Tablescapes are an art form, and a tablecloth is your canvas. But where do table runners fit in? Available in a medley of fabrics, colors and textures, the best table runners add a decorative layer while creating symmetry for your table settings.
Keep reading for a breakdown of cloths versus runners, along with insight into sizing, expert styling tips and product recommendations.
Runners vs. Tablecloths: What's the Difference?
Tablecloths are large pieces of fabric that cover the entire surface of a table and hang off a few inches on all sides. The best tablecloths add character, tie in other colors or make table settings look more formal.
However, the primary purpose is functionality. A tablecloth protects the surface below from stains, spills, melted candle wax and heat damage from hot serving trays. After dinner, you simply toss it in the wash and may not even need to wipe down the table. A tablecloth can also conceal the condition of a worn-down table or dress up a folding table for a fancy occasion.
Table runners, on the other hand, are narrower pieces of cloth — think of a floor runner versus a traditional rectangular area rug. They typically go in the center of a table (the long way, if it's rectangular). Though the best table runners safeguard the surface below from things like candle wax and heat damage, they don't keep all spills off. That’s because they leave a significant amount of the table exposed. Since they're primarily decorative, people often place these long fabric strips on a table with a tablecloth.
While there's some overlap (literally and figuratively), runners and tablecloths have slightly different purposes. Like cloth napkins, both are machine-washable, and high-quality options can be used again and again for several years.
Can You Use a Table Runner Without a Tablecloth?
Lots of folks place table runners over even the best tablecloths, but can you use a runner without a tablecloth? Definitely. While it depends on the fabric, table style and what other objects you put on it, this will lend to a slightly more casual look — but not so casual that it's not suitable for special occasions.
For instance, you'll often see high-end table runners on long wooden tables set for rustic, farmhouse and boho-themed wedding receptions. This look can also work on Thanksgiving, during the summer and any time you're decorating for an outdoor dinner party. Sometimes, you might simply want to show off your beloved table instead of covering it completely.
Then there are coffee table runners, which pretty much always go without a tablecloth. They are mostly decorative, though they offer some protection from coffee rings and glassware condensation.
Table Runner and Tablecloth Sizes
Like curtains, rugs and the table itself, one of the most important considerations for a table runner or tablecloth is selecting the proper size. Even the best table runners and cloths will look odd if they aren't the right dimensions.
To figure out what size you need, first measure your dining table. The tablecloth should have 8 to 10 inches of overhang on each side. For instance, if you have a six-person table measuring 72 x 36 inches, the tablecloth would need to be 16 to 20 inches larger in both length and width (or roughly 90 x 54 inches). There are some exceptions, but the best tablecloths for everyday use should offer full coverage without being so large that they touch the legs of people sitting at the table.
Most table runners are about a foot wide, so you really only need to worry about the length. After measuring your dining table, look for an option that's 1 to 2 feet longer so it hangs off 6 to 12 inches on each end. For example, if the surface is 72 x 36 inches, a 90-inch-long table runner would have 9 inches of overhang on either side.
What About Round Tables?
If you have a round dining table, you'll want a round tablecloth with a little more overhang than you'd have with the rectangular variety (about 14 to 18 inches). But you can use the same sizing guidelines when selecting a table runner. You might consider placing two runners on your round table to create an X shape.
Are Table Runners in Style?
You bet! You can use a runner to make a statement, but some of the best table runners simply enhance your tablescape and will go largely unnoticed (at least consciously) by your guests. Find insight into the best tablecloth materials and colors below.
Best Table Runner and Tablecloth Materials
Table linens are relatively simple in design, but they're not all created equal. The material and style will help set the vibe for your dinner party or holiday gathering. Some of the best table runners are made of cloud cotton, waffle-weave fabric or linen. Here's what to know.
As its name suggests, cloud cotton is a light, fluffy textile. Similar to muslin but with a slightly tighter weave, the fabric flaunts a super-soft gauzy texture. The cloud cotton tablecloths and table runners from Parachute are woven from 100% long-staple cotton with three-ply fabrication and corded construction to help them lay flat. Thanks to the yarn-dyed colors, these fade-proof table linens are suitable for al fresco dining.
The tablescape at this Outdoor Dinner Party is a true inspiration.
You might also consider a waffle-weave fabric for your tablecloth or runner, whether Turkish cotton or European linen. The honeycomb pattern enhances the material's softness and absorbency while lending to a casually elegant appeal. Meanwhile, the subtle texture helps conceal inevitable wrinkles on these naturally sourced textiles.
