Al Fresco Tablescaping with Jen Going

Jen Going, who clearly shines when it comes to al fresco tablescaping, sat with me recently (at the beach, of course) and shared some of her tips and inspiration for outdoor entertaining and dining.

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In our summer issue we featured the Burger Man, George Motz, smoking burgers at the beach. This beautiful summery feature was shot at an East End beach by our very talented photo editor, Doug Young. Photo shoots like this one require plenty of behind the scenes support. At the top of the behind-the-scene list is interior designer Jen Going, who styled the simple, yet refined beach-inspired tabletop in the photos. Jen, who has her own design firm, Jen Going Interiors in Westhampton Beach, also happens to be George’s sister, and they are both my cousins. Founded in 2010, Jen Going Interiors has already garnered favorable press from the likes of Elle Decor, Coastal Living and Lonny magazines. In addition, one of Jen’s designs recently landed on the cover of Luxe Magazine. It was no surprise at all that this spread turned out as beautiful as it did, because it featured not only George’s delicious smoked burgers, but the artful styling of his sister and the photography of our photo editor. Three cheers for artistic collaboration, clever teamwork and family!

Jen, who clearly shines when it comes to al fresco tablescaping, sat with me recently (at the beach, of course) and shared some of her tips and inspiration for outdoor entertaining and dining.

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Which season is your favorite for outdoor entertaining … and why?
September and October are the best months to entertain outdoors. It’s still warm enough to dine outside at sunset and chilly enough after dark to enjoy sitting around a fire pit in jeans and a cozy sweater.

Are you more inclined to be matchy-matchy or eclectic?
Matchy-matchy is not my thing, mostly out of necessity! Having kids and a busy schedule means using what I have on hand to create a pretty table setting. I almost never set a table the same way. I love a table set with a mix of things that are elegant and rustic, refined and simple. Vintage scenic dish-towels as napkins dress down formal china for a lunch gathering, and crisp white table linens are gorgeous paired with rustic wooden bowls and mismatched votives. I set the table without too much fuss. Mixing it up is more interesting, and thank goodness for that because sometimes we just need to grab whatever is clean and available and just have fun.

How do you incorporate family treasures and dishes?
I believe in using what you have. Formal china that sits in a cabinet and never sees the light of day is such a waste. My mother uses her sterling silverware everyday which amazes me. Her silver belonged to my great-grandmother and the soft patina of age and use is visible, making it very special. I don’t have the patience to polish things so I don’t use a lot of silver, but I do use my Granny’s formal teacups and saucers regularly.

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What is your favorite outdoor setting? The beach (duh), backyard/deck/patio, picnic in the woods, etc.
Definitely the beach! I could spend 12 hours on the beach and still want to stay longer. A table set on the beach, a nice breeze, lots of candles, family and friends, moonlight and a bonfire — that is pure heaven.

How do you bring in nature?
Seasonal flowers (in my case, stolen from my mother’s yard), greens and seasonal fruits are always part of my tablescapes. Single colorful blooms, snipped from the yard look beautiful scattered around the table in little jars.

How about some outdoor lighting ideas?
A few strings of clear white state fair lights are my favorite way to light an outdoor space. Add a bunch of candles for the perfect, balanced glow.

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Betsy Davidson is the editor at large of Edible Long Island.