How to create a beautiful dinner setting

Emilee Geist

No matter how minimal or extravagant your style, tablescaping will take your future dinner parties to the next level: Rowan Blossom
No matter how minimal or extravagant your style, tablescaping will take your future dinner parties to the next level: Rowan Blossom

Setting the table has become a much more stylised affair and is no longer only about fancy napkins. Instead tables are brought to life with bouquets, matching tableware, colourful glassware and decorative table cloths which we’ve all been seeing all over our Instagram feeds lately.

As hosting a dinner party now goes beyond just tucking into plates of food and serving up a bottle of wine to your guests, there’s an art to it, coined tablescaping.

While this has long been something you’ll see at weddings and other big events, it’s now emerging into our homes, albeit on a slightly smaller scale.

Elaborate, colourful and extravagant designs with colour schemes and styling details through napkins, candles and cutlery take dinnertime to a whole new realm.

In a way it’s like art, creating something beautiful from nothing, and making a stylish table setting for your next dinner party doesn’t need to be difficult.

We’ve created a step-by-step guide to tablescaping at home, with help from the experts so you can have the most eye-catching dinner party yet.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Pick a theme

Floral stylist and author of Living with flowers, Rowan Blossom recommends picking a theme or colour palette as a starting point.

“It helps to focus your vision and creativity. I also think it helps ensure you have an aesthetic continuity throughout your tablescape,” she says, citing seasonal florals and nature as an endless source of inspiration.

There’s no shortage of ideas online either from Instagram to Pinterest. Some accounts we love include designer Matilda Goad for her scalloped decorative napkins, artist Luke Edward Hall for clashing stripes and al fresco dining and interior designer Fiona Leahy who uses shape, colour and layering to curate a table setting.

Rosanna Falconer, a brand consultant and co-founder of fashion networking platform FashMash, whose Instagram feed is full of whimsical tableware and place settings, revealed that she began creating tables three years ago as a New Year’s resolution to hold a dinner party monthly to introduce different friends and cook new dishes.

“When it comes to the overall theme and table, my favourites have had a simple colour palette with a quirky little detail from trinkets; I love turning to crafts for this, using hand-painted elements like pastel pumpkins for Halloween or glittery pine cones at Christmas,” she told The Independent.

Tablecloth

Every table setting has to start somewhere, beginning with a tablecloth.

Falconer’s advice to keep it simple. “I tend to begin with a white tablecloth – the blank canvas for the creativity on top.”

This La Redoute scenario plain coated cotton tablecloth (La Redoute, £20) is simple and practical, as it’s water-resistant, which will come in handy if later on in the evening drinks get spilt.

Start simple with a plain white table cloth (La Redoute)
Start simple with a plain white table cloth (La Redoute)

Blossom says H&M Home as her favourite place to pick up affordable, high-quality table linen.

This linen tablecloth is easy to add colour to (H&M)
This linen tablecloth is easy to add colour to (H&M)

This washed linen tablecloth (H&M, £34.99) is a great starting piece that is also available in khaki, grey and beige if you want to add a bit of colour.

Centrepieces

Traditionally centrepieces are often floral bouquets, and Blossom recommends using dahlias, roses and sweet peas that come in a variety of colours, from ruby red to coral, candy pink, poppy orange and zesty lemon yellow, for a vivid finish.

“These colours combined would create a joyful bounty of colour and blooms,” she says.

However, if these are not in season, Falconer suggests making a runner from wrapping paper, excess wallpaper or offcuts of fabric – as guests won’t see the edges you won’t need to hem them either.

“Ribbon runners can be exquisite: first, select your colour palette for the ribbon lengths, five to nine ribbons work well in mixed widths. Place each ribbon down using double-sided tape to fix in place. Keep the white space between each ribbon regular (I keep a 1cm space between each ribbon),” adds Falconer.

If you want to buy a ready-made runner, this chevron woven cotton table runner (John Lewis & Partners, £14) will add hues of blue, which you can then match with plates and serving dishes.

A table runner is the easiest way to update your table without spending a fortune (John Lewis & Partners)
A table runner is the easiest way to update your table without spending a fortune (John Lewis & Partners)

The cotton material is made with the Better Cotton Initiative, a non-profit organisation that works to make global cotton production better for the farmers, who receive better training on caring for the natural habitats it is grown in and reduce the use of harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process.

“Don’t be afraid of colour – it brings so much joy and personality,” says Falconer.

“Monochrome always works well – think shades of green from eau de nil to jade. If you’re feeling more adventurous, warm and cool colours contrast beautifully like a deep magenta with a punchy turquoise.”

We love the vibrancy of this cotton plain purple table runner (Homescapes, £7.99) that will pair nicely with gold cutlery and glassware.

Inject colour and vibrancy onto your table with a bold runner (Homescapes)
Inject colour and vibrancy onto your table with a bold runner (Homescapes)

It instantly adds a splash of colour as well as texture with its slightly ribbed design. Plus, it’s machine washable, so you won’t need to worry about inevitable spillages.

Tableware

Tablescaping doesn’t mean you have to rush out and restock all your kitchen cabinets, instead use what you have a build from, only adding what you need.

