The Ultimate Table Setting

The experts share their tips on creating an elegant, personal tablescape

Whether you’re planning a formal wedding celebration, an intimate birthday supper or a special occasion lunch with friends, a creatively dressed table is the perfect scene setter says TOAST's Emma J Page.

Gone are the days when ‘formal’ was the only byword of a beautifully set table. Now casual elegance and a sense of playfulness are headlining, with tablescapes featuring personal touches and plenty of whimsical decorations to promote a feeling of relaxed conviviality among guests, whatever the occasion.

In an age where sharing plates, casual grazing, seasonal eating and earthly home cooking are all the rage, it’s hardly surprising that table settings have also benefitted from an organic, ‘loosening of the tie’ approach. But there’s no need to bemoan a lack of decorum – a chic table remains the lynch pin to any celebration; it’s the decorative details that add the wow factor so careful planning and a creative eye are key.

Set The Scene

Your approach will depend on the event you are organising, whether it’s a celebration at home, a birthday gathering, a wedding or a christening party, but planning is key.

"You may have some great ideas, but until you do a practise run, you won’t realise if something doesn’t work," advises Katherine Hélène, Creative Director at tableware specialist Hélène Millot Furnishings.

"If you have a chance to lay the table a few days in advance it will greatly benefit the end result. You might discover that the table you are using is too narrow to fit all the wares you have in mind, or too big for your overall creative vision. Put together a mood board too – Pinterest is useful but don’t let its breadth of ideas dilute your original plan. Instead use just three or four images that really sum up your vision. They needn’t be tablescapes either – an image of a beautiful autumnal scene can be just as useful when it comes to conjuring the rich colours of the season on your table."

Helene Millot Anoushkarolabrandstyling

(Images courtesy of Hélène Millot, Anoushka Rokebrand Styling)

It’s worth remembering that contrast is key – just as a blend of new and old adds depth to an interiors scheme, so simple layering works well at the table. Linen pairs well with flower-filled jam jars while plain vintage water glasses complement more ornate candelabras.

Style At Home

If you’re entertaining at home, a beautifully laid table will make guests feel instantly welcome. A crisp white, perfectly ironed linen tablecloth makes a great base and works well when paired with pops of colour via napkins, candles, glassware and foliage.

"Flowers and candles will instantly transform a setting, but do opt for different heights to add interest," advises Angie Pinkney, owner of lifestyle store Decara Home"Scandinavian or French country style, featuring plenty of linens, natural textures and organically shaped tableware works well for low-key celebrations, while for a party, you can afford to be more ambitious. Orange is a key trend right now – try adding citrus dinner candles in vintage candlestick holders for a touch of drama."

Decara Kate Nielen Photography

Decara Kate Nielen Photography Table Setting

Don’t be afraid to experiment with plenty of personal touches too. "I often try out new ideas at home," says Katherine Hélène.  "I use bold colours, make my own name cards and utilise objects from around the house. Recently, I used my beautiful collection of small antique brass animals, including giraffes and birds, as table centrepieces. They looked very striking and were a real talking point."

Tips & Tricks

If you are planning a wedding feast, remember that creating a sense of intimacy is key, no matter how big or small the event. "There’s a move towards more intimate seating arrangements, such long rows of tables where guests can share freely," say Sam Saunders and Sarah Nesbitt of Linen and Lace." And a rustic look mixed with a touch of glamour is very current. Think gentle rose gold and copper tones and low floral arrangements, with deep plums and muted golds appearing as autumn arrives.’ 

Linen And Lace

(Images courtesy of Line and Lace)

For a low-key event such as an anniversary dinner, style-savvy Helen Hopkins of Pudding Bridge suggests a mixture of off-white linens against plain white china plates. "Add vintage style glasses in muted candy colours, plenty of candles and country flowers in mismatched coloured jars and vases," she suggests. "It’s an understated glamour that creates a decadent but homely celebration."           

Remember though that you’ll need a cohesive thread running through your tablescape. "It’s easy to think that nothing really has to match at an informal event," warns Table To Dine For’s Linda Rafferty. "An eclectic mix of decorative items and linens, crockery and glassware can look great together so long as there's a colour theme running through to pull it all together."

Linen And Lace Rustic

(Image courtsey of Linen and Lace)

Al fresco dining can also benefit from an injection of style, whatever the weather. Whether you’re planning a luxury pre-wedding picnic or a barbeque for the morning after, consider the small details that will elevate it from the ordinary. Instead of a table, a buffet is a practical choice, but there’s still a chance to add some style says Katherine Hélène. "How will you keep your drinks cold? Do you have any old vessels you can use in your garden, such as an old trough or even a little rowing boat?  Props from around your own house can always have more than one use if you put your mind to it. Source vintage rugs and pillows and create a cosy picnic setting, inside or out."

When it comes to trends, tablescapes are mirroring interiors, with added glam to up the wow factor. Rich botanics combined with copper and white tones creates a contemporary but lush feel, while rose pinks and dove greys are a timeless classic. An industrial feel featuring rough-hewn wooden tables softened with faded golds echoes our current love affair with nature and organic materials and antique crockery coupled with cobalt blue bottles that double up as vases creates a fresh blue-and-white look with enduring appeal.

Helen Millot

(Image courtsey of Hélène Millot Anoushka Rokebrand) 

Planning Your Table

The Do's and Dont's from Helen Hopkins, Pudding Bridge 

  • Don’t over dress the table – remember that it must be functional as well as beautiful. A stunning table that has no room for glassware or features a centrepiece that no-one can see over will not make for a relaxing environment.
  • Do scatter the table with candles. They never fail to create an air of magic.
  • Do layer up – think linen, napkins, chargers and glassware. Lots of interesting elements for your guests to look at will create a sense of occasion.
  • Do enjoy laying the table, have fun and get creative; creating a special setting should be a pleasure, not a chore.
  • If you’re entertaining at home, don’t spend all your time in the kitchen. Plan your menu around slow cooked or ‘no cook’ dishes. After all you are the host and one of the most important elements of your table.

Posted in Inspire Me

by Emma J Page
on on 17 August 2016

  table setting, tablescape, tabletop

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