Learn how to create a tablescape with these step-by-step instructions! Tablescapes are the perfect way to decorate and celebrate for memorable occasions.
I’ve shared many tablescapes over the years for different
Learn How to Create a Tablescape
When I started my business back in 2010, it was with the intention of becoming an event planner. That quickly morphed into being a party stylist and creating dessert tables. It was something I loved doing! Over the years my business has further evolved to encompass all things homemaking, and I still love to pull from my experiences during those early years to create beautiful events at home.
What is a Tablescape?
Before blogging, I will be completely honest that I created tablescapes without ever using the term. A tablescape is simply a blanket term that combines your table’s centerpiece and place settings, or the overall decoration of your table.
Vignette vs. Tablescape?
Some people consider them the same thing, but I look at them as separate things and style them accordingly. I’m not sure if this is “officially” correct.
To me, a vignette is typically a small tabletop decorating scene and a tablescape is a dining table display that includes a centerpiece and place settings (so potentially multiple vignettes).
For example, in your dining room, you would create a tablescape on your table and a vignette on your sideboard/buffet.
Why Would I Create a Tablescape?
A tablescape is meant to elevate an entertaining experience. It’s a way to show your guests that you care about them and that the meal is special. This doesn’t have to be something that you spend a ton of money on or even any money at all! Some of the prettiest tablescapes I’ve ever seen have included flowers picked from the yard and everyday dishes.
When Should I Create a Tablescape?
- For a Holiday
- For a Specific Celebration: birthday, anniversary, shower, etc.
- Any time you want!
Where Do You Put the Food in a Tablescape?
I get this question on social media from time-to-time, typically from men. It’s a valid concern that my husband shares, haha!
A good analogy is to compare some of the tablescapes that bloggers create to runway fashion. It’s a bit over the top and meant to inspire. You take bits and pieces to apply to actual life.
I’d say that my tablescapes have been a mix. Some have been over the top/for inspiration only and you’d never be able to actually eat there, but we have certainly sat down to meals at some of them as well.
For the purposes of this post I’m explaining how to create a tablescape that you can actually eat at, but feel free to have fun and create one for decorative purposes, too!
One thing I’ve done in the past is to decorate a tablescape for the season and then remove enough décor to place food when the actual event occurs.
How to Create a Tablescape Step-By-Step
Find Your Inspiration
The first step is to find your inspiration. When I’ve posted my tablescapes previously, my intention was for you to find those on Pinterest or Instagram and use them for this step!
With that being said, inspiration doesn’t have to come from a blogger or magazine. You can be inspired by the season, a holiday, a place (like when I created a tablescape inspired by Ireland!), or a color/pattern. Inspiration is such an intangible thing, but you’ll know the feeling when it comes!
Sometimes an item will jump out at you while shopping and you’ll create a tablescape around it. Other times you’ll feel drawn to a flower and that will set the color scheme for the entire thing!
Gather Your Materials
No matter what you choose, it’s best to go into creating a tablescape with a plan of which materials you use. That way you aren’t having to venture out for things part way through (can you tell that’s been me in the past?).
Here’s some ideas of basic things you may want to incorporate:
- Basics: Dishes, Silverware, Glasses, Napkins, Runner/Tablecloth
- Décor: Candlesticks, Candles, Glassware, Serveware
- Flowers/Branches: Can be Faux or Natural!
You may already have the majority of things on hand, which I highly encourage! I don’t believe you need to go out and purchase new things every time you entertain. If you do make a purchase, choose something versatile you can use time after time.
Consider Your Event
How many guests do you have? What will you be serving? If it’s a large spread, you’ll want to leave room for dishes on the table and on your buffet or sideboard. You can also consider serving at your kitchen counter buffet style. Regardless, this is something you’ll want to consider.
How to Create a Tablescape Using Food as Part of Your Display
I mentioned that my business once included styling dessert tables, and I’m still a huge fan of the concept! Food serving double duty as décor is one of my favorite entertaining strategies. The principles I’m about to share work for things like candles or food.
Start With a Clean and Uncluttered Surface
You aren’t going to take everything off again to clean, so make sure to clean off your surface before you begin! I think it also helps to get the creative juices flowing when you start with a clean slate.
Choose Your Base
Before you begin, choose a tablecloth, runner, or whatever will lay the base or foundation for creating your tablescape. Will you be using placemats? Plan your base.
It can be fun to think off-the-beaten-path for this or really any elements of creating a tablescape. One of my favorite things to use as a runner is kraft paper, which guests can then write on. We love to do this on Thanksgiving! I’ve also seen people use blankets and scarves, which is a fun trick. Be creative!
If you’re using cloth of any kind, make sure to steam or iron the piece smooth. You wouldn’t want wrinkles to distract from the rest of your pretty display.
