MC: The last tablecloth I had became a cape for a Nacho Libre costume. Now what?
GG: Layering old beautiful bedding, like a worn velvet throw over a cheap linen tablecloth, is a great look. Think rustic chic instead of the matchy-matchiness of your mom's stuff.
MC: The only nice plates I have are the Little House on the Prairie collector's-edition set, and I can't eat with Half Pint staring up at me.
GG: If you have thousands of dollars and want that bone china, great, but most of us don't want that these days, whether we're 52 or 22. So scour thrift stores—eBay is great. Etsy has quirky homemade ceramics. And of course, the classic white plate is about a buck at Ikea. But have fun with your tablescape! Embrace imperfection. Let it be a little tongue-in-cheek.
MC: How can I rig better seating than my yoga ball and a beanbag pulled up to a coffee table?
GG: Multitask your furniture in ways you don't normally. That bar off your kitchen? Arrange the table perpendicular to it, to create a T-shape so you can use all that bar surface, too. For seating, use a couch for one side of the table. Then you can drag in folding chairs, the hall bench, whatever. Having an eclectic group of seats means that guests can find the style of chair that suits their personality.
MC: Paper napkins: friend or foe?
GG: I think because there are only a few times a year that we make a special event out of dinner, you should go for the real thing. A pack of handkerchiefs (new!) are fantastic or new linen dishrags can be bought in a pack of 12—they're usually white linen with a little red stripe that you can tie with twine or ribbon. It's casual, cheap and really sweet, and it makes people feel special.
MC: Since I can't serve straight from the pot, what about serving dishes?
GG: Multi-purpose your bigger items around the house. Look at a number of different kinds of vessels from barrels to tins. Water-proof barrels can be great with ice for wine and beer. Parchment-lined terra cotta flower pots are fantastic to serve rolls in.
MC: What kind of centerpiece can I make from crap lying around the house?
GG: Like the cornucopia? Who does that?! Instead, cake tiers make wonderful display devices. You can get them used anywhere online and at the Salvation Army. What they do is they give a little vertical height—just don't get it so vertical that you can't see across the table. I usually use the foods that I'm cooking with as décor. It's really cheap and a lot of the food that we are eating are flowers anyway. So cranberries, pomegranates and beets make up a beautiful kind of fuchsia-red of the fall that you should readily embrace. Cranberries floating in a vase? Wonderful. Artichokes stacked in a big vase are gorgeous. Submerge brussels sprouts on the stem in a tall vase of water and everyone will ask you where you got those exotic flowers. And you can eat them later! It's a showstopper. And it's about $3.
MC: My lights flicker enough to give someone a stroke—what can I do to fix it?
GG: It's all about dim lights. When people come in and there are candles and the lights are down, people immediately start acting more relaxed. And you want this to be an affair where everyone wants to lay around your house until midnight. If you don't have a dimmer, buy one for $30, and install it yourself—it takes 10 minutes. If it's too bright, people are irritated and it doesn't look as good. Period. When you go into a restaurant that is over-lit, you immediately think fast food, and that's not what we're going for after that many hours spent in the kitchen!