Extravagant centrepieces, or tablescapes, have been a thing since the days of Downton Abbey and beyond. They were first introduced during the 18th century as a means for the upper classes to show off their wealth, hiring decorators to create theatrical scenes with elaborate silver ornaments and the like – which were talked about more than the food that was actually served.
The Prince Regent’s Feast at Carlton House in 1811 reportedly had a ‘canal of pure water’ running down the centre table, according to Gentlemen’s Magazine, with ‘banks covered with green moss aquatic flowers; gold and silver fish swam and sported through the bubbling current.’
While we are not encouraging anyone to create a flood in their dining room – or hire table decorators for that matter, given current social distancing rules – there is no excuse for not getting creative. As Mrs Beeton wrote in her Book of Household Management in 1884, if it is the mere act of going down to the garden and adding ‘flowers on the table, there is no reason why they should not be employed every day.’
Inspiration for modern day tablescapes comes in the form of Instagram influencers and Pinterest queens, such as founder of Hoste London, @iamlaurajackson. The TV presenter has started the #makeamealofit movement encouraging the nation to stop and make mealtimes fancy. With paella cook-a-long events and Mexican-themed taco Tuesdays, she even makes a humble cheese jacket potato for her baby look a divine dining experience, worthy of the Wolseley.
Her top tips include: ‘A candle and low lighting is great for setting the mood’; Lay the table with ‘vintage doilies. I love vintage linen’, and use all the ‘nice plates’; ‘Food doesn’t have to be fancy,’ she states, ‘Tonight we are having leftovers from the freezer just arranged on a nice plate with a sprinkle of herbs’.
Tablescape guru Fiona Leahy (@fionaleahy) is taking her love of the extravagant to transform the solo dining experience, even upscaling her tray to epic proportions: ‘Self love for me is to elevate the ordinary and to celebrate intimate entertaining at home’. For a ‘tablescape for one use the good China and burn those candles’, as ‘we need the light,’ she told her thousands of ardent followers on Instagram. ‘Taking joy and feeling gratitude in the small pleasures seems for a lot of us a helpful way to have some daily beauty and self love in our lives. A few new tray tips I’ve discovered recently; Use an egg cup as a mini vase, perfect for a little single bud as egg cups are petite and stemmed and add that little height we need.’
For more table-based inspiration check out @libertylondon, always a treasure trove for unique maximalist household pieces, Chelsea based @fionafinds Instagram account for crockery and quirky table laying, @roseandgreyinteriors for their spring Scandi-chic crockery, ready to deliver a pretty update to your table, and @petershamnurseries for the ultimate lesson in how nature and lighting can create something wow.
So think of a theme, dust off your best heirloom crockery, be adventurous and make an average Saturday night takeaway feel like a private feast in the Ritz to share with friends (on HouseParty, not IRL obviously). Cheers.