Design to elevate your holiday hosting space

Shelter looks at design holistically. We spend time exploring the science, psychology and environmental impact of our work. Along with the many factors we consider in crafting custom spaces, wellness is one area we focus on. This includes taking time to enjoy the moment and share wonderful environments with family and friends.

The holidays are a perfect occasion to change up your home in celebration of the season, so we thought it might be fun to take a look at one place we all gather to enjoy good food and company, the dinner table. Tablescaping – the art of setting a table in a creative, curated, intentional way – can effortlessly enhance the ambiance of any social event. Fortunately, there are no concrete rules to tablescaping, you can get creative and incorporate your own unique style into every element. Fun is the name of the game! Let’s explore the essentials of tablescape design, a step-by-step table setting guide, styling tips and trending themes so you’re ready to impress your guests.

Tablescape essentials

Basics: Dishes, silverware, glassware, napkins

Decor: Table runner or cloth, candles and candleholders, napkin rings, placemats or charger plates

Greens & florals: Greenery, flowers, foliage

Seasonal elements: Winter flora and greenery, festive figurines, ornaments

Personalized touches: Place cards or tokens. Hand-writing place cards can add a personal touch


Step-by-step table setting guide

1. Start with your base – Table runner or cloth goes first

2. Add centerpiece(s) or linear pieces – Typically floral arrangements, garland or greenery is next

3. Layer in decorative and seasonal elements – Begin with the largest pieces and add in smaller items as filler. Disperse decor throughout the arrangement to create a consistent experience for each guest at the table

4. Add placemats or charger plates – You’ll need one for each place setting

5. Create your individual place settings – The standard order is dinner plate, salad/starter plate, silverware, and glassware

a. Layer the dinner plate and salad plate. Add a bread plate as needed. If serving soup, this bowl would be placed on top of the salad plate. Plates and bowls can match or be contrasting in color, shape and texture depending on the style/theme you’re hoping to achieve

b. Arrange silverware as necessary depending on the number of courses and formality of the event. Forks to the left, knives and spoons to the right. Dessert spoons sit at the top of the setting. The finish of your silverware can add to the mood you’re trying to evoke. Try using bronze or brass silverware for a unique look

c. Add glassware in the upper right hand section of your place setting. A water glass or goblet in front, a white/rosé wine glass and red wine glass to give your guests options. One wine glass works great if your event is more casual

6. Place the napkin on top of your plate stack – Napkins can be arranged in a variety of ways: folded, tied or draped. You can also add a napkin ring for an extra detail

7. Embellishments and personalization – Place cards and small tokens at each place setting including seasonal figurines, bells, greenery, etc. can be added to a place setting for a more personalized touch


Styling tips & tricks

Avoid displays that block views or communication amongst guests – Generally keep the arrangement low as height can be added with taper candles, clear vases, or other items that don’t block guest views and communication. Avoid tall floral arrangements and create “windows” for communication and sight lines. The goal is to enjoy the company of your guests

Vary textures and heights – Mixing in various textures and heights creates more visual interest. This can be done in a subdued way or you can exaggerate the contrasting texture to create a more maximalist look

Rule of threes – Items arranged in odd numbers are more visually appealing than arrangements in even numbers

Create interest with a variety of elements – Be mindful to find balance and not create too much visual clutter


Trending themes

Jewel Toned

  • Ruby red, sapphire blue, emerald green, amethyst purple, and golden yellow
  • Darker tones and more exaggerated textures creates a rich and moody look
  • Velvet accents, glossy serve ware and higher contrast elements
  • Chunky textures and mixing/overlapping bold colors
  • Images: Marie Claire Maison, Apt. 34

Minimalist Modern

  • Simple color palette – blacks, taupes and whites – maybe adding a subtle pop of color.
  • Subtle layering of textures – lighter textures like linens, waffle knit, and cottons.
  • Simple and clean forms – candlestick holders have a very modern shape/form.
  • Strong contrasts of light and dark.
  • Fewer decorative elements – simplicity
  • Images: Layered Lounge, Caroline Burke ‘Burkaton’ Blog

Earthy Natural

  • Simple greenery layered with dried citrus, pine cones and other natural elements
  • Less contrast, warmer tones of dried citrus creates a warmer more inviting appearance
  • Images: Dear Lillie Studio, Papier

Related Posts

Living (and working?) into retirement: downsize or age-in-place?

Downsize or age-in-place? If you’re thinking to yourself, “My retirement may look different than my parents’ did” you’re not alone.…

Read more

Designing with darkness

5 Ways to Embrace the Darkness The awareness of light is anchored by darkness. - Max Jacobson, The Good House…

Read more

Custom kitchen serves chef’s needs

When a pair of empty-nesters came to Shelter to cook up plans for updating their longtime home, the kitchen was…

Read more