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Outdoor table setting with candles and foliage spread along the centre.
Tablescaping is more than setting a table – it’s setting a scene. Here’s how to master the art in time for the holiday season.

How to create the perfect tablescape

Setting a table to create an atmosphere is an artform, and one that’s experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Curating linens, flowers, cutlery, candles and crockery creates an atmosphere, setting the scene for a magical dinner party.

Tablescaping is also a great way to convey to your guests that you’ve made an effort for them. Whether you’re hosting a gourmet meal or a low-key, picnic-inspired gathering, the attention to detail will shine through, creating a sense of occasion. Ready to get started? We’re sharing six expert tips and tablescaping ideas to master this trend in time for the holiday season.

1. Choose a theme

“Always start with a colour or theme,” says stylist Sharon Begg. “Look at inspiration platforms such as Pinterest for ideas if you have trouble visualising or need some inspiration on tying your theme together.”

Your design theme can be inspired by the occasion – a modern Christmas table setting, for example – or by table décor elements like fresh seasonal flowers or your favourite side plates.

Seek simplicity when setting the table, even if you’re going for a quirky mix-and-match look. For example, if your plates or table linens are heavily patterned, keep the rest of the table neutral or pull a colour from that pattern for accent pieces.

Tip: Reusing and upcycling items you already have is a good way to save money when tablescaping. “Consider if you can re-use items you already have by updating them, like using spray paint to change colours or adding ribbon or twine. Scour outdoor spaces for branches and botanical objects,” says Sharon.

Blue and purple crackers sit on an outdoor table amongst red and yellow glass vases.

2. Select the right table linen

“A must-have for me is something soft and textural, like a linen napkin or a tablecloth,” says stylist Samantha Pointon. “This is a great way to break up all the cold, hard shapes from the table and the plates, and introduce some movement and texture; it's also practical.”

An elegant white or neutral-toned tablecloth is a fail-safe blank canvas on which you can build colour for table settings. And don’t be afraid to think outside the box when gathering your tablescaping supplies. “Be resourceful – [consider] a painter’s drop sheet, a roll of hessian or fabric by the metre,” says Sharon.

Tip: Always iron the tablecloth first (being careful of any plastic components), as your tableware (including crockery, cutlery, glasses and décor) will look and sit better on a flat surface.

Build on your colour scheme and add interest with napkins or a runner. “Something as simple as a decorative paper table runner can be cost effective and add colour,” says Sharon,

Tip: A roll of wrapping paper folded in half makes for an eye-catching and budget-friendly table setting idea.

Napkins are a must-have and can be colourful or plain. They look at their best when presented in an interesting way. “A favourite of mine is tying [napkins] in a knot and adding dried fruit,” says Sharon.

A light mauve linen napkin tied with a dried orange sits on a tablecloth.

3. Add a centrepiece to the dining table

“When it comes to centrepieces, it's important to mix practicality with style,” says Samantha. “You don't want your centrepiece too tall that guests can't see over it and, if you're serving food from the table, you don't want it to take up much room, either.”

A low-lying table runner is a great option, or a collection of smaller vases with flowers, so they can be easily rearranged to accommodate serving platters. Vary heights to create a layered effect – consider tall candles or a few elegant flowers or branches, which add height without taking up too much space.

Height aside, there are no rules, so let your creativity shine. “Foliage and flowers or fruit can either be playful or elegant, depending on your theme,” says Sharon.

For table setting designs that feature a stylish centrepiece, try spacing slender candles between bowls of lemons, nestling electric tealights amid fronds of foliage, or creating a series of little flower posies in small glass vases.

Tip: For a cost-effective outdoor table setting, fill two to three pots with blooms. This will provide long-lasting colour throughout the summer, and you can also easily grab them for a table centrepiece when friends drop by for a barbecue.

A glass water jug and cup sit next to a bowl of strawberries and blackberries, in front of flower pots on top of a wooden table.

4. Light up your dinner table

Ambient lighting is an essential part of creating a mood when setting the table and can be an integral element of your tablescape, especially with an outdoor setting. “For a long-lasting centrepiece that can be used throughout all your summer entertaining, candles are a great option, as they're not occasion-specific and don't expire like flowers,” says Samantha. Candlelight bouncing off glassware and cutlery sprinkles your table setting with magic, too.

Beyond the table, battery-operated candles in glass lanterns, outdoor lighting such as fairy and festoon lights, and solar garden stakes can all work to bathe the table and surrounding backyard in a gentle glow.

A festive, outdoor table setting at night time, set with candles and foliage.

5. Assemble the place settings

Here’s how to set a table correctly for a more formal dinner: Start with a placemat, add a dinner plate, then top with a salad plate, a soup bowl or both, depending on what food you’re serving. Position cutlery with forks on the left, knives and soup spoons on the right, in the order they will be used, from outside in. Wine and water glasses sit above the knives, and napkins typically go either under the forks or on top of the plates or bowls.

Even though these formal table-setting rules are universal, there’s still plenty of room to have a little fun. While white on white for plates and bowls is the most traditional presentation, you can also use the place settings to play with colour. The topmost plate or bowl should be the most colourful or most dramatically patterned.

Your table setting doesn’t need to be expensive – it doesn’t even need to match. Browse op shops for pretty vintage plates in different patterns but similar shades. Top the plate stack with a napkin in a complementary colour, or ones with interesting details such as embroidery or on-trend scalloped edges.

Tip: Try embroidering some napkins yourself for a truly personal touch.

6. Make your table setting special

Finish your table with tiny, thoughtful details that will charm your guests. “Handmade place settings are always a winner – a sprig of rosemary or olive leaves for a botanical theme, or a bauble with a handwritten place card for Christmas,” suggests Sharon. “Consider handwritten menus and homemade wrapped gifts (for example, jams, brownies or sauces) that double as a place setting.”

Once you’ve completed your tablescaping, stand back and take a look at the overall effect. Make sure it looks the way you want it to, but also that it’s practical, with room for guests to move and space for shared platters.

Tip: Want an easy way to jazz up your New Year’s Eve table setting or other night-time event? Try spray painting some craft stars gold or silver for instant pizzazz.

An outdoor table decorated with blue and white, paper baubles sit in front of a Christmas ham.

Looking for more advice and tips?

Check out our article on how to set up a Christmas table.

 

Photo Credit: Cath Muscat, Alex Reinders, Michelle Holden

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Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.