I am obsessed with clothes, there’s no point in trying to hide it. I do, of course – in my tiny wardrobe; in already over-stuffed corners of cupboards; under the bed; layered on coat hooks. This is so that it doesn’t look like an obsession. I present as a fully-functioning adult who doesn’t, in fact, spend 99% of her time thinking, looking and – surprise! – writing about clothes. But since the country was plunged into several lockdowns over the past year, something intriguing has happened. I am no longer scrolling through endless dresses on Net-a-Porter, nor am I salivating over sparkly shoes and sugarpuff knits. Rather than groaning under the weight of tulle, organza and (let’s face it) polyester, my cupboards are now home to endless candlesticks, place mats, tablecloths and whimsical decorations to scatter about my table.
That’s right folks, I’ve joined the thousands of people already invested in a hobby called – and bear with me, here – ‘tablescaping’. Oh I can hear your first question: ‘is that not just a fancy way of saying ‘decorating my table?’ Yes, yes it is. That’s exactly what it is. And while that might elicit something of an eye roll from some, I can think of no nobler pursuit during 2021.
While part of me is longing to keep the very word tablescaping firmly in inverted commas, I have to say it has been accepted into the popular lexicon. During the first lockdown, for example, Laura Jackson led the charge with her daily tablescapes, encouraging us all to see dinner time as an event, even though we were unable to go anywhere. At the time, Jackson said: ‘I’m going to set the table and make it really nice. I’m sure a lot of people feel a bit helpless because lots of horrible things are happening and they wish they could change it. That’s how I feel. I’m trying to do what I can for local charities, to remain positive and just hope that in doing that, I can also inspire other people to be positive about the situation they’re in as well.’
Alice Naylor-Leyland, meanwhile, launched her own brand in November 2019 thanks to her Insta-famous tables. Renowned for her elaborate table settings and picture-perfect decorations, she now sells entire tablescapes in a box, doing all the hard work for you. ‘I had a lot of friends asking about where I found certain things or how I managed to make everything match and I thought, wait - can I make this into a business?’ says Neylor-Leyland. ‘I had my brother- in-law staying at the time and he jumped on the idea and it all came together in a mad and wonderful rush. We wanted to take the hassle out of hosting and I hope that’s what we have managed to do.’ To visit MrsAlice.com is to tumble down the rabbit hole of tablescaping, where each piece is as lovely as the next and almost impossible to resist.
Similarly, Truffle Tablescapes offers full looks, providing you with an easy way to dress your whole table – and from just one package. 'I chose to sell entire tablescapes to make the whole process easy for busy hosts and hostesses,' says Kate Fairlie, who established Truffle during the first lockdown in 2020. 'I knew people wanted beautiful and memorable table looks but did not have the time to curate these themselves.'
Of course, tablescaping has the potential to be incredibly expensive. This is a pitfall I discovered fairly swiftly. This is why Maison Margaux is so genius – it, too, offers ready-made tablescapes but some are available to rent as well as buy. The brand says it has noticed a big increase in sales since last year. Louisa Preskett, Maison Margaux’s director, says: ‘We really put that surge down to people looking for moments of escapism during what has been an incredibly tough year. People have been seeking small moments of lightness and joy wherever they can, and particularly outlets for creativity, which the tablescape gives us. And of course this year our homes became the new restaurants. ‘Dining in’ is the new going out.’ You can rent everything at Maison Margaux from cutlery to glasses, meaning you can enjoy the most low-maintenance party planning possible.
So prevalent is the tablescaping trend – currently over 1.5 million images on Instagram alone, says Preskett – that many fashion brands have cottoned on to the potential. Everyone from Emilia Wickstead to Jacquemus have extended into this category. Chelsea Power, senior buyer at Matchesfashion says that homeware is up 100% compared to last year. Even designers are joining the tablescaping phenomenon – Eudon Choi, for example, says ‘a really great tablescape really sets the mood for the evening. I think people want to make their home environments as welcoming as possible during these difficult times, so it has made us more acutely aware of how our domestic surroundings affect us. Simple changes such as mood lighting, some new art on the wall or some great houseplants can really make a huge difference.’
Net-a-Porter has just extended its homeware offering to include an entire subcategory, Tableware, consisting of some of the loveliest decorative objects to give you the chicest table in town. Lea Cranfield, Net-a-Porter's buying and merchandising officer said: 'As we have all spent more time in our homes, how we style and personalise them has become increasingly important as an expression of our identity. The launch of tableware is a natural extension to the [homeware] category and provides our customers with the perfect excuse to experiment with tablescaping this season.'
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So, where do you start? I’d suggest Instagram, of course. The OG of tablescapes is Fiona Leahy, who has even completed her own guest edits for Maison Margaux.
Then there’s British artist Luke Edward Hall, whose own passion for interiors has been well-documented.
His tabletops thrill and delight his followers and, at the end of 2020, he even designed his own tableware with Italian porcelain specialist Richard Ginori, which has completely sold out on Matchesfashion.
You could also follow these expert tips below, to hone your own tablescaping skills...
How Do You Create The Perfect Tablescape?
‘I have to say the key thing for me is flowers - whether they are from the market or your garden it makes such a difference to any table and really sets the scene for each season,’ says Alice Naylor-Leyland. ‘Another tip I have is to always use placemats when using a tablecloth… If not I find the plates look a bit lost… Adding layers always makes things look better - whether its tablescaping or fashion!’
Should You Use A Tablecloth Or Tablerunner?
‘Personally I don’t love tablerunners as I am a huge fan of a good tablecloth. I think they automatically elevate any table,’ says Neylor-Leyland.
Where Can I Buy Affordable Table Linen?
‘You can find inexpensive end of line liberty prints or rich coloured fabrics, hem them yourself or take to your local dry cleaners,’ says Maison Margaux’s Louisa Preskett. ‘A beautiful patterned tablecloth will completely transform your table.’
Should I Use Napkins?
‘At Maison Margaux we love experimenting with napkins: How you fold them, how you tie, the colour, the shape, can actually completely transform your table. Scalloped edges napkins are still a big trend, along with embroidery or personalised napkins. In the Maison Margaux winter collection we have a bespoke service where we embroider linens for you. Tie them with a beautiful thick ribbon this Christmas if you don’t have the budget for napkin holders, or mix and match vintage napkin holders.’
How Should I Set The Table?
According to Preskett, ‘Start with the rule of three. And layer your tablescape, it will give it that curated look that lots of people are looking for.
‘Start with a placemat or charger plate, then your dinner plate, and finally your pudding plate on top. Have the setting stacked on top of each other as guests arrive so the table looks impressive. Then whisk the top two plates away 5 minutes before your guests are seated and use them to serve the food. Go bold with your pudding plate as that is what people see first.
Then use three glasses: Two wine glasses and a water glass. Make your water glass fun and interesting. Go bold with colour or mix and match vintage finds.’