The definitive guide to tablescaping
How to style and accessorize your dining table to create a sense of occasion
Styling a dining table is one of our favourite pastimes here at La Residence Interiors – and we’ve had plenty of practice in this art, having been creating inspiring lifestyle images featuring our luxury collection of dining tables for more than a decade.
Over the past couple of years, tablescaping – as it’s been tagged – has been appearing all over Instagram, with examples of setting the table on all sorts of wild and wonderful themes ranging from highly stylised to artfully effortless.
It’s a trend that has also been fuelled by the pandemic, which forced us to dine in and made us yearn to create the sense of occasion we missed when going to dinner parties and restaurants was strictly off the menu.
And now that lockdowns are (we hope) forever behind us, the enjoyment of setting the table and anticipating our guests’ appreciation of our efforts is even greater!
So here’s our guide to conjuring up atmosphere and conviviality while adding your own sense of style, panache and individuality to your dining table. Bon appetit!
The main elements
This is the eye-catching central display that dominates and sets the tone of the table, the pièce de résistance if you like!
It could be a single floral or plant arrangement, a candelabra, a sculpture or ornament or a series or line-up of co-ordinating elements along the centre of the table, such as a row of vases, pots of greenery, or candle or tea light holders.
You don’t have to own an expensive dinnerware set to make the table look special but it’s more of a treat to serve food from plates and bowls that you don’t use every day.
Investing in crockery for special occasions means it’s more likely to last and stay pristine for longer and if you buy a few key luxury items, it can be fun to mix and match these with antique market finds or end-of-line bargains you might be able to source online or on the high street.
Your choice of glasses can substantially add to the sense of occasion, with the number of glasses dictating how casual or formal the event is going to be.
For most dinner parties with friends and family, the norm is a water glass and a wine glass for each guest – but if you’re out to seriously impress and serve different wines with a several courses, you might have more! Tall-stemmed wine glasses help to create height and elegance, while rustic water tumblers bring things back down to earth.
Just remember that the water glass and wine glass should be placed to the right of the place setting just above the table knife. If serving both red and white wine, you could include a glass for each.
Of course you can use paper serviettes but there’s nothing quite like crisp white – or other coloured – linen napkins to elevate a table from ordinary to super-sophisticated.
It’s true that they require extra effort to launder but for a truly special occasion it may be worth it. The look and feel of a beautiful linen napkin are associated with an impeccable dining experience – think Michelin-starred restaurant… (and you can achieve this ambience with a table setting, even if it’s a stretch with the cooking!)
Again, placemats are an intrinsic addition to setting a stylish table as well as having a practical purpose by protecting the surface, particularly if your table is made from pale wood and likely to be marked by hot plates or food debris. You can either choose a round placemat to sit under the plate only, or a larger rectangular one to use for the entire place setting. Mats in neutral tones and natural materials can be re-used to complement many different colour themes and types of celebration.
Is it worth forking out for dinner party cutlery – or should you use your everyday utensils? It probably depends on how often you entertain and what condition your kitchen drawer knives, forks and spoons are in. If they’re a bit tarnished from countless cycles in the dishwasher, it may be an investment you wish to make.
You certainly won’t struggle for choice… from good old-fashioned stainless steel to gold, copper and matt black – as well as enamelled, bejewelled or ergonomically designed handles – and you don’t have to have been born with a silver spoon to afford them!
One point to bear in mind if you’re purchasing a stainless steel cutlery set is that different grades of stainless steel denote its quality. For the best cutlery that feels heavy in your hand choose 18.10, which contains more nickel than 18.0 steel, so is shinier and more rust-resistant.
Those final flourishes that really personalise the table and welcome your guests can add to celebratory feel of any event. They’re fun to think up and execute too! It might be something as simple as place name or a menu card for each place setting to table gifts, personalised chocolates or trinkets or even a home-made treat. You can be as understated or extravagant as you like – it’s the thought that counts!
Changing with the seasons
Whether you have a celebratory theme or not, adding seasonal decorations to your table can add colour, freshness and vibrancy.
Make the most of seasonal flowers and foliage while taking inspiration from events that are important on your own calendar, whether that be Easter or Halloween, Eid-Ul-Adha or Diwali.
Here are a few ideas to inspire your seasonal tablescaping…
Blue hyacinths and white primulas and tulips add a breath of fresh air to this spring table.
Soft pastel colours and fresh light greens that evoke trees blossoming in spring can be put to good use at the table.
Use mini pots of narcissi along the centre of the table, a faux grass or natural linen runner and add some golden tea light holders.
Or fill a statement vase with multi-coloured tulips and source candleholders and/or water glasses in similar colours.
Summer roses, displayed in vases and as decorations for each place setting, create a simple but stunning tablescape.
Classic blues, sunny yellows, baby pinks and deep lush greens are great colours for summer while fresh white and greens and strawberry reds can also look striking.
Summer flowers like roses, peonies, sweet peas and hydrangeas can be used to great effect as floral centrepieces. Add some fresh green foliage such as eucalyptus or ivy to the table. You could even make your own mini floral bouquets for each place setting.
A dramatic seasonal arrangement of foliage, scatted leaves, apples on a wooden platter and tealight form the basis of this autumn tablescape.
Fiery reds and oranges, golds and russets… autumn provides a riot of warm colours and inspiration for tablescapers!
Take inspiration from what’s coming into stock at the garden centre – winter-flowering heathers, for example, are widely available from autumn onwards, to plant as winter bedding in containers and borders. Cyclamen add gorgeous splashes of colour, too. You can make use of both plants to create dinner table centrepieces and then plant them out in the garden afterwards.
You can also forage in the garden or outdoors locally to find beautifully coloured autumn leaves that can be incorporated into a tablescape featuring pumpkins and gourds, apples, or other autumn favourites.
Golden or leaf-decorated candle holders will add a warm glow to proceedings.
A fir garland, fairy lights and candles create a winter scene.
’Tis the season for holly, mistletoe, red berries, snow-whites and sparkles. Fir garlands look beautiful as runners, and needn’t be just for Christmas, while gold and silver pillar candles will add glamour to any occasion.
Olive branches, fir cones and walnuts also combine well with natural materials like wicker and rattan on a winter table.
Or for a centrepiece, collect five or six preserving jars and place a few evergreen pine branches in each, tie some rustic jute, hessian or string around the neck of each jar and line them up in a rustic wooden trough in the centre of the table.
We hope you find some of these ideas useful and the team here at LRI would love to see any of your tablescaping, especially on any of our tables! So do share on Instagram and tag us or upload your photos to our Customer Photo page.