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Guest post by stylist, Orla Neligan

Setting the table had become so much more than fancy napkins. As we spend more time at home, our dinner tables have become places of creativity where we can elevate the mundane and celebrate the humble week-night dinner. In the same way we pay attention to fashion, we have turned our tables into palettes of creativity as a source of comfort in a time of heightened stress – a way of adding some interest and drama to what is otherwise a very familiar space. And as summer approaches we get to move it all outdoors.

With a little forward planning creating a beautiful tablescape isn’t as hard as it looks.

Set the mood
Firstly, consider the shape of the table and the occasion: is your table round, rectangle, rustic, contemporary? And what sort of mood do you want to create: calm and serene, playful, whimsical,  casual chic? Is it a garden party or a relaxed indoor dinner? This will help steer the elements you choose. For example, staggered garden flowers in jam jars and mismatched chairs creates a lovely casual feel whereas structured symmetrical flowers in uniform vases along the centre of the table covered with a white tablecloth is more formal with a nod to contemporary. It’s all about balancing simplicity with a bit of drama that invokes a mood.

Choose a palette
Zoning in on just a few shades will make your life easier and allow you to play with subtle contrasts such as green and pink or variations of the same shade: charcoal plates, grey napkins and silverware, for example – which can often be more striking than lots of bold colours. Keeping things neutral with layers of white will achieve a modern minimalist look.

Go green
I love layering loose greenery along the middle of the table interspersed with bud vases filled with flowers and sometimes forgoing flowers completely in favour of all green – potted succulents and eucalyptus and foliage keeps the table fresh and informal but elegant and dressed.

A tablecloth or runner is an easy way to make a statement, changing up the space and elevating a humble garden lunch, for example, to a more formal gathering. It also helps reduce the sense of empty space if there’s, say, only four of you.

Traditionally centrepieces are often floral arrangements but it’s nice to change it up a bit. I big glass urn filled with lemons or peaches, a cake stand cascading with fruit such as grapes and pomegranates, a bell jar with a beautiful ornament or a pretty pot plant all make great focal points and anchor the space allowing you to work the rest of the table around it.

A great way to add texture, depth and visual interest to your table is by layering. Stacking smaller plates on larger plates and napkins on top plays with height, depths and texture. It’s even more interesting when you combine colours and textures such as a rattan place mat, coloured charger plate, neutral dinner plate and coloured side plate. I often use a white base plate and then play with more decorative plates on top.

Light it up
I often think lighting can make or break a space and candles are an inexpensive way to add soft flattering light and set the mood for a warm, inviting atmosphere. Staggering heights keeps it interesting as opposed to everything being at eye level and thus flat. Mix up taller candles in holders along with small and medium jar candles along the table for a beautiful glow.

Finishing touches
Adding something personal, quirky or interesting to a place setting or table is a lovely final touch that will create a talking point. Wrapping cutlery in ribbon, adding a sprig of rosemary or greenery or a piece of fruit, such as a fig or apricot, to the plate or tucked into the napkin, for example, can really elevate the table. For an additional luxe factor consider gold cutlery or vintage silver for a gentler patina.

It’s a good idea to do a trial run prior to guests arriving and put what you love on your table – it’s your creation but if in doubt you can’t go wrong with the essentials: pretty plates, florals, beautiful linen and candlelight.