Tablescaping: how to create a beautiful table setting for the holidays

Christmas tablescaping is the latest trend to hit our homes. Here's what it is and how to achieve it at home

Tablescaping
Photography/Chris Everard
(Image credit: Future)

It may perhaps be surprising for a year with limited entertaining, but tablescaping has become one of the biggest trends of the moment - and it's one we're very happy to see.

Tablescaping, the art of dressing a table, is something everyone can have a go at, no matter the size of your dining table, the types of flatware you own, or your overall style. One of the best things about this trend is that there aren't really any set rules - it's essentially a creative outlet with instant gratification.

'Channel Maya Angelou who said 'People will forget what you did, and forget what you said, but will never forget how you made them feel!', and focus on how you want your guests to feel and remember your dinner party,' advises Gina Hardy, McQueens Flowers Head of Events. 

With the holiday season approaching, there's no better time to get involved with this trend. We've selected a few of our favorite tablescaping ideas to get you thinking about how you might dress your Christmas table later this month. 

1. Look to nature

Tablescaping

Photography/Chris Everard

(Image credit: Future)

Christmas foliage is wonderful anywhere in the home, and will add a fresh and lively dimension to your dinner table.

‘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. '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 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 desire height and depth.

Gina Hardy notes that 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.

2. Opt for elegance 

Tablescaping elegance

Photography/Paul Raeside

(Image credit: Future)

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 centrepiece or lighting make a huge difference in the overall look.

Structural glasses with a metallic tint, work wonderfully for the festive season, and setting out the set (champagne, wine and water) to take your guests through dinner elevates the setting to restaurant level. Similarly, rather than relying on your everyday knives and forks, set out cutlery which 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.

3. Choose a color scheme 

Tablescaping color

Photography/Emma Lee

(Image credit: Future)

'I like to steer clear of white plates,' muses interior designer Penny Morrison. 'Why choose something so plain when hand-painted ceramic tableware can instantly add a beautiful artisanal feel to your set up?' 

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 setting, flatware, linens, glassware and any centerpieces or floral arrangements. Just try and stick to like shades to keep the look chic.

4. Inject some personality

Tablescaping personality

Photography/Laura Edwards

(Image credit: Future)

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 colours and patterns across linens and centrepieces. '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 colours like blues and pinks will be more prominent,' says Alice Naylor-Leyland, founder of Mrs. Alice. '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.’

5. Make an everlasting impression

Tablescaping Kitten Grayson

(Image credit: Kitty Grayson Flowers)

Dried flowers 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. '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.’

6. Add some whimsy 

Tablescaping whimsy

Photography/Simon Bevan

(Image credit: Future)

Whether or not you have children in your home, Christmas is the ideal time to have a play. Remember, 'you don’t need a lot to make a statement,' notes Georgie Evans, MD at the Wedding Present Company. 'Just consider your colours, 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 a thoughtful and unexpected gift to your guests.

7. Consider textures

Tablescaping textures

Photography/Emma Lee

(Image credit: Future)

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.

8. Powerful and personal

Tablescaping Fiona Leahy

(Image credit: Fiona Leahy)

Christmas is often about decadence, and this is a great source of ideas for creating a festive tablescape. ‘I take inspiration from dark winter florals and rich berries and build the table from there using super cosy colours like dark forest green and burgundy,' says tastemaker Fiona Leahy.

If you're going all out, why not look towards elaborate personalization for your guests, too. 'I’m a sucker for personalisation because I think it makes those around the table feel special, but also because you can often gift the personalised item to your guest to take away with them,' says Lisa Mehydene, founder of edit58

'Things I’ve done include personalised napkins and name cards. But one of my favourite ways to personalise a table is to have guest’s name or initials on their glass. I’d choose festive colours for the letters to make it feel Christmassy.'

9. Create height

Tablescaping height

Photography/Adrian Briscoe

(Image credit: Future)

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 beverage anyway. Dot the center of the table with floral arrangement 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.

10. Make less mean more 

Tablescaping less

Stylist/ByChenai Events

(Image credit: Wedding Present Co)

11. Play with pattern

Tablescaping Penny Morrison

(Image credit: Penny Morrison)

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 table cloth – for less formal dining I have a large selection of patterned tablecloths, and use our coloured wicker table mats over them, and then play with various glass candlesticks and pale-coloured candles, mixed in with coloured water glasses. I have several sets of china so use ones that compliment or match whatever tablecloth I am using.'

12. Work with the season 

Tablescaping season

Photography/Emma Lee

(Image credit: Future)

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 colours, 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.

By being discerning with what you place on your table, you can make a little go an awfully long way.

This pastel look showcases how pretty candlesticks with shapely candles creates an easy but effective lighting element, with the glassware simply more tinted glass pieces. 

With flowers, too, you can do a lot with a little. 'Never underestimate the value of bud vases,' advises Georgie Evans, MD at the Wedding Present Company. 'Our absolute go-to for any tablescape. Fill with cut flowers from the garden or even herbs and greenery. Scattered along a table they make a huge impact for very little effort.'

13. Make it monochrome 

Tablescaping monochrome

Photography/Emma Lee

(Image credit: Future)

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.

14. Make everyday special 

Tablescaping everyday

Photography/Carolyn Barber

(Image credit: Future)

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 your appreciate every meal more. 

Take note from presenter and columnist Laura Jackson who explored this during lockdown, 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 glamour 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 place what 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.