Wednesday, December 26, 2007


As I put away my Christmas decorations and reorganize the house, I usually take the opportunity to make a change in my decor. I rearrange some of the furniture, edit out some of the tchochkes (most of them are packed away at this point, to my husband's great relief), move around the artwork. I also tend to redo the 'tablescapes'. I was first introduced to this term through the Peak of Chic blog, when she did some wonderful posts (part I and part II) on the art of tablescapes.

The details of a tablescape, by a master of the tablescape, Jim Beebe Hawes of Caldwell-Beebe.

Tablescapes have been a topic of great interest to me this year, mainly because I am in the process of completely changing everything in my entryway. When I was trying to decide what kind of piece to put in my front hall, one of my fellow bloggers commented that I seemed to be more interested in the tablescapes of the pictures that I posted, rather than the specific furniture piece in the picture. There was wisdom and insight in that observation! Perhaps this is because tablescapes are really like little still lifes, which appeals to the artist in me. I really think that the creation of a beautiful tablescape is a true form of artistic expression.

Another beautiful tablescape, from the Ethan Allen catalog. The variation in height, the bowl, artwork, and arching branches create a beautiful composition.

The term 'tablescape' is attributed to the British designer David Hicks (1929-1998), and he was a master at artfully arranging and grouping everyday objects, works of art, and accessories. In Hicks' words: "What is important is not how valuable or inexpensive your objects are, but the care and feeling with which you arrange them.” Patricia Gray did a wonderful write-up of David Hicks and his timeless interiors, so no need to replicate that here, but make sure to check out her post. It is very well written and well researched, with lots of pictures of Hicks work.

A tablescape by David Hicks, from Peak of Chic

In my usual style, I did some research on tablescapes. I found an excellent guide in the principles of creating a tablescape on the website of a realtor/designer. Here are some of the basics that the author, Sandra Tuell, shared in her article.

  • Select items for your tablescape based on the size and scale of the table surface
  • Select an odd number for your composition; an old rule of thumb is that groupings of 3, 5, 7 or 9 is more pleasing than even number groupings.
  • Use hardcover books as pedestals to elevate objects.

A Suzanne Kasler tablescape. I love the little sculptures, resting on books that have been made into stands of varying levels. Kasler employs the odd number rule very effectively, with five sculptures, and seven total items on the table. The scale of the table is small, so Kasler has selected small scale items for the surface: a delicate lamp, small sculptures. Even the intaglios displayed above the table are small in scale.

  • Layer items as an artist creates a scene, with a background, middleground, and foreground.
A beautiful Michael Smith tablescape. This is also one of my favorites from my inspiration files. The tallest object, the branches and vase, form the background. The bust forms the middleground, effective because of its shape. The linear form of the books provide a constrast in the foreground.

A David Hicks masterpiece, from the Peak of Chic. This one certainly has great elements of arrangement, and all three planes - background, middleground, and foreground.

  • Creat highs and lows to give dimension and depth
A tablescape that emphasizes varying heights. From Better Homes and Gardens, via the Newhomes blog.

Barbara Westbrook Interiors. The whole arrangement has a great variation in heights with the mirror, sconces, and all of the items arranged on the console.
  • Vary some of the textural elements in the tablescape - light/dark; shiny/matte; curves/straight lines.
Another Caldwell-Beebe tablescape. The variation in line, texture, and tone is masterful.

A high impact tablescape from Anne Coyle Interiors. There is a lot going on here, but it works for me! This tablescape beautifully illustrates the concept of varying textures and lines.

The final recommendation from Sandra Tuell's article is a good one: use all of these points as guidelines, not as rigid rules. The most important guideline is to use your own personal treasures, things that inspire you, to create your own tablescape masterpiece.

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  1. Great post! One thing I've struggled with is creating depth on a narrow table or bookshelf surface. There's nothing worse than things lining up in rows and I really have to get creative with objects to make a narrow space feel more dimensional.

    I think the biggest tip is something you hit early in the post: Don't put everything out at once. Instead, treat it like a rotating exhibition and highlight a few objets to show beautifully.

    Finally, in any home arrangement, I'm fond of a high-low mix and an element of quirk or personality in the objects. It's always nicer when things tell a story about their owner!

  2. This is a great post - tablescaping can be harder than it looks. I've noticed that I'm not always good at acquiring interesting "stuff." I'm still hunting for the furniture, so sometimes the objets get left behind. The small sculptures are particularly appealing. Thanks for the inspiration!

  3. Thank you for the comments! Jane, you make some great points.

    Mrs. B, I read an article about a designer who specializes in the last 20%: the accessories that really make a room sing. I think there is a real talent to being able to pull it all together with tablescapes and collections. You can always tell when a shop owner has a talent for this, because the shop features the wares in such a beautiful way that you want to purchase everything!

  4. Lovely tablescapes! My favorite tablescapes do not look contrived. They are effortlessly elegant in appearance (even if a lot of thought went into the composition)! Speaking of David Hicks, I like him, but I adore his daughter India Hicks' interiors even more. Her book "Island Style" is one of my absolute favorites.

  5. excellent, excellent post. I especially love that Niermann Weeks chest - that is such a gorgeous piece!!

  6. In my dream house, I would have that Niermann Weeks chest. It is beautiful! The one in the picture is actually the model that hides a tv inside (the Danish entertainment center). My local showroom that sells NW says that they do not sell many of those anymore, with the arrival of flatscreen tvs! However, NW does sell a regular commode version too.

  7. I had such a great time today looking at old blog posts of yours. You have a gorgeous blog especially when looked at as a whole - it just flows - very cohesive.

    Very pretty!


  8. Oh gosh, my tablescape is half-written Christmas cards and unopened mail. This is much nicer!

  9. Thanks for such a great post. Every good tablescape tells its own story and in this way each is a piece of art in itself. Interesting objects, well presented add such a layer of personality to a room. Your photos show great examples of this. My favorite tablescapes tell something about the creator and also provide visual entertainment and add a layer of personality to a room.

  10. What a fabulous post! I think tablescapes are a great way to make a space look more eclectic. All of the images you selected are lovely. I will have to refer to this in the future.:)

  11. Hi Jane
    Thanks for the mention about the post I did on the fabulous David Hicks. You have shown some great "tablescapes". The constants I see in all of these are: books, shells, branches or flowers, lamps and candlesticks. If I am ever in doubt as to what to do for a tablescape, I don't think that you can ever go wrong with a wonderful vase filled with fresh flowers or branches.

  12. I love this table! I really love old furniture painted in a bold colour- it makes such an amazing feature piece.

    Someone who I think always does beautiful tablescapes is Anna Spiro of absolutelybeautifulthings.blogspot.com.


  13. This was one of MY favorite posts. It hit home with me since I'm starting to think about the console tablescape for our entry. Thanks for a wonderful grouping of pictures. I need the inspiration to keep mine from just looking like random "stuff" on a table.

  14. Great post, and perfect timing, as I've been trying to work a new jewelry box onto my bedside table.

    Tablescapes seem to reveal so much about the person who put it together--if only Sandra Lee on Food Network didn't use the word to describe her table settings!

  15. Nice to see an awesome post here on tablescapes. I am learning them for the past few months out of my own interest. I believe that it adds beauty to the house.
    Thanks for sharing good designs along with great information.


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