Fiona Leahy made her entrance into event planning in spectacular style thirteen years ago, planning the wedding of Dita von Teese and Marilyn Manson. Events for royalty, celebrities, and fashion brands quickly followed, and Fiona's beautiful tables are now constantly in demand. As the weather warms up and our thoughts turn to spending time outdoors, we asked her for her top tips on dining al fresco.
• Lighting is key. I love candlelight, so I use tall candles in slim hurricane jars, spread out across the table. Lanterns and festoon lights in trees or canopies are also excellent. If you're going to use electric lights outside, try and make sure you have a dimmer switch. Lighting still needs to be intimate and cosy outside, you don't want it too bright.
• Try and incorporate what you have around you. If there's a tree nearby, string lights through it or decorate it with ribbons. I did one dinner when I brought lemon trees onto a terrace so that it felt like the garden was coming towards the table. If you have a pergola or any kind of structure around the table, you can hang flowers from the ceiling. I've worked with Kitten Grayson on flower clouds on the ceiling, including a beautifully ethereal one made from gypsophila. Sometimes in this scenario I use silk flowers. My rule is that as long as they're out of reach, silk flowers are OK!
• Flowers can be more organic and less structured outside. I often do long arrangements that creep down the table - passionflowers and vines are particularly great for this. Individual small vases can also be great. I often use green recycled glass vases from Summerill and Bishop, or just jam jars or old glass cruets.
• Take inspiration from your surroundings and the colours in the space. At a recent dinner for Aquazurra, I matched the chairs to the pale green fencing on the terrace we were using. I love green outdoors, but you don't want to go overboard with it as it’s a cold colour. Warmth can be added with colours like pale pink, coral, lemon.
• I love a bold pattern outside, and I do a lot of 'matchimalism', where tablecloths, napkins and even plates all feature similar patterns. Floral patterns are particularly good for outside, there's something about the juxtaposition of real flowers and graphic flowers I find very appealing.
• The key to outdoor settings is that they should be less formal than an indoor setting, but because of potential difficulties with the weather, everything has to be more durable. For glassware I tend to use slightly thicker glass in shorter shapes - no delicate, tall stemware here. I love goblets, and coloured water glasses have taken over my life. Green water glasses are lovely for outside, or a blue version by the sea.
• Natural, or natural-looking materials are wonderful for outdoor dining. I like linen for a tablecloth and napkins, wicker tablemats, and I think bamboo or tortoiseshell cutlery is great for outside. I like things to feel like they should be there, and these materials are organic enough to belong outside. I would avoid opulent gold cutlery - it just feels too much like it should be indoors.
• I never drink out of plastic glasses or use melamine tableware outside. It feels so cheap. If you use slightly more hard-wearing pieces, you should be fine. Zara Home is a good source for affordable glassware and plates that you don't have to mind too much about.
• If you're dining outdoors, just be prepared. I would strongly recommend having some sort of canopy or structure around you. Sources of warmth, especially in the British weather, are indispensible - blankets are an easy option, or a fire pit gives a sense of cosiness. But above all, you have to be prepared to give up a bit of control. It's like camping, you never know quite what is going to happen.