Experience

EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT TABLESCAPING

Your Christmas dinner will never be the same again

23.11.2020

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Usually, I would have no business with tablescaping. Perhaps it’s because I can’t – or won’t – cook. Coordinating a single serving of beans on toast is stressful enough for me, so I’m unlikely to be hosting any lavish dinner parties. But in the spirit of having a nice Christmas, I decided to try it. Briefly, I became addicted to creating extravagant tablescapes for imaginary events attended by imaginary guests with imaginary dietary requirements on the internet – I learnt everything and regret nothing.

Essentially, tablescaping is just setting a table with the wit and enthusiasm typically reserved for planning an outfit. People – often those who plaster their seemingly enviable existences all over Instagram – do it throughout the year, but there’s no better time to start than the festive month of December.

As I understand it, a decent tablescape consists of the following things: a table; a vase, fabric; crockery; cutlery; glassware; candles; an organic element; a miscellaneous object. 

wHY ARE YOU SPECIFYING the table – is that not obvious?

I specify tables here because, just as there are young men in our society navigating sleep without a bedframe, there will be someone somewhere insistent that you can have a tablescape on your lap. You can’t – at least not when the trend is in its nascent stages (though I would be curious to see someone make do with an offcut of fabric and a tealight resting on their knee). It’s the formality of the table itself that distinguishes a tablescape from other eating arrangements – particularly those where crumbs linger in sheets and we’re ultimately more consumed by what we’re watching than what we’re eating.

WHAT SORT OF FABRIC?

The fabric fraction of a tablescape tends to be a tablecloth, but you might go so far as to bring napkins into the fold as well. A tablecloth is a tablescape’s base layer – its foundation. Being as picky about it as the one you put on your face is part of the fun, but the weight and wonder of linen tablecloths – such as those by Soho Home and Summerill & Bishop – will always be a winner.

AREN'T CROCKERY and cutlery ALSO A BIT OBVIOUS?

Yes, crockery and cutlery are as obvious as each other – but they do deserve to be mentioned. After all, tablescapes are for eating from. This can prove difficult if there’s nothing to eat off or with. While removing a few plates from the dishwasher is perfectly acceptable for a basic table setting, the crockery in a tablescape should be selected with verve – think ceramics handmade by Carmen Boyd or something from the Jeremy Deller x Aries tableware collaboration. It’s the same with the cutlery.

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH GLASSWARE THEN?

Whether you plan on supplying bottles of vintage or tap water, glassware – or anything you can drink out of – is essential. You want glasses so gorgeous that you’d have to go into the kitchen and scream into an oven mitt if someone were to smash one, before emerging – smiling – with a dustpan and brush. Later, you’d be frantically typing ‘murano’ into eBay and hoping for the best.

are candles always necessary?

Admittedly, candlelight – the most romantic lighting there is – could feel a bit inappropriate if you’re dining with family. Maybe, however, you could charm your relatives into altering their wills under the flattering glow of a few Fairholmes on a tablescape – or at least into giving you a lift somewhere.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY 'AN ORGANIC ELEMENT'?

Flowers, basically – although pine is probably best for Christmas if you're a traditionalist. For fresh flowers, I recommend a bunch from Peckham-based SAGE. If you want something that can accompany you throughout an entire year of tablescaping, Appreciation Project specialise in the dried and preserved variety.

'miscellaneous object'?

The miscellaneous object of your tablescape is, well, miscellaneous. A Christmas tablescape has to have crackers though – sumptuous ones, ideally – or else you’ll look like the descendant of both Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch. Otherwise, your guests will probably be as beguiled by a few doilies from 510 Laundry as they will be by a beautiful beaded bottle from Sidai Designs.

ANYTHING ELSE?

Miscellany, in fact, is what keeps a tablescape idiosyncratic. Just as you don’t want your Christmas tree resembling those found in hotel lobbies, your tablescape shouldn’t look like it’s been transported directly from a department store. Have fun with it! If I can become an avid tablescaper, anyone can.

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