Necessity is the mother of invention, and no one knows this better than Food Network star, Sandra Lee.
On her popular show, Semi-Homemade Cooking, Sandra Lee created and assembled decorative elements for the tables on which she served her themed meals. The English word did not exist to describe the thoughtful arrangement of objects on a table, so she created it: tablescape.
The linguistic luminary Sandra Lee may have coined the term in 2003 but the idea has been around since Victorian times.
According to Slate Magazine, it was during the era of Downton Abbey that tablescapes went from just nicely arranged place settings to creative displays that would make Liberace proud. The reason? Victorian folks went from service à la française (bringing dishes to table all at once) to service à la russe (servants serving guests on individual plates from dishes brought to the sideboard).
The emptiness left on the table by service a la russe had to be filled, and filled it was with lavish displays of natural and manmade ornamentation.
Victorian tablescapes were meant to relate a rich and celebratory atmosphere and they are still common today at holiday dinners, weddings and children’s parties. The main components are elaborate place settings and a magnificent centerpiece. Other special touches like place markers, take-away keepsakes for the guests, and clever little napkin rings are often added.
Nowadays there’s another kind of tablescape. Decorating enthusiasts world-wide gain great pleasure from creating home décor tablescapes. These displays are meant to create visual interest and showcase treasured items year round, not just for special events. Home décor tablescapes are common on mantles, side tables, coffee tables, bookshelves and dressers.
At the new boutique ReStore in Teays Valley you will find numerous examples of both types of tablescape. The ReStore Manager, Melanie James, is a gifted merchandiser trained in Kirkland’s style of display and her tablescapes would make Sandra Lee AND Liberace proud.
Melanie’s tablescapes always include three important components: light, life and layers.
Light comes in the form of lamps, candles and even mirrors. Life is achieved with real or faux flowers, and layers are easy with books, textiles, baskets and trays. All of these items are frequently donated to the Teays Valley ReStore which provides Melanie an ever-changing assortment of tablescaping components.
The first step when assembling a tablescape, according to Melanie, is to build a strong foundation.
- Create a perimeter for the tablescape taking into account the empty space required for functionality.
- In the perimeter, build the foundation. It should “support” the rest of the items in the display.
- Place the very large decorative accessories first to anchor the foundation.
- Use large books, trays and/or baskets to build strong layