The trick to any successful tablescape is being true to your personal style – otherwise the whole thing feels ridiculous to both you and your guests. It’s important to offer comfort and a wonderful ambience, alongside a beautiful aesthetic.
For the latter, utilising layering through pattern, texture and height in the colours the best suit your style, occasion and décor are key.
Whether through pattern, height, texture or a combination, layering makes a huge impact to a successful table setting. I can lay a table that is looking a bit iffy, but suddenly the addition of flowers and candlelight brings it to life. Somewhat like decorating a room, adding lamps, cushions and so forth has a huge impact.
I would always recommend starting with a tablecloth as they have such a lovely impact but at the least, a placemat. This will add either colour, texture and/or pattern. If you are styling with a tablecloth, a woven placemat or co-ordinating – but not exactly matching – linen placemat work well as you are adding either another colour or texture to the mix. For example, a white tablecloth with green linen placemats or a patterned tablecloth with a block colour placemat. I find that placemats help to ground a setting and even if you are using a tablecloth, find that they make a big difference aesthetically. They are also likely to prevent spills on your tablecloth to reduce laundering.
Something I religiously use is a rattan charger. They are completely seasonless, able to be used time and time again, and add both height and texture. You can use these directly on to a table or tablecloth, should you wish, but adding colour underneath with a linen placemat looks fantastic. It’s my go-to.
Beyond the linens, add layers to your table with height. The key options here being candles and flowers or plants. Candlelight is at its best combining votives, different height tapers and lanterns around the room. What you want to avoid is having flowers and candles all at the same height which can feel flat. Rather, try to create a moving up and down line of interest down the centre of the table. Other imaginative ways to add height to a table can include adding decoration to the centre of place settings, such as fruit decoration, or by folding napkins in different ways, such as rolling. Also, chargers!
The obvious ways to add texture to a table are woven pieces but pattern, colour and different finishes – whatever the item – really help. For example, patterned or rippled glassware adds a lot of texture, as does wooden or coloured cutlery and using different materials for your decoration – be it rattan, glass, paper, flowers/foliage and so forth.
Add texture in your choice of linens with ruffles and pattern. Pure linen table linens are always the most elegant. Linen also release stains much more easily than other fibres and so I find they have a better cost-per-use, as well as being more long-lasting as a fibre. Further, linen is one of the most sustainable materials available.
Specific Tips for Christmas Decorating
I think fruit is an underutilised table decoration. Sustainable, easy to source and beautiful, as well as being very decorative and rich in colour.
Why not slice into a clementine or fig as a placename holder? You could also place fruit, nuts or foiled chocolates on small pedestal bowls as decoration. Elevate a garland with pomegranates, clementines and cinnamon sticks.
Velvet ribbons are not for everyone but tying these around napkins can be done in a contemporary way and is a great way to tie in colours from other parts of the table.
Personalisation is especially lovely on a Christmas table. You could wrap a small gift for each person at the table or have linens monogrammed. Another option is to gift a small bauble also used as table decoration as a keepsake for guests.
Candlelight is so important. I like candlelight at three levels – votives, taller taper or dinner candles plus lanterns around the room. Keep them unscented to allow the food to take centre stage.
Flowers or foliage make a huge impact to the centre of a table. Either ask your florist to create a centrepiece in a bowl you may have, or you could buy some smaller potted poinsettias. One of my most favourite Christmas floral décor are paper whites potted with moss to cover the soil. It is beautifully scented with lots of texture. Bud vases are wonderful as you don’t need many stems but it allows you to spread the florals easily down the table, also allowing for food to be placed down.
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