A perfect meal is about more than the quality, taste and smell of the food in front of you. As the adage goes, we eat with our eyes first. Arguably, the success of a dish lies in the tiniest of details found in the background – the juxtaposition of the plate against the table runner for that ultimate flat-lay photo. Or the backdrop of baubles that proves it is, indeed, a festive meal.
With the growing popularity of apps such as Instagram, tablescaping – setting up an attractive-looking table – has also gained traction. And with 2020 being the year of staying home, the process of laying decorative tables has been elevated into something of an art form. A search for #tablescape on Instagram turns up almost 1.3 million posts of beautiful, lavish and creatively set tables, while Pinterest is another rabbit hole of vintage napkin rings, rattan place mats, quirky candles and bold centrepieces.
Buy or rent tablescapes
It was this increase in interest that led Katie Watson Grant to launch Lavender & May in Dubai over the summer. The “tablescape-in-a-box” company aims to take the hassle out of hosting by providing customers with everything they need to set a stylish table – items that can be reused as desired.
Grant, who worked in luxury PR before turning to interior design, says the idea for the business came to her when she started decorating her home table during the pandemic. “Although setting up a table can seem frivolous to some, it’s an easy to way make the day feel special, especially when you’re not able to leave the house. It’s also intimate – there’s suddenly a focus on making memories around a well-decorated table.”
Grant says the UAE is filled with customers who have a taste for tablescaping. “There are groups on social media that are very active, asking about settings and props. People were already interested, but overwhelmed about where to begin. One of our Christmas looks sold out weeks ago, and it’s just picking up from there.”
Those not up to buying a tablescaping box can always rent one, too, from companies such as Tableau and Pick A Party. The former was launched in Dubai this year by Maysa Rawi Idilby and Rula Tayara. “It’s a bit like Rent the Runway, but for tables," says Idilby. "We send over everything you need for your table so you can set it up, and once you’re done, you send it back.”
Tableau was a year in the making, inspired by a Thanksgiving dinner Idilby hosted for 18 people last year. “You see all these pictures on Pinterest and want to recreate them. I ended up going to one or two shops and spending a fortune on things I wouldn’t use again, so an idea for rentable tableware just made sense,” she says.
Although the launch of the company was delayed owing to the pandemic, she says Covid-19 has only increased demand. “People want a pretty set-up to post on social media. They can’t do it in a big setting or extravagant manner any more, and the natural next step is to have a beautiful dining table. We love the idea of promoting intimate settings and small gatherings, and helping them create that Instagrammable moment.”
It isn’t only new companies offering tablescaping services, either. With large events – be it weddings or conferences – put on hold for a chunk of the year, event planning companies are also jumping on to the tablescaping bandwagon.
Fete Events, for example, branched out with Pick A Party this year. The luxury wing offers everything you need, from tableware and glassware to candles and accessories, delivered to your doorstep. “We have been executing tablescaping as part of larger events for years, says Mallika Singh, the brand's founder and creative head. "During Covid-19, there has been a demand for intimate events and table set-ups. Pick A Party simplifies the host’s job by taking away the hassle of setting it all up by yourself.”
The service offers 25 themes in four categories – Soiree, Rave, Riot and DIY – depending on the level of detail, floral design and table curation, with prices from Dh699. Some themes the team have put together so far include Rocking Reindeers (for Christmas), After Dark (for Halloween) and Peacock Paradise, with new tablescaping looks added each month.
As for what's trending in the world of tablescaping, Grant says it's all about going big right now. "Especially for Christmas, heavy, over-the-top decorations are huge. It's only Christmas once [a year], and with this year being quieter than usual, people are just going for it."
Her advice on creating a festive look is to use things you wouldn't normally place on a dining table, from Christmas trees and baubles to Nutcracker figurines. She's also seeing a penchant for colour, such as the rainbow trend, and materials such as rattan. "A top entertaining tip is to use place cards – they're so personal and welcoming, and will really make your guests feel special," says Grant.
Idilby says trends are cyclical when it comes to tablescaping, and vintage is making a comeback. "The notion of matching linens and tablecloths and using vintage plates is very in, as opposed to the minimal, modern look."
She advises those thinking of revamping their plain, old dining table, to think outside the box.
“Go around your house, your children’s room, look at that old shelf. You might find something whimsical you can place in the middle of the table to give it that extra dimension. Don’t be afraid to get creative and take risks. You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to create something beautiful, simply use different items from around your home.”
Set your own Christmas table
Katie Watson Grant of Lavender & May tells us how to spruce up the table to usher in more festive cheer, whether you're preparing for a gathering with friends and family, or a Christmas meal over Zoom.
The Ava: a luxe table set to impress
Combining sparkling gold and serene snow white tones, this tablescape creates a glowing winter wonderland look. The key is to layer a crisp white linen tablecloth, with gold-trimmed charger plates, and top them off with matching napkins. A clean look, this allows you to go bold with your centrepiece. I've placed an uneven number of mismatched gold trees sporadically down the middle of the table and padded it out with sleek gold candle sticks, large cream roses and gold ceramic stags. Don’t be afraid to make your centrepiece look busy – the busier the better – it’s Christmas!
The Noelle: for an intimate family dinner
This look is whimsical, full of fun and suitable for all ages. I’ve used a classic red and white tablecloth, but a plain red cloth or runner is also great. Layer white charger plates – plastic or melamine if you have children – and cotton napkins. I like to add an element of surprise to each setting with a small gift tied on to the napkin. Here, I’ve used ceramic star decorations and Christmas greenery. To stay with the whimsical theme, fold your napkins in different ways on each plate. For the centrepiece I've used fun Nutcrackers and mini Christmas trees.
The Willow: for a rustic dinner with friends
This look is warm and inviting, and perfect for entertaining close friends. I've put it together with wooden charger plates placed directly on to the table, plenty of greenery and candle blocks, because everything is better by candlelight! The garland is faux and can be used all year round; it’s hireable from small businesses such as @ivyandsilk. The napkins look like you’ve made a lot of effort, but are really simple. Lay your napkin flat and fold into four. Fold one corner across to meet the other, then bring it up to face you. Fold into three and voila! you have an angled pocket fold napkin. I've elevated the look with vintage gold bells and rustic garden twine.
The Harriet: for a large family
This is a quintessential Christmas look, with rattan, gold touches, tartan napkins and classic colours. This tablescape is also an evergreen year-round look, and you can just change the napkins depending on the season. Go with a luxury white tablecloth, beautiful rattan charger plates or placemats, gold candlesticks and small touches such as gold napkin rings and place card holders.
The Trayscape: table for one
Just because you’re not entertaining, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make Christmas special. Grab your favourite tray, a charger plate and your prettiest napkin. Don’t forget to add a small bud vase of flowers and a candle. There, you have your very own trayscape. Just add a Zoom call or a cozy movie on Netflix to complete the festive feel.