Tablescaping: How to set your table this summer
Dust off your fancy plates and polish your silverware, dining parties are once again on the horizon! So, it is no coincidence that a trend for elaborate table setting – think candelabras, crystal and creative themes – has emerged. And it is not just relegated to dinner parties or stuffy dining rooms, this trend simply requires passion and conviviality and an Instagram feed…
A good place to start for some inspiration is stylist Paula Sutton. She takes the simple approach of using whatever you have at hand. She recently advised Vogue readers that if you are going to invest… “The linens are where you want to spend your money.” Linens provide the backdrop for all the other tableware co-stars. Also, after the food, napkins are the most important tactile experience (hands and lips will thank you).
Paula also loves a good pillow and picnic blanket. These fashion finds further add to the visual interest of your feast. Her gorgeously illustrated book Hill House Living is coming out this autumn (available for pre-order, now), but you can survey her simple, delight-filled table-setting philosophy on her popular Instagram @hillhousevintage.
Take inspiration from one of the first celebrity florists at Constance Spry and The Fashion for Flowers summer exhibition at the Garden Museum, who liked to populate an elaborate candle stand with wild flowers. For larger tables you may inspired by shows like Netflix’s The Big Flower Fight or HBO Max’s Full Bloom and the flower-flashes of street-bombing florist Lewis Miller by making a DIY floral focal sculpture in and around your table.
Table setting is the one place where kitsch and elegance both carry equal weight for creating a lasting impression. Most professional table setters will advise you start with a theme but all agree that it shouldn’t be matchy-matchy. Paula Sutton likes to base hers on a tonal colour palette. Competitive ‘table-scaping’, as seen in this year’s entertaining documentary Set!, encompasses every theme under the sun from taxidermy, to tropical motifs and even Egyptology.
Like a good dog show, table setting is serious business. The competition circuit is fierce, including the ‘Olympics of Table Setting’ at the Orange County Fair (the event featured in Set!). One professional table-setter describes the art as akin to good manners, “The point of having your table set in such a fashion is to take all stress away from people.”
My philosophy is it should also take the stress away from the host. Upcycle, borrow, re-use, dust off, and make it fun for yourself. Unlike the 1920s, -50s or -80s, the 2021 table is not meant to be a symbol of your affluence. This time around, it is a reflection of your authentic self and your imagination. Tablescaping has become a creative outlet during the pandemic, it can be conducted outdoors (as well as on Instagram) and should be an expression of your (good?) taste.
Speaking of taste… we eat with our eyes. Your table setting should add to the excitement of the impending feast. Which may be why chef and restauranteur, Yotem Ottolenghi, has named his new, 100-piece, tableware collection The Feast. It includes glasses, cutlery, serving bowls and stands, and eight sizes of plates. Ottolenghi’s love of vegetables and the Mediterranean is evident in the motifs and colours chosen by Italian artist Ivo Bisignano: aqua and deep navy, mustard, pink and neutral black and cream form the foundation of the collection. Bisignano, also used stylized Os (for Ottolenghi) to give the collection its personality. And, in 2021’s table-setting trend, the expression of your personality is the only hard-and-fast rule.
Alexia Economou is a design and culture journalist, and regular TNMA contributor @thedesignfeedTW
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