Compile Your Centerpiece
I create the centerpiece first. It may be that others do it differently, but this is how I’ve always done it! I begin with candlesticks, vases, and any serveware that needs to fit on the table, like platters or other dishes (like cakestands!). Even if the food isn’t made yet, that way you know there will be room for it when the time comes.
I like to vary the height of decor throughout the tablescape, but there are a couple of things that I keep in mind while I’m entertaining.
Things to Keep In Mind when Creating a Centerpiece:
- Conversation: You usually don’t want to create displays that are so tall that your guests can’t see other people right next to them at the table.
- Chandelier height: Along the same lines, I try to keep the décor at the center of the table on the lower end below the chandelier. This can be a great place for the platter of your main dish!
- I generally put the tallest candles and florals closer to the heads of the table, but I offset them from each other. For example, for those sitting at the opposite heads of the table, the floral arrangements will both be to their right hands, so opposite sides and not in a visual straight line.
- Texture: I like to vary texture throughout my tablescapes. I do this with natural elements such as the branches and floral, and even through things like a woven runner or rattan chargers.
- Rule of Threes: this is the design principle that arrangements of threes are the most visually appealing. It’s true! I love to use three candleholders, three different types of flowers, three colors etc.
After placing the larger items, I sometimes go through and tuck greens or floral branches throughout the centerpiece. I also sometimes “scatter” votive glasses (in safe, non-flammable spots) to break up the symmetry.
Create Your Place Settings
This is where your guests actually sit to eat and converse, so create your place settings thoughtfully. Include things you’ll actually need for the food you’re serving, like a soup bowl if you’re serving soup or stew.
Begin with your charger or placemat, then plate. From there add any additional items like I mentioned above. I often place napkins on top of the plates with a napkin ring and use a casual utensil arrangement. Other times I’ve wrapped my utensils in the napkin.
Embellishments and Personalization
It’s always a nice touch to include something that makes your guest feel special, like a sweet place tag or some other token.
Some quick favor ideas for tablescapes:
- For Easter, I’ve filled little mason jars with some moss and candy eggs to make a little nest as a favor.
- For Thanksgiving one year I made easy “Pilgrim Hat” cookies with Reese’s cups, frosting, and vanilla wafers and put them at each place.
- For Christmas you can tie a name tag to a pretty glass ornament for each place setting.
Guests love little gifts along these lines! It makes your table especially memorable and fun.
Though not necessary, you can also go above and beyond and add a little something to your chairs. I’ve tied ribbons to my chairs in the past, wrapped lace sashes around them, and even tied a small Christmas wreath to the back.
I hope that these tips are helpful, and you feel confident you now know how to create a tablescape! I can’t wait to see what this inspires you to create.
This might be a silly question but if I’m hosting an event with catered meals that are plated and I have the plates set out on the tablescape, how does the caterer serve food? Do they clear the plates after guests sit? Or use a 2nd set of plates? For large events like weddings, that seems really obtrusive/cost prohibitive.
This post is really about small family tablescapes for your home, not necessarily weddings or larger formal events. It depends on the event, but my experience has been that they clear the plates and replace them. However, you could always just leave the plates off of the table until the meal begins, there’s no “rule” saying there MUST be plates on the table. 😉
Thanks for sharing all of the great tips and ideas! I enjoyed reading what goes into each step and the ideas you shared. I love doing tablescapes when we entertain and am always in the hunt for fun dishes and ideas!
I sometimes have a pretty basket on hand for people to put their napkin ring and favor. I’ll pull out the napkin rings and place the basket near the front door, so people can grab their favor on their way out.
This is such a great idea, Mary Jo! Thank you for sharing that tip.
Love your designs.
Thank you, Joan!
Thanks so much for clarifying the purpose or meaning of a tablescape.
I have enjoyed all great ideas on all those decor blogs. What bothers me,
if I have it set up for the season, will it become dusty? I remember one
time, I stopped to visit my elder aunt, she had her table set up. I had to
say, no I am not staying for dinner, She said oh no no…. I thought that was
strange. Yet, it was gorgeous. I loved all those decor, napkin rings, or nameplates. My question what do we do with them when it comes to dinner time. Thanks again for sharing. Love your tablescapes. Hope to hear from you soon.
Hi, Cindy! If you left the tablescape up for the entire season, you’d definitely have to dust from time to time and clean the plates, glasses, etc. before eating. A lot of work, I know! You have to decide if that’s worth it to you. What I often do is leave an abbreviated version of the centerpiece up for the season, which is much easier to remove to clean, and then add on to it for the actual event.
During the meal guests usually set their napkin ring, tags, etc. to the side. I’ve actually never noticed it to be a problem, so I had to stop to think about it! We have a large table, though, so I suppose that could be more tricky with a smaller table.