How to set a beautiful table and then take it up a notch, in five steps

Let’s get this out of the way first: Tablescaping is very different from just setting the table. If you are unfamiliar with the term tablescape, perhaps you’ve never visited Pinterest?

Here is how a professional chef defines what has rightfully earned some recognition as an art form: “Tablescaping is the act of creatively and intentionally arranging a tabletop so that it  conveys a specific theme, mood, or experience.”

A table merely set for a dinner party includes the requisite dinnerware, cutlery, linens, and a centerpiece of some sort, maybe including candles. A tablescaped dining surface reaches an entirely different level, showcasing the creator’s individual style and honoring any occasion by making it extraordinary.

That said, a beautiful tablescape isn’t difficult to pull off at all. All you need is some inspiration, a bit of creativity, and the ability to adhere to some very general principles. The best tablescapes are those that communicate something not only about the special occasion but about their maker and their intended audience, as well. Personality is more important than polish, but some polish definitely helps.

Remember: These are guidelines, not steadfast rules.

Step 1: Conceive

Let your imagination run wild, and then reel it in. Will your tablescape have a purpose other than looking pretty? Is there a message you want to communicate? A season, holiday, event, or person you wish to honor? If not, pick a theme based on a color, mood, or special item you’d like to feature.

Be creative, but also practical. If you plan to sit a number of people around a modestly sized dinner table, don’t imagine a tablescape that overwhelms the space and will make dining uncomfortable.

Pro tip: Let your “why” be your guide, and don’t let the beautiful be the enemy of the practical.

Step 2: Gather

Once you’ve settled on your purpose and theme, consider how you will bring your design to life. Make a list of all the materials you’ll need and take an inventory of what you have on hand. Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Textiles for your base, tablecloths or runners, cloth napkins
  • Charger plates, dinnerware, silverware
  • Glasses, goblets
  • Decorative bowls, vases, platters
  • Candleholders and candles
  • Decorative touches such as vintage placecard holders, frames, mirrors
  • Natural pieces such as wood, leaves, cut flowers, and small potted plants

Pro tip: Don’t worry if you gather more items than you could possibly use – that will give you plenty of choices. Especially in the fall, use materials your kids can gather from nature, such as branches and leaves. It’s a nice way to include them in the process.

Step 3: Build

Start with a solid foundation. Determine where you want to set up and make sure your surface is stable and level. If your setting is your dining room table, map out how much real estate you can use, leaving enough room for each place setting (experts recommend two feet). If you are building your tablescape on a side table, fireplace mantle, or bookshelf, prep your surface by cleaning it well.

Add your base layer. For dining tablescapes, it’s traditional to use a tablecloth, but kraft paper or placemats are also interesting choices. Layer a table runner or other textiles for additional color and texture.

Be sure to make your centerpiece the star of the show and a true focal point. Use mirrors for a dramatic flourish and add twinkle lights for charm and whimsy. Candles of various shapes and sizes are always pleasing to the eye, especially if placed in mismatched candleholders.

In your design, feel free to mix metals and different types of wood, as well as vintage and modern objects. Mixing colors, textures, and materials is the key to memorable and unique creations.

Pro tip: if using cloth, iron it! Nothing can detract from your whole look more than a wrinkly base. If your centerpiece elements will obstruct your guests’ views when seated, consider placing your centerpiece on a tray, piece of wood, or slate so it can be easily removed from the table when it is time to eat.

Step 4: Embellish

 A Festive Tablescape Makes Every Day a Party

Once you’ve assembled your creation, step back, and observe. Have you forgotten anything? Is there any way you could improve it by adding some special touches? Perhaps you could visit a craft store for inexpensive “filler” items such as raffia, ribbons, dried flowers, and crystals or decorative stones to tie your whole look together.

Pro tip: If you feel you’ve run out of ideas, check some online sites like Pinterest or Houzz. If you are a Decocrated member, look to your fellow members for ideas in our Facebook community.

Step 5: Edit

Before you declare yourself finished, follow the words of Coco Chanel and remove something.

Pro tip: Test drive your tablescape for functionality and stability. You may want to dismantle your centerpiece before sitting down, especially if it takes up a lot of space and hinders sightlines. Your dinner service will likely require spare table space for additional dinnerware, glasses, and platters, so clear a sideboard or nearby surface for the overflow.

Last step: Relax and enjoy

 A Festive Tablescape Makes Every Day a Party

Being a hostess can be challenging. Having a table beautifully prepared long before guests arrive can boost your confidence and set a positive mood for your special occasion. A carefully crafted tablescape can elevate any party to extraordinary event status.

Give Decocrated a seat at the table

Having a deep bench of tablescape-worthy design elements is easy with Decocrated. A subscription to Decocrated will deliver a wide variety of handpicked items right to your doorstep every three months and offers you great deals on additional curated décor picks available in our members-only online shop. With Decocrated, your tablescapes and rooms will be the envy of Pinterest.