Falconer often uses her white plates as the base plate, before adding more decorative ones on top.

“To mix it up, I love buying mixed sets of vintage china from eBay. On the high street, I love Anthropologie for quirky crockery and cutlery and then just scouting out charity shops – my local ones have so much bric-a-brac after neighbours’ cupboard clear-outs over lockdown.”

We love this hiro side plate (Anthropologie, £14), made from glazed porcelain. Layer it over a plate that matches a shade in it to keep your table looking consistent, such as this strimmig plate (Ikea, £2.50)

With smaller plates, you can embrace more decadent designs without overwhelming the table (Anthropologie)
With smaller plates, you can embrace more decadent designs without overwhelming the table (Anthropologie)

Falconer also recommends Maison Margaux LTD, a luxury tableware shop that allows you to rent pieces that would be very costly to buy them outright.

From dinner sets, glassware, accessories and flatware, all you need to do is select a date, details how many people you’re serving and submit an enquiry for what pieces are available to borrow.

It’s pricier than buying a set on the high street but will make your dinner much more special, particularly if it’s for a one-off occasion such as a socially distant wedding party.

We were drawn to this red caltagirone dinner plate (Maison Margaux LTD, £9.95 per plate) whose design has been inspired by Sicily.

Instead of buying expensive dinner sets, rent them instead (Maison Margaux LTD)
Instead of buying expensive dinner sets, rent them instead (Maison Margaux LTD)

It has been free hand-painted, making each ceramic plate unique, and we’ll be using it for a burrata salad, surrounded by fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and mountains of fresh bread.

Blossom recommends shopping at Dunelm for big charger plates – ones used for decoration – which you can double up as placemats or for serving canapés on.

This plain gold charger plate (Dunelm, £1) has foil finish and can be used to add a luxury feel while being inexpensive.

A gold charger plate adds a luxurious feel to the evening (Dunelm)
A gold charger plate adds a luxurious feel to the evening (Dunelm)

Come Christmas time, you’ll be able to use them with wine red napkins and accompanying gold crackers too.

Glassware

According to Blossom, Ikea is her go-to for lookalike crystal tumblers as they’re versatile and can be used as a water glass, vase or even tea light holder.

These smariska glasses (Ikea, 75p) are perfect if you’re working with a budget, but want glassware that you can easily reuse day-to-day.

Inexpensive tumblers can double up as tea light holder or small vases (Ikea)
Inexpensive tumblers can double up as tea light holder or small vases (Ikea)

“It’s all about being thrifty, using what you already have and adding playful cheap and cheerful touches when needed,” she says.

Or for an art-deco touch, try these agata gold wine glasses set of four (Oliver Bonas, £34).

Make sure your next drink is servied in one of these art-deco inspired glasses (Oliver Bonas)
Make sure your next drink is servied in one of these art-deco inspired glasses (Oliver Bonas)

They’re colourful but will tie into a minimal or extravagant table design.

Cutlery

When tucking into your feast, this noya matte metallic cutlery 16 pieces (Sklum, £39.38) adds an air of decadence and is also available in pink gold and silver too.

Small detailing such as cutlery is an easy way to elevate your dining decorations (Sklum)
Small detailing such as cutlery is an easy way to elevate your dining decorations (Sklum)

Made from stainless steel, they’ll also make everyday dinners feel a touch more luxurious.

Embrace colour with this rainbow cutlery set (Wayfair)
Embrace colour with this rainbow cutlery set (Wayfair)

If your theme is bold colours and bright patterns, opt for this baita 24 piece cutlery set (Wayfair, £43.99) that offers a rainbow of shades to your dinner table.

Finishing touche

While tempting, be careful not to overwhelm a table when tablescaping by adding too many embellishments. “Always ensure your guests have enough space to enjoy eating at the table – there’s nothing worse than the table being so heavily decorated with trinkets that the guests’ place setting is cramped or uncomfortable,” says Blossom

Should you be dining al fresco, eating dinner and drinking wine by candlelight during the summer months is a treat.

Candlesticks are re-emerging trend, except instead of the classic cream shades, there’s now pastel colours and quirky designs to shop from.

These sea green dinner candles (Nordic House, £8 for £6) are slim, minimal but still colourful so won’t get in the way of chatting to guests.

Light up the table, literally, with a set of pastel candlesticks (Nordic House)
Light up the table, literally, with a set of pastel candlesticks (Nordic House)

For an array of multi-coloured hues, we love this the purples pack of beeswax candles (Matilda Goad, £42).

Play with different hues in this multi-coloured set (Matilda Goad)
Play with different hues in this multi-coloured set (Matilda Goad)

They have a burning time of eight hours and have a chalky, ribbed design that makes for the perfect finishing touch.

If you’re more of a minimalist, but want to embark on the trend but are a little unsure, follow Blossom’s final piece of advice for those wanting to start tablescaping: “Ultimately you are creating a beautiful space for people to sit down at and enjoy a meal together, and while of course you want it to visually be a feast, it should still maintain a sort of serenity too.

“If in doubt, just stick with the essentials when it comes to dressing a gorgeous table – pretty linen, candlelight and of course flowers.”

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