Learn more about this unique, versatile material in our Waffle Weave Fabric Guide.
Linen table runners and cloths are made of European flax fibers and can be loomed into a waffle pattern or feature a traditional flat square weave. The high-quality fabric is exceptionally strong, holding up for several years (sometimes decades) under regular use, and gets softer over time. Textured options are nice because they conceal wrinkles and may not need to be ironed or steamed, even for special occasions.
Read our blog to find out.
Best Tablecloth and Table Runner Color Ideas
Now that you're up to speed on the best tablecloth and best table runner materials, let's get into color selection. Here are a few hues to consider, plus tabletop decor ideas for various occasions.
Whether you call it beige, bone, ecru or oatmeal, this light natural shade is a go-to not only for year-round use but also for fancy and casual occasions alike. While it may seem plain, you might be surprised by how much a textured dining room table runner enhances your place settings.
It's nice to have seasonal table runners on hand when you want to switch up your dining room decor. Charcoal is an excellent pick for fall and winter, offering a slightly moody aesthetic that's still plenty versatile.
Light grey is an elegant choice for the best table runners and placemats or a matching set of cloth napkins and placemats. The laid-back neutral shade works for any season and can be contrasted with flowers or candles in bolder hues.
Tablecloths and table runners in cream (sometimes called off-white or ivory) are similar to beige items but slightly lighter. This color is perfect for linen tablecloths, runners, napkins and placemats, acting as a blank slate for any other decorative pieces you want to place on top.
Consider a dusty blue dining room tablecloth or just a runner and napkins for a more casual look. This deep, slightly rustic color blends beautifully with grey, charcoal and other cool tones, but if you want a little contrast, mix in a few clay pieces or warm woods.
Whether you call it burgundy, bordeaux, cabernet or just plain maroon, this deep rich red is ideal for seasonal tablecloths in the fall and around the holidays. It can also look lovely in a table runner for outdoor weddings nearly any time of year.
Find out what inspired our collection of the best table runners and cloths in our article, Table Linens: Behind the Design.
Table-Setting and Serving Essentials
Beyond choosing the best tablecloth or runner, what else do you need to create a stunning tablescape? Keep reading for tips, ideas and product recommendations.
First and foremost, you'll need a nice set of dishes. This endlessly versatile yet undeniably sophisticated stoneware dinnerware set is just the thing for nightly meals with your loved ones and classy dinner parties alike.
Cloth napkins can help you cut down on your daily paper towel use, and when you're serving guests, they help you make a good impression. Cloud cotton napkins are a great choice for virtually any occasion, and you can get a set to match your tablecloth or runner.
For holidays and other special occasions, napkin rings can give your tablescape that "something extra." Not only that, but rolling is often easier than folding. Attractive napkin rings can give the best table runners in an added depth and beauty.
Some people have multiple silverware sets designated for daily use and fancier events. Made of heavy-gauge stainless steel, this brushed gold flatware set is dishwasher-safe, so you can use it as often as you'd like.
When it comes to tablescapes, high-quality glassware can really provide that special wow factor. It's helpful to have different types and styles on hand, like stemmed red wine glasses, large goblets, champagne flutes for celebrations and standard glass tumblers.
See our guide on Hosting a Happy Hour for additional insight.
Water and Wine Carafes
Whether you're serving wine, sangria, iced tea, lemonade or just water, the right pitcher, carafe or decanter will add a nice touch.
Hosting brunch? Impress your guests with a set of aesthetically pleasing stoneware mugs that feel just as good in the hands as they look.
Placing food in stoneware serveware instead of serving it directly out of the pots and pans will make your dinner party tablescape look more seamless while encouraging family-style dining.
Speaking of pots and pans, this decorative trivet puts your everyday pot holder to shame. It can also be used as a tablecloth weight when setting an outdoor table on a windy day.
Don't forget serving utensils. Made of sustainably sourced walnut wood, this gorgeous yet functional spoon set can work perfectly for both serving and cooking. They also lend a chic vibe to the best tablecloths and the best table runners.
Last but not least, no dining table is complete without salt and pepper shakers. Look for a chic yet versatile set you can use for all occasions — extra points if they have built-in grinders.
Where to Buy Chic, Sustainable Must-Haves for the Table
Feeling inspired? Parachute carries some of the best table linens on the market, including high-quality tablecloths, runners, napkins and placemats. When you browse the tabletop collection, you'll also find thoughtfully crafted dishes, glassware, flatware, mugs, serving utensils and decorative accents.
Shop the selection today!
For more room-by-room home decor advice, read on: