Tablescaping – 25 ways to dress your table for the holidays
Make festive celebrations magical and memorable with these beautiful tablescaping ideas
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With staying in the new going out, tablescaping is becoming hugely popular as we seek to transform ordinary dining spaces into magical and memorable settings to entertain guests. The art of dressing a table, tablescaping is the perfect opportunity to dazzle dinner guests with your creativity and express your personal style.
Whether it’s a small, relaxed affair or a large, formal dinner party, there are endless ways to style up looks for every season and occasion. The great thing about tablescaping is that there are no rules – anything goes. There’s no need to go all out with a silver service setup – using what you have in creative ways can look just as effective.
'Tablescaping is all about the fun, you can show off a little and put your stamp on something temporary in a way that you may not when designing a room. I love finding reference points for the event or time or season, it lifts everyone's spirits to see a well-dressed table and establish a sense of occasion,' says interior designer, Natalia Miyar.
With the holiday season approaching, it's the perfect time to channel the tablescaping trend with your Christmas table decor ideas. Here we've rounded up a host of our favorite looks to get you thinking about how you might dress your Christmas dining room later this month.
Tablescaping isn't just about knowing how to set the perfect Christmas table – it's also about creating a sense of occasion and a magical atmosphere with clever tricks. We list our favorites below.
1. Take inspiration from a tablecloth
If you're struggling to know where to start with your tablescape then a beautiful tablecloth can be a great source of inspiration. A tablecloth can really set the tone for a Christmas table, bringing a sense of occasion. Choosing a tablecloth with a central design focal running through the middle is a clever design trick that will help lead your eye to the beautiful table centerpiece.
Above the team at Summerill & Bishop (opens in new tab) has used the Les Airelles linen tablecloth as the base for a beautiful red and white Christmas table centerpiece with simple white candlesticks and red candles. To finish sprigs of holly have been laid along the center to give the illusion of a Christmas table garland.
2. Keep it simple
Anyone who has hosted Christmas or a large dinner party knows how stressful it can be, so it's important that tablescapes are easy to put together. Luckily, you don't have to go to great lengths to create a beautiful setup. For an elegant tablescape perfect for Christmas and New Year table decor you can't go wrong with an all-white scheme with hints of sparkle. Choose a white linen tablecloth with a beautiful texture, and stream with linen napkins in a color to match for interior, then elevate a table setting of simple white crockery with simple decorations and sprigs of eucalyptus.
In place of a centerpiece simply dot a selection of candles to create a cozy atmosphere. 'For the tabletop, nothing beats candles; they cast a lovely warm glow, and they’re flattering too – everything, and everyone, looks better by candlelight,’ says Sue Jones, creative director and co-founder of Oka (opens in new tab).
3. Create an elegant tablescape with antiques
Decorating with antiques is a lovely way to create a Christmas tablescape with unique charm. For her Christmas table decorative and antique dealer and interior designer, Daphne Dunn (opens in new tab) lines the table with a mix of vintage candlesticks in different sizes and arranges her favorite vintage vessels along the table filling them with fruit baubles and fresh flowers to match her dining room decor.
‘Decorating your home for Christmas is personal and should complement your interiors yet remain in keeping with the traditions of the festive season. If a traditional red and gold theme resonates, I find ruby red hydrangeas add opulence and warmth to a home and dry gorgeously by the fire’ says Ronny Colbie (opens in new tab), luxury florist.
4. Create a rustic woodland tablescape
Bring the outdoors in with a magical forest-themed table. Create a verdant Christmas wreath for the center by packing a metal wreath frame with damp moss and securing it with floristry wire. Gather together Christmas foliage such as pine, eucalyptus, ivy, and fern, and begin to build the wreath by layering the largest stems around the moss base to create the structure, securing each in place with floristry wire as you go. Be sure to work in the same direction.
Continue layering and securing the stems, working from large to small, until your wreath is verdant and full, then finish by pushing in the smaller sprigs into the moss base. Once the wreath is complete, place three staggered pillar candles in the middle to finish the centerpiece. To extend the woodland theme along the table, lay foraged mossy branches and ivy along the center and dot about woodland animal decorations, pine cones, and mercury glass tea-light holders to bring the look to life. To continue the green, natural theme, use green leafy crockery such as Bordallo Pinheiro cabbage plates.
5. Go for playful maximalism
For a quirky Christmas table full of personality, trade-in classic red and gold for patterns and brights. It’s an easy look to create using what you have – set the tone with a tablecloth in an ornate fabric such as this Kennet design from Morris & Co (opens in new tab) x Ben Pentreath and layer with crockery and textiles in an array of colors, shapes and textures.
Curb consumption by opting for reusable crackers, which can be filled with your own gifts and also double as napkins. To finish, Liberty print handmade name rosettes by Emma Giacalone Textiles (opens in new tab) make adorable place markers and lovely keepsakes for guests.
6. Build your tablescaping around the centerpiece
A table centerpiece is a starting point when tablescaping. It might be that you design it to echo the patterns in your china or the color of your napkins, but it will be the focal feature of your tablescape, so you do want it to stand out.
For a traditional, timeless table Christmas centerpiece try a design of winter foliage and candles. 'English pine, holly, twigs, winter eucalyptus, anything that will dry nicely and add a festive scent. Once you have the base of foliage you can simply add flowers to suit and change as they wilt. For long-lasting flowers you’re best off with Amaryllis, Hydrangea or winter berries,' says luxury florist Ronny Colbie.
'For texture, you can add small baubles and dried fruits. For long tables, I always suggest using plenty of eclectic small vases to add different heights and dimensions to the tables. Finally, to finish off the table I’d suggest layering between the arrangements with antique candlesticks, loose pinecones, cinnamon sticks and tealights.’
'There's a decision to be made with a centerpiece – whether at Christmas or in high summer,' adds Homes & Gardens' Editor in Chief Lucy Searle. 'And that's to do with its size. If you want to add impact, it might be larger than the table can cope with when it's laden with food, so you may want to make space to move it onto a console table once you start serving dinner. Left on the table, it should never be so big that guests opposite each other can't see past it.'
7. Match your tablescape to your decor
Tablescapes work best if they complement their surroundings, so during the festive season, be inspired by your Christmas dining room decor to choose a colorway, materials, and china that works with the decorations throughout the rest of the space.
This is true at any time of year, whether you are planning a festive feast or a summer wedding party.
8. Focus attention on your guests
Tablescaping, as we said above, isn't just about how the table looks, but also about how it makes your guests feel – and the best way to make them feel welcomed and special is with Christmas table gift ideas. This is another idea that can be adapted year-round. Depending on how much time you have, you can of course give small individual gifts to each guest – or buy lots of the same type of gift, such as beautifully scented candles, and put them in a cute gift box.
9. Look to nature
‘Bringing the outdoors in at this time of year is an effective way to decorate your table,' notes Ronny De Koning, global buyer at Petersham Nurseries (opens in new tab). 'A large vase of branches and garden foliage can look both dramatic and stylish. I like to mix these with a few decorations scattered across the table.’
One tablescaping trend with foliage is creating a living runner. There are two main ways of doing this. Firstly, for a relaxing look, forage long loose sprigs and branches of eucalyptus and ivy to trail all along the center of the table, embracing all the natural kinks and curves. Dot with clippings of holly, dried seed heads, and pine cones to enhance the earthy, natural feel.
For a more formal approach, lay either one long, or several small, blocks of floral foam and carefully inset small sprigs of all your types of foliage, being careful to create a fairly even surround and building up to the desired height and depth.
Gina Hardy notes that 'no one wants to start shuffling flowers around to see the person opposite, so remember "'the conversation will flow if you keep things low".'
To continue this ode to nature, select hand-blown drinking glasses, natural linens or cotton napkins, and pretty, individual foliage-focused place settings.
10. Opt for elegance
Enjoy a sophisticated moment without stripping back to minimalism.
Part of tablescaping which is often left to the last moment is the choice of glassware and cutlery. Considering these as you would the centerpiece or lighting will make a huge difference in the overall look.
Structural glasses with a metallic tint work wonderfully for the festive season. To give guests a restaurant experience set out the champagne, wine, and water glasses to take them through dinner. Similarly, rather than relying on your everyday knives and forks, set out cutlery that will work with the scheme and, again, lay out pieces for each course in advance.
For Christmas, a small, neatly wrapped present becomes the perfect placeholder.
11. Choose a color scheme
'I like to steer clear of white plates,' muses interior designer Penny Morrison (opens in new tab). 'Why choose something so plain when hand-painted ceramic tableware can instantly add a beautiful artisanal feel to your setup?'
Transferring traditional Christmas color schemes to your dining table will really envelop your guests in the festivities, and there's something very comforting about using these reds and greens we so associate with December.
Use the colors over place settings, flatware, linens, glassware, and any centerpieces or floral arrangements. Just try and stick to like shades to keep the look chic.
12. Inject some personality
Tablescaping should be, purely and simply, fun. Not every occasion calls for white linens, pillar candles, and antique silverware.
This Christmas, consider bringing sunshine to the table by mixing and matching colors and patterns across linens and centerpieces. 'Be unexpected. You might think that a certain tablecloth might not look good paired with certain table mats but you never know!' advises Penny Morrison. 'Sometimes the most unexpected pairings are the best so don’t be afraid to get a bit playful and creative.'
Up the ante by including shining baubles along the table, in an array of rainbow brights that pick up key shades you've used elsewhere. Overall, you really only want to highlight two or three colors to stop the scheme from being chaotic. These color threads will help tie the mixing of patterns together.
‘This year, I definitely think colors like blues and pinks will be more prominent,' says Alice Naylor-Leyland, founder of Mrs. Alice (opens in new tab). 'I also think there will be lots of different textures, such as feathers and glitter, as well as a more dressed-up approach to make the occasion stand out.’
13. Make an everlasting impression
Dried flower arrangements are seriously having a moment right now, so look at these zeitgeist-y blooms when setting your Christmas table.
‘Over the festive season, we like to use a mixture of bud vases with dried flowers, including helichrysum, in warm jewel-like tones,' says plantswoman Kitten Grayson (opens in new tab). 'Put larger-headed flowers like helichrysum at the neck of the vase and airy grasses dancing on top to create movement without interrupting conversation across the table.’
14. Add some whimsy
Whether or not you have children in your home, Christmas is the ideal time to play. Remember, 'you don’t need a lot to make a statement,' notes Georgie Evans, MD at the Wedding Present Company (opens in new tab). 'Just consider your colors, tones, and textures for a consistent message.
Kitsch Christmas ornaments and baubles make wonderful additions to a tablescape. Try placing a few on the table and tying them together with a decorative bowl full to the brim with decorations – the child inside will love this so much more than some more veggies.
Festive gift boxes on place settings could each contain a similar bauble thoughtful and unexpected gift to your guests.
15. Consider textures
The texture is so important when it comes to creating a multi-dimensional tablescape.
'More is more!' says Penny Morrison. 'I love a maximalist approach so I always suggest using lots of accessories and layering different table linens to add different dimensions to the tablescape.'
Think tactile chargers, woven placemats, and the softest linens.
16. Make it powerful and personal
Christmas is often about decadence, and this is a great idea for creating a festive tablescape. ‘I take inspiration from dark winter florals and rich berries and build the table from there using super cozy colors like dark forest green and burgundy,' says tastemaker Fiona Leahy (opens in new tab).
If you're going all out, why not look towards elaborate personalization for your guests, too? 'I’m a sucker for personalization because I think it makes those around the table feel special, but also because you can often gift the personalized item to your guest to take away with them,' says Lisa Mehydene, founder of edit58 (opens in new tab).
'Things I’ve done include personalized napkins and name cards. But one of my favorite ways to personalize a table is to have guests’ names or initials on their glasses. I’d choose festive colors for the letters to make it feel Christmassy.'
17. Create height
It's easy to focus so much on looking down at the table that you forget about how the table looks from afar – which is how your guests will view it as they arrive.
Layering heights adds drama and a sense of occasion, even if it is only an informal gathering.
Build up height right from the base, making use of chargers, placemats, dinner plates, and decorative plates. Next, glasses should naturally vary in height depending on the beverage anyway. Dot the center of the table with floral arrangements of varying heights as well, and finally finish with tall candles. You can have small, pretty votives as well, but tapered candles always look good flickering above, too.
18. Play with pattern
A pretty pattern-based look can be incredibly striking, and also add an element of personality and energy to the table.
'I love to mix and match different hand-painted ceramics to create a tablescape that really tells a story,' says Penny Morrison. 'Guests arriving at a well-prepared and welcoming table are instantly flattered that you have gone to all this trouble for them and it sets the mood and the expectancy of delicious food.'
Penny explains how she creates a look like this: 'When planning a tablescape I start with a tablecloth – for less formal dining I have a large selection of patterned tablecloths, and use our colored wicker table mats over them, and then play with various glass candlesticks and pale-colored candles, mixed in with colored water glasses. I have several sets of china so use ones that complement or match whatever tablecloth I am using.'
19. Set the scene with a hand-painted tablecloth
Glamorous and fun at the same time, a hand-painted paper tablecloth in a bitter chocolate hue has that je ne sais quoi which makes French style so chic. Accessorize with bamboo cutlery, pink water glasses, and striped blush napkins with a fancy frill trim for the most elegant candle-lit soiree.
Hand-painted name place cards with illustrations of the guest's chosen aperitif invite all to their places. A gorgeous finishing touch. Negroni anyone? Or was yours a rosé?
20. Hand-paint place cards
Pink and bitter chocolate make a heavenly pairing when choosing color palettes for a celebratory dinner – the combination feels both fun and sophisticated at the same time. And hand-painted drink cards by Chiara Perano (opens in new tab) make a beautiful alternative to a place name card. Guests can choose to sit where their aperitif of choice has been placed.
21. Set the bar with chic linen napkins
Choose linen napkins for your place settings. Here the Adam Lippes Coquille dinner plate is teamed with Esio tortoiseshell cutlery from Oka (opens in new tab). Loosely tie rope or yarn around your napkin with a seasonal flower – it makes an effortlessly graceful napkin holder.
22. Glow up with candles
Layer a wool runner over a linen tablecloth to create an inviting and informal setting, with relaxed arrangements of seasonal flowers. Simple brass candlesticks ensure a refined finish. The Emily linen tablecloth in Peat, Heddon brass candlesticks, and Coleridge Olive dinner candles are all Neptune (opens in new tab).
23. Work with the season
Tablescaping is a year-round activity, and it's a delight to create different looks to work with the various seasons, occasions, and holidays.
Summer tables can be especially enjoyable as there's such an abundance of natural beauties at your fingertips.
'A relaxed alfresco-inspired tablescape should be quick and easy to pull together, looking effortless,' advises Georgie Evans. 'Simple linens, tonal colors, relaxed glassware and your everyday china can all be elevated to be season-specific with flowers cut from the garden and beautiful taper candles.'
We also love this idea of a small seedling as a dual place setting and gift for your guest.
24. Make it monochrome
Color is of course wonderful, but it's not for everyone or for every occasion.
Monochrome tablescaping can be incredibly chic and contemporary if done carefully. One of the key things is to remember that monochrome can absolutely include neutrals. By widening your perception of what can be included, you'll find the look becomes a lot softer and fresher.
Embrace natural materials here, as they provide a warm and neutral base for any monochromatic accessories such as linens or glassware.
25. Make everyday special
The most important thing to know about tablescaping? It doesn't have to be saved for special occasions.
Just like that dress hanging in your wardrobe, why not dress up your table for everyday use - you'll find it brings a smile to your face, and make you appreciate every meal more.
Take note from presenter and columnist Laura Jackson who explored this during the pandemic, encouraging her Instagram followers to 'Make a meal of it' and celebrate every dinner as though it were at a favorite restaurant.
How do you make a tablescape?
To make a tablescape, firstly decide upon what mood you wish to achieve – is it a celebratory, formal, or relaxed evening?
Once you have the feeling in mind, consider what elements you can bring in to work with this. 'You can 'set the mood from the get-go,' says McQueens Gina Hardy. 'Think about whether you want to dial up the glamor by filling the room with candlelight and reflective surfaces such as mirrors, glass, and crystals - or you're aiming for a more informal, natural affair reminiscent of the summer holidays we've all missed this year - or perhaps you need to create a more formal, sophisticated feel to impress your guests.'
Match this mood with flowers, linens, and lighting and before you know it your tablescape will start coming together.
How do you set a basic table?
Setting a basic table for a meal can be as simple as you wish.
Traditionally, the most pared-back one would go for dining involved placemats, coasters, cutlery, wine and water glasses, napkins, and a centerpiece.
These days, of course, there are no firm and fast rules outside of restaurants, so aside from the essentials, you really only need a place that makes you happy.
What is the centerpiece on the table at dinner?
A classic centerpiece would be a floral arrangement, and this is still very popular today, although these days that would also include bud vases, living runners, and platters of cut flowers or foliage.
The parameters for a centerpiece have, however, considerably widened over the years, and now t can be just about anything you would like – a bowl of seasonal fruit, a dramatic candelabrum, or an array of antiques or foraged materials from the garden.
Thea Babington-Stitt is a Content Editor at Future. She has been an interiors journalist for nearly 10 years and has held positions at LivingEtc, Country Homes & Interiors and Homes & Gardens. Currently, she is writing for Ideal Home and Style At Home's websites and magazines.
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