How to Set a Beautiful Table: Stylist Tips and Tricks
I am thrilled that this is the fourth year of writing a post on beautiful tablescapes and, as in years past, I am honored to be joined this year by an incredibly talented group of designers and stylists who are sharing inspirational photos as well as tips and tricks for creating tablescapes at home - just in time for the upcoming holidays!
Lauren Sakalarios (@lalasaks) is one of the most colorful accounts I've come across. I love Lauren's beautiful, happy home, her daring use of color and her creative updates to super traditional pieces. Her collections are enviable (check out her milk glass collection on Instagram!) and I knew her tablescape wouldn't disappoint!
Pick the main element. Whenever I am thinking about my next tablescape, I always start by deciding on the main element and build my design from there. This might be a theme or object such as a color, a China pattern, a vintage tablecloth, or a pheasant soup tureen I found at an estate sale last year. With this particular tablescape, I knew the pheasant soup tureen and matching candle holders would be my main element and centerpiece. I then pulled coordinating colors from it, in this case green, to use in my placemats, candles, and glasses. For me, it’s all about layers and that extra special attention to detail.
Mix it up. When setting the table for a special occasion, don’t think you have to use your finest wedding China! Mix it up! I love mixing new and vintage. For this tablescape, I used bamboo edged melamine plates from SocietySocial, vintage Culver Canella glasses, and my mom’s green wine goblets and dessert cups. Don’t be afraid to mix paper or plastic pieces with vintage gold bamboo flatware or your grandmother’s crocheted tablecloth for example. These are the layers that create interest and adding something with sentimental value will make your guests feel most special and welcome.
Grocery store flowers. The majority of my tables all come together with a centerpiece of grocery store flowers. Unfortunately, where I live there is not a close farmer’s market or Trader Joe’s so, grocery store flowers it is! My secret to flower arranging is I always, always start with hydrangeas. Not only are they my absolute favorite flower, but their fullness and many blooms make the perfect base layer for flower arranging. Once, you have your base layer of hydrangeas, then starting adding in the other flowers of your choice. Roses and daisies are some of my favorite choices or whatever seasonal flowers they may have. The last thing I like to do is add something a little unexpected to my flower arrangements. For this table setting, I added pheasant feathers. I’ve also used faux butterflies, faux birds, billy balls and even candy canes in past arrangements. It’s always fun to add a little touch of whimsy.
CJ Swank (@cjswank_newyork) is a digital creator who previously worked as a Visual Arts Director for the State of Arizona, museums and galleries for over 30 years. She's now enjoying retirement and applying the principles of fine arts to her beautiful home in Upstate New York. To create her tablescape, she used her traditional Thanksgiving dishes in a pattern called Evesham by Royal Worcester which she began collecting in the early 80’s while living in England. The centerpiece is primarily leaves collected from her backyard - low cost and so lovely! If I could move myself into CJ's stunning home tomorrow, I would! It is so welcoming and perfectly styled.
Plan in advance! Keep a lookout at thrift shops, auctions, and antique stores all year long for linens, chargers, napkin rings, dishes and glasses, etc. Don’t wait until the day before to start planning your holiday table.
Mix high and low, smooth and rough! Contrasting textures bring out the best in everything. If you’re using fancy dishes, offset them with an informal floral arrangement, or bamboo silverware. Traditional American Thanksgiving dishes look great with chunky, hand-thrown tumblers made in Spain or Portugal. Add wicker placemats to fine linen, or elegant stemware to earthy, natural dishes.
Buy a color wheel if you’re not sure what colors go with one another in an interesting way. You can also check out the free one online at Adobe.com. Don’t be constrained by it, but it’s a good way to become unstuck if you’re not sure what colors go together in a way you wouldn’t have though of. Many designers use the 60-30-10 rule: primary, secondary, and accent color.
Don’t be afraid to mix patterns, too! Break up your sets and use them in new ways. Combine two or three different sets, and use them with contrasting linens. For instance, floral dishes look great with a checked fabrics. Antique transferware dishes look updated with a fresh pinstripe linen. Mix old with contemporary!
Paige Minear (@paigeminear) is a lifestyle and design blogger with a classic, preppy style and a love of monograms that runs deep! I so admire how she effortless mixing old and new and isn't afraid to really go for it with color! She's also got some fantastic tips in store for you.
I use flowers in smaller arrangements that can be used around the house after the event. I love to build mine in mint julep cups, it adds interest and allows you to use your mint julep cups for more than just mint juleps. A little Bar Keepers Friend will clean them up for you.
Use items you have in different ways. In these pictures I used a few Wedgwood Jasperware vases I have to hold small treats and even matches. I always try to find more than one use for things I own so I can use them more often.
If you do not find a tablecloth you love, have one made. Most table cloths are simple rectangle shapes and these are easy to have made. Make sure you dry clean it afterwards to keep it pristine. This is an old tablecloth I own and I always get compliments on it. I am definitely team make your own.
I prefer vintage napkins to new ones, they just were made better. This is a vintage set and I had an embroidery shop add a fun two color monogram to make them mine. I love them more than the new ones I own.
Paige Kontrafouris (@paigekontrafouris) was a new-to-me account this past year but when I saw her house it was mind blowing! She thrifts almost everything in her house and makes the uber-classic and traditional feel modern and fresh all over again. It's like stepping into a European villa. Even more mind blowing is how beautiful her house looks despite having two young children and a pet...I need her to teach me her ways! Give her account a visit - you won't be disappointed.
Find something with a unique color palette to build off of whether it be a unique table cloth or a dish ware set it makes for a great base. And thrift tip: thrift stores are usually filled with inexpensive curtain panels that may be to short for windows but they make great table cloths.
All throughout the year I collect vintage/ antique vessels because I love how you can make them work for any season and it's not holiday specific.
I used to stress that I needed to buy tons of flowers for a table setting and that quickly adds up. All the greenery and hydrangea on the table are clipped from my backyard.
Candles always make everything better I love how they set the mood so that is always my finishing touch to any table setting
I saved one of my favorite tips for last - this one is from Paige Minear:
Use all the pretty items, do not save your special pieces for a special time, use them all the time and love them while you do so. If they get chipped, they now have a fun story to share.
I love this sentiment and couldn't agree more. In the words of my sweet grandmother, "Use what you've got 'cause you can't take it with you."
Wishing you and your families a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving and happy tablescaping!