Have you heard the quote "We eat first with our eyes"? Attributed to first-century Roman gourmand Apicius, it perfectly describes how important the visual aspect of a meal is. I would take a step further and argue that the atmosphere (and specific to this post, the table setting itself) is an integral part of the dining experience.
Tablescaping is a way to set the stage for a fantastic meal at home, where you get to set the stage even before the first bite is enjoyed. And if you're wondering what a tablescape is, or how to create one, read on!
What is a Tablescape?
It's the combination of your table's place settings, centerpiece, lighting, and other decorative elements, usually done for a special gathering. It gives your guests that first impression of what the meal will hold.
Why Should I Create a Tablescape?
Tablescaping does involve some preparation and time, so it's usually done for special occasions like holidays, celebrations or other events. Anytime that you’re having guests over is a perfect time! It’s a way to make your guests feel special, and takes your meal from ordinary to extraordinary before anyone even takes a bite.
Are you onboard? I thought so.
Can you do this? Absolutely.
Read on for my step-by-step guide on how to achieve the perfect tablescape for your next special occasion!
(And play the video below for a visual guide too!)
Gather what you'll need.
You don't need to run out and buy everything new for your tablescape. In fact, often the most interesting tablescapes come from things that you already have on hand!
Start by thinking about how you want your tablescape to feel. Formal or casual? Refined or rustic? Choose your dishes and decor based on these.
Also, consider the color palette. Start by deciding if you want a bold, bright or neutral palette. From there, you can narrow in your colors - I love taking a cue from nature and the seasons.
For Thanksgiving, classic colors like oranges and browns create a soft and welcoming complement to comfort food.
For winter holidays, cool icy tones of silver, white, mixed with pine, feel as fresh as the snow that may be outside your window.
In the spring as we begin to warm up again, lilacs and yellows feel right symbolic of rebirth.
Once you've determined your general aesthetic, begin to gather together what you'll need:
A tablecloth, runner or placemats
Dishes, silverware and glassware
Candle holders or candlesticks
Real or faux flowers or branches for centerpiece
Putting it all together:
1. All Clear! Start by completely clearing off the table so that you have a blank slate to start with. Decide how many place settings you’ll need to for your guests.
2. Start with a foundation. This is the tablecloth, runner or placemats that you’ve chosen, and will serve as the base for your table. This will set the tone for your tablescape – a shimmery damask will set a formal tone, while a striped linen runner will invite a more casual feel.
If needed (and it probably is), be sure to iron or steam your table cloth or runner. Remember, this is the foundation of your tablescape, so make sure that it’s lovely!
3. Add the placesettings. If you’re using a charger (which is a decorative base underneath the main dinner place), set that down at each placesetting, and then place the plate on top.
In the mood to host a formal dinner party? Then by all means open those boxes of china that have been stashed in your basement! Don’t have a set? Your everyday dishes are also fine too! Once you layer on the next pieces, they’ll be a beautiful compliment.
Pro Tip: My secret weapon for really large family gatherings? Plasticware. I love to use recyclable plastic plates and bowls in place of traditional dishes for ease of cleanup – plus, you can experiment with fun colors or patterns that can highlight your meal! Don’t want to commit to a full set of red and green dishes for Christmas? Buy a set of disposable dishes and you can try out that palette! There are lots of fun options at places like Luxe Party and Smarty Had a Party.
4. Add some Napkins and Placecards. Next, layer on the napkins and placecards, if you’re using them. This is another fun way to dress your placesetting, and there are so many styles of napkin rings to choose from! If you don’t have napkin rings, use a simple piece of twine or ribbon, tied with a bit of a sturdy fresh herb (like rosemary) and a handwritten namecard for a warm and inviting place setting.
5. Create the centerpiece. Once you’ve laid out the base elements listed above, you’ll want to begin to create your centerpiece. If you consider yourself a budding floral artisan, by all means, go big and beautiful! A mix of seasonal greenery and florals makes a stunning centerpiece of course. (Trader Joe’s is my all time favorite for budget-friendly and beautiful blooms!)
If you’re not confident about your floral arrangement skills, you can still achieve a stunning result! Gather a large vase and choose one type of branch, flower or dried greenery. (I especially love AFloral for their dried and faux greens and flowers, and I also love foraging through my backyard! Use branches from shrubs, trees or flowers for a cost-effective (and hyper local!) centerpiece.
6. Add the garland. I love including garland on the table for a textural element. With so many options to choose from, you can select something really tailored to your specific celebration. Autumn tables are adorned with mini pumpkins and maple leaves. Winter tables shimmer with sparkly flocked pine and red berries. Spring breathes in soft hues of lavender and lambs ears.
Pro Tip: Depending on the size of your table and the number of people that you’re seating, you’ll want to make sure that the garland runs at least the entire length of the table (if no one is sitting on the end), or leaves a bit of space for someone who is seated at the head of the table. Measure accordingly!
For a little bit of extra sparkle, weave in some battery operated fairy lights into the garland. This will give your table a beautiful glow in the evening hours. (Not to mention that lower level light is especially flattering. You’re welcome for that reminder. 😉)
7. Light the fire. Candles are the ultimate (and easy!) way to create atmosphere at a gathering. And adding candles, especially tall candlesticks, can elevate the entire experience for your guests. In fact, adding height of any type to your table creates even more of a “wow factor” for your guests!
Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to mix and match candlesticks or holders of different heights or even materials.
Put the tallest candlestsicks in the middle of the table, near the centerpiece. If you have shorter ones, spread them out toward the ends of the table. This will keep the proportions so that the tallest items are in the middle, and get gradually shorter towards the heads of the table.
That's it! Now light the candles, put on some music, and grab yourself a glass of wine - your tablescape is done!
A word on timing...
Chances are, if you're hosting, you're likely cooking the meal as well. In order to keep your sanity, set your table the day before. It's not a requirement, but I guarantee it'll be one less thing to stress about on the day of your celebration!
And remember, try and finish your prep and cooking about a half hour before your guests are scheduled to arrive. Not only will you be prepared for any unexpected surprises, it'll give you time to relax a bit, enjoy a moment before people start coming in, and give your gathering a more relaxed vibe. Do you have any favorite tablescaping tips and tricks? Drop a comment below!