Social gatherings are no longer about formal dining at round banquet tables with silver service. Guests want to relax in lounge chairs, try a fabulous cocktail and just enjoy the vibe. Events reflect the host’s personal style, while at the same time creating opportunities for intimate conversations and enjoying great food and drink.
The new aesthetic is about simplicity and beauty in organic shapes; wildflowers, beautiful ceramics and unexpected details, like a farmers’ market wooden box of Granny Smith apples instead of a floral centrepiece. Tablescaping can be pretty and playful to delight guests and put them at ease. After all, who would feel awkward and uptight with an aromatic sprig of rosemary on the gingham napkin at their place setting?
Still, more importantly, you want to reflect your clients’ tastes and preferences, and inspire them with workable—and innovative—options. (Remember that despite current trends, some clients and events will call for traditional formality!) That’s what makes what you do so fascinating: You can be wonderfully creative in finding ways to add mood and tone in all the details.
Design Trends in Table Configuration
Say goodbye to a room full of 60 or 72-inch round tables and the same-old, same-old configurations. Instead, consider these alternatives:
Mix Shapes and Create Clusters
Add interest and allow for guests to more intuitively socialize instead of sitting for too long and talking only to the people next to them. You can mix squares, rectangles and rounds for guest seating. Consider clustering tables to create clover shapes or pods for larger groupings. The long communal tables, so popular in gastropubs, are now in demand for social events. They create a sense of community and coming together to share in the celebrations.
Vary Table Height for Design and Flow
Incorporate tables that are various sizes and heights, with more cocktail tables and stand-ups. Use stools, chairs and benches. These variations make the space look more dynamic and inviting.
Limit Seating for Conversation-Starting
Have your guests outnumber the available seats for a cocktail event. While some cabaret tables and chairs should be available—people tire of standing and some people physically require seating—limited seating encourages people to make the rounds!
Add in Casual Lounge Seating
Create restful “break” areas with lounge chairs, sofas and nested tables to give guests a chance to step away from the festivities. For a modern approach, try monochromatic groupings with colourful cushions for flair and personality. Or consider something fun like beanbag chairs or collapsible mini lawn chairs that can be moved and repositioned as the event evolves. Again, the concept of organic fluidity instead of staid absolutes can apply.
Embrace the Natural Setting (but don’t over-stage)
Starched and stuffy is out, but you don’t want to have your rustic sensibilities look too done or “staged.” Are oversized pillows or piled blankets for seating the right fit for an outdoor picnic-style reception or dinner in the garden? Or would a Philippe Starck Ghost chair at a farmhouse table be, in fact, more suitable? Salvaged, repurposed materials are on trend, but make sure benches from barn boards truly suit the event. Use Pinterest boards and other visuals when you begin the planning stages with your client to convey the possibilities (and to show the breadth of your knowledge and talents).
Tablescaping Styles that Tell a Story
Tablescaping accents must somehow relate or complement each other to be successful. They need to tell a story and have a sense of theatre. Here are suggestions for creating memorable tablescapes that speak to the audience and heighten the experience:
Tablescaping with Natural Materials
Modern earthy design calls for less finished materials, inspired by raw natural elements. Go for things that are not overly processed, that you want to reach out and touch because they make you think of being in nature and feeling calm and serene. Wood tables are the starting point for a rustic burlap runner, or set the foundation with a simple linen tablecloth. Incorporate twigs and branches from the forest floor, wild moss and wildflowers for freestyle bouquets in ceramic vases or earthenware pots. Votive candles can be nestled in miniature tree stumps. Juxtapose the woodsy theme with beautiful glassware, rather than layering in mason jars. The idea is to be imaginative with familiar elements from nature and style them in a unique and thoughtful way.
Be Inventive with Bright Colour
Neutral palettes evoke comfort and grace, and definitely work for a more minimalist modern feel. Less really is more, and can become a great backdrop for focal points. Those focal points can take the form of centrepieces and other accents. You can also play with the surrounding finishes, such as placing the centrepiece on reflective geometric-shaped mirrors for added drama and intrigue! Florals in tangerine, gold, green and cream, for example, add dimension to a neutral theme, with succulents tucked in little pots complete the look. For a more subtle shift, use varying hues like adding amber to a yellow and green table setting (perfect for spring), or emerald mixed with lavender works beautifully year-round. Shades of pink, deep greens and light creams together are also having a moment.
Layer Patterns, Textures and Colour
Make your décor even more captivating with interesting layers for your place settings. This is especially important if your scheme is monochromatic. Layers can create sophistication and the right fusion of patterns, textures and colour can turn something ordinary into something uniquely styled and artful. For example, use black and white geometric patterned table runners on a white tablecloth with white and gold vases in varying heights to balance the bold pattern. Fabric goes a long way in creating a beautiful tablescape by adding something soft to the mix and anchoring the colour scheme. As you choose your elements, from tableware to serving pieces to the centrepiece, the rule of thumb is a good mix of materials, shapes and sizes. Varying heights and proportions give it a natural feel.
Create a Warm Glow with Lighting Techniques
Lighting is essential to creating drama in a space, and should play a main role in your tablescaping. Flickering flames lend romance and glamor to the tableau. Also, think beyond the table top and look to hang overhead statement pieces like chandeliers, large floral installations with candles or LEDs, or industrial chic Edison bulbs. Aim to build soft light from multiple sources at different levels, rather than one bright light source. And think of your lighting as having a character of its own, illuminating the décor.
These techniques and tips are starting points to consider as you bring your own artistry and personality to the work. The main ingredient is to stay inspired and to experiment and innovate with new approaches. Letting clients, occasions and venues inspire you too as each event will dictate its own style. And remember to capture the results to share on your portfolio and social accounts!
about the author
National Post, contributing articles on business, food, culture and travel for affiliated newspapers across Canada. She now writes from her home office in Toronto as a freelancer, and takes breaks to bounce with her son on the backyard trampoline. Connect with her on LinkedIn.Karen Hawthorne worked for six years as a digital editor for the