Many a scroll through Instagram and Pinterest has afforded us scenes of envy-inducing dinner parties, for which a beautifully set tabletop is invariably the star of the show. Though table decorating has been popular for centuries, its modern-day moniker – tablescaping – is believed to have been coined in 2003 by American TV chef Sandra Lee. A portmanteau of table and landscaping, the term quite simply refers to arranging crockery, glassware and accessories in a decorative manner. What with the boom in social media throwing a spotlight on our living spaces, plus the great pause of 2020 putting a bigger emphasis on home dining, this trend for decorating (and photographing) your own artfully curated tabletop has mushroomed into something of a cultural phenomenon. So, where to begin? Whether you’re planning a special occasion or looking to elevate an everyday meal, we’re here to help with our best tablescaping ideas and inspiration.

A selection of striped crockery, patterned glassware and rattan underplates on a stone-style table.
White plates with a scalloped edge are laid on a stone-coloured table, with neutral accessories.

Tablescaping Ideas from Our Experts

Choose a Colour Palette

Just as you might begin designing a room by consulting a paint chart, or plan an outfit based on the shades that suit your complexion, the easiest way to make your tablescape look beautiful is by beginning with a cohesive colour palette. Here at OKA, “we're obsessed with colour and we're not shy when it comes to using it,” says our Co-Founder and Creative Director Sue Jones, who encourages taking a bolder approach to decorating. “The key is to be a bit daring and try unconventional combinations.”

While your pairings may be playful, we recommend keeping the quantity more subdued – when it comes to elegant table setting ideas, just two core colours are enough to create a balanced display. You can then introduce other shades in smaller doses, such as with accessories or flowers. For example, you might select a red tablecloth and pair that with blue crockery. These will then form the basis of your table setting. The rest of your table can either echo or complement these shades. If you’re struggling to settle on a hue, remember these wise words from Sue: “The best colour is your favourite colour.”

Layer Up Your Essentials

The secret to the perfect tablescape is all in the layering. Begin with a tablecloth as your base and build your display from there. For your crockery, follow the rule of three: start with an underplate or a placemat, then add a dinner plate and finish with a smaller plate or bowl for your starter. The top dish should be the one with the most character, as this will be stealing the spotlight from the others. Finish with cutlery on either side and add a napkin on top. Don’t forget water glasses, plus wine glasses if you’re serving alcohol.  

A minimalist room with plaster walls, a stone-coloured dining table and wooden dining chairs.
A wooden table is decorated with blue-and-white striped crockery, blue glassware and rattan accessories.

Get Mixing and Matching

When it comes to ideas for table settings, the magic is always in the mix. It’s all about pairing contrasting colours, textures and patterns together to create a display that feels creative yet cohesive ­– so don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone and try something a little different. “I quite like drama, so I’m often looking for ways to put things together that you wouldn’t normally expect,” explains Sue. “Sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t, but the important thing is to have fun with it.”

Indeed, the beauty of a table setting is that it is easily adaptable, so be bold with your decisions and reach for patterns that you may not otherwise choose. The key is to be conscious of scale and style. Look for designs that differ in size and print, but have at least one cohesive element, such as the colour palette, says Sue. “Mix up the scale of your prints for a real contrast; a small floral and a large stripe in complementary colours will look far more pleasing on the eye than two of the same design.”

As for texture, we recommend looking to underplates and napkins for a tactile twist. A simple rattan underplate or a linen napkin can work wonders when it comes to creating a layered and attractive tabletop ­– these more rustic materials add the perfect contrast to a glossy ceramic or glass.

Style Your Centrepiece

The biggest difference between tablescaping and a simple table setting is that the former also incorporates a centrepiece ­– a.k.a the star of the show. While you may have already had fun with your crockery and glassware choices, the centrepiece is where you can truly let your creativity shine. Even simple tablescaping ideas can incorporate a playful centrepiece – take floral table arrangements, for example. A vase with a few carefully chosen blooms, or bud vases paired with single stems, can make all the difference.

“When creating a centrepiece for your table, it’s important to think about height and shape,” adds Sophie Gammon, one of the experts behind our Interior Design Service. “A timeless shape to create is a triangle, with the tallest part of your centrepiece in the middle and then shorter pieces either side.” Remember to be careful of using anything too large or too high, as this will overwhelm the display and, most importantly of all, may obstruct diners’ views. “A more sociable shape is a wave; this can be created using three vases with shorter candles in between, creating an undulating effect,” the designer says. “Remember to include a mix of accessories, such as different sized vases, or tall candle holders paired with tea light holders. If you don't think you have the right vase, think outside the box and use a water tumbler. It’s all about being playful.”

Patterned tableware, twisted wine glasses and large hurricane lamp filled with red berries sit on a tabletop.
Red velvet chairs are pulled up to a wooden rectangular dining table, decorated with festive accessories.

Keep it Seasonal

If you’re on the hunt for tablescaping inspiration, let the time of year influence your choices. You may be setting the table for a specific occasion, such as Easter or Christmas (in which case, your theme is decided) or you may simply be gathering to enjoy one another’s company. Whatever the reason, seasons can play a role – large or small – in your decorating decisions. “One of the things that I look forward to in the change of season is the change in what we eat,” says Sue, “and to mark a new season, I'll also switch my glasses, plates and table linen.” This may mean reaching for lighter colours in the spring, turning to foliage in autumn or adding a touch of sparkle as we near the celebratory season in winter. 

Sarina Hawkins, another of our expert interior designers, agrees. “If you’re creating a tablescape, these seasonal details make all the difference,” she says. “You might use colourful glassware in one season, and clear in another – different accessories are the easiest way to make a change.” Consider foraging for natural elements to help bring your seasonal display to life – you could add pine cones to your centrepiece for an autumn tablescape, for example, or slip a sprig of lavender under a napkin ring in summer.  

Add the Little Extras

For a thoughtful finishing touch, tailor your tabletop to your guests. Adding a name card at each place setting, a small gift or – should the season call for it ­– a Christmas cracker, will show your party how much effort you’ve put into their evening.

Now you’re armed with ideas for your tablescape, let us help you bring it to life – discover our collection of tableware, glassware and serving accessories below.