Start with the time of year and use flowers as a reference point. Look at what’s fresh and add layers from there – starting with the cloth, the placemats, the glasses, the napkins and napkin rings, and, of course, cut flowers. You can add height with sprigs, or interest with a bowl of lemons. It doesn’t need to be expensive.
The colour theme is determined by season. There are no rules as to how many colours you can use at once; sometimes it’s pretty to use lots, sometimes a simple combination of daisies with white just works. Colour is better in daylight; you don’t tend to need so much at night.
Mix textures and types of flowers to avoid a formal look. You don’t see fields of roses so why have only them on a table? Put moss around the bottom of vases or underneath any objects you’re using. At this time of year, blue and white flowers with white linen and blue plates really works – try using blue mascari and hyacinths with white tulips.
Bring in different heights with bud vases and higher vases to create multiple layers. Make sure they aren’t too high as you want to be able to see the person opposite you. You can also lay foliage on the table, such as eucalyptus, and cut greenery off trees, or spray paint sprigs in gold or silver to create height.
Seek out both vintage and new tablecloths. The freshness of white linen makes other things on the table pop. It’s good for a narrow table, too. Source them on your travels – Spanish markets, Italian fabric shops – or even on eBay. For new, check out King of Cotton and Cologne and Cotton.
There are so many wonderful placemat designs, such as circular woven placemats, scalloped-edge mats and plain ones with a bordered edge. For napkins, buy new or make them out of fabric – anyone can do it, it’s just a quick hemming job.
Tealights down the centre of the table look lovely, as well as coloured tapered candles in silver or glass holders. It’s nice to have fun with something unexpected and kitsch, such as an animal figurine candle stick. Don’t be afraid to be bold.
Add personal touches at different times of the year. At Halloween it’s crows, owls and bats; at Christmas it’s reindeer and nutcrackers – the point is you have a collection you build up and dip in to. Children love revisiting these items and the memories they conjure up. My mother is my inspiration when it comes to tablescaping. Growing up, she tied ribbons to water bottles and added seasonal touches such as Easter chicks. For an Easter tree, simply put sprigs in an oasis and hang small painted eggs off them.
Use the table setting to mark the occasion. For birthdays you can personalise items, such as embroidered napkins or biscuits. For children, lose the candles and add paper plates and bamboo cutlery with toys or figurines on the table.
To ensure there’s enough room for everything, plan your menu first. You can move decorative items out of the way when it comes to serving food or, if you have the room, set the food up on the side and let people serve themselves.