Tablescaping is the art of creating something elaborate and beautiful on the dining room table as part of a holiday or other celebratory meal. It involves crafting an entire theme that sets the mood for the event. The person making the tablescape uses multiple elements to bring the table to life to delight guests and make the meal even more special.
Tablescaping, while often formal, can be done for ordinary, informal meals as well. Regardless of its nature, tablescaping involves creating something welcoming and pleasing, yet functional. It pulls in multiple elements, from the table itself to the centerpiece to napkins and dinnerware to make a big impression.
Food Network’s chef and entertainment extraordinaire Sandra Lee coined the term “tablescape/tablescaping” in 2003, and both Lee and, separately, Martha Stewart, have made tablescaping an event in and of itself.
A Slate Trendsetting report dates Western tablescaping back to the late 18th century. Perhaps Martha Washington and other aristocratic wives celebrated the winning of the Revolutionary War with a feast and victory-themed tablescape.
It was initially an upper class trend that was soon emulated by a growing middle class as they attempted to fit in with the social elite. Today, tablescaping isn’t exclusive to the rich and famous. It is an activity for anyone who enjoys enriching a food-related event with elaborately crafted themes.
There’s a subtle yet powerful psychology to tablescaping that extends beyond the practical decorating of the table. The above-mentioned Slate report describes one of the values of these themed tables: they provide a touch of fantasy, allowing diners to fully immerse themselves in the entire experience for a bit of delightful escape from the mundane.
Tablescaping has a history. It has a psychology. It also has a life of its own, and it extends beyond the table, or at least the food-bearing table. Tablescaping has become a competitive event. Communities hold contests to raise money for local charities, and county fairs host tablescaping competitions for adults and youth. For example, 4-H clubs often hold tablescaping competitions.
Tablescaping Your Way
A tablescape is your creation. An extension of your personality and thoughts. It is a piece of yourself shared with your guests. There are general guidelines to creating a wonderfully landscaped table for your feast, but there are no hard and fast rules.
Tablescapes can be formal and an integral part of a holiday or other celebratory meal. For these occasions, tablescapes add elegance through a specific theme, well-placed items and objects, and minute details.
Tablescapes can also be informal. Created to spice up an ordinary dinner so that it doesn’t feel like yet one more tiring chore. You can tablescape to applaud little achievements, break up the blahs, or spark specific conversations around the family dinner table.
The process of creating your scene doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Think of this as a fun way to enhance the dining experience of the people you care about, be they guests or family.
More Tablescaping Tips
Follow these tips to begin creatively tablescaping::
- Brainstorm everything you can think of around your theme, even things that seem outlandish. Write down your thoughts. All of them!
- Use your brainstormed list to spark ideas, decide what will be your primary focus, and what will be accents.
- Consider color and hues, as they add to the theme in their own unique way.
- Materials matter, so be creative in what you use to enhance the setting.
- Don’t forget the feeling you want to evoke. Find items, little details, textures, and more to create that feeling.
- Get personal, creating name cards or even using photos for each guest.
- Encompass it all. The table itself, placemats, place settings, dinnerware, silverware, napkins, and more.
Themes are big, but it’s the small details that create a rich tablescape. Even the type of material you use to tie around your napkins can make an impact. House Beautiful advises that patterns and textures add layers of interest, so think about these too, rather than focusing solely on what items you are placing in your scene.
A tablescape enriches the experience of entertaining, whether formal or informal. Give yourself permission to create your idea of a perfect theme.
Potential Telescaping Pitfalls
It’s true that there are no rules for the tablescape itself. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all because that would create a chaotic mess. In other words, nothing but an eyesore that detracts from, rather than adds to, the feast. Remember, the ideal tablescape is created intentionally and welcomes guests to the table.
A way to maintain the integrity of the tablescape is to follow standard table setting rules. The Emily Post Institute provides place setting diagrams to make it easy to correctly place plates, glassware, and utensils.
There are slightly different rules for different types of settings, but these general table setting rules can help you keep your tablescape in top shape:
- Place the utensils in the order in which they’ll be used (salad forks on the outside of dinner forks, for example).
- Forks are placed on the left side of the plate, and knives and spoons are on the right.
- Knife blades should face the plate.
- Use the edge of the table for alignment and place all utensils one inch from the edge and the bottom of each piece even with each other.
Ensuring that your place settings are displayed properly will help you remember the most important thing that will be on your table: the food. Tablescapes enrich the experience, but the primary reason people gather at the table is to eat.
Your tablescape can be a delight to you as you create it and to your guests as they experience it. While it’s not edible, the tablescape is an integral part of your banquet. The tablescape might even be considered a spice, something that makes already-great food even more delectable.
Tablescaping is an art that is meant to be shared and appreciated. Your guests and your family will undoubtedly enjoy the scene you’ve crafted, and their delight will last far longer than the food itself.
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