Tablecloth or Placemats?  Or do you prefer something else?  Share in the comments!

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Doug Kummerer
8 years ago

The 'making a mess" part is mostly due to my clumsiness ineptitude. I realize this is waay off over complicating things, going off topic. The green alternative analogy isn't always so straight forward. Granted here in the Great Lakes Basin water usage is seldom an issue, but in some western states things may be different. As for me, I get my electricity from a coal fired generation plant along the Ohio RIver. (no I don't know how much of the environment actually needs to be disturbed to get the small amount of coal to burn into the atmosphere to power… Read more »

Loribeth Clark
8 years ago

Hi Doug! That's an excellent point. Sometimes tables that are not beautiful on their own can look lovely with a nice tablecloth. But you shouldn't be afraid of messing up a fancy tablecloth. They're made to be washed… Cloth napkins and cloth tablecloths are a very green alternative to paper. Paper you wad up and throw away… Cloth is wash, rinse and reuse.

Doug Kummerer
8 years ago

Admittingly, I have sub-par design skills… wouldn't you buy a fine wood table to show it via placements? A tablecloth for an older table like a laminate style or to cover blemishes. Personally I applicate solid fine wood – let it show. (I'm often afraid of messing up a fancy cloth tablecloth)

Loribeth Clark
8 years ago

I have probably a half a dozen sets of placemats. I like switching them up. Right now, I'm on the lookout for some pretty watercolor inspired ones.

Ana Luz Morales
Ana Luz Morales
2 years ago

Well to use both are nice, but I prefer to use tablecloth with beautiful patterns, believe that it would upgrade anything you set over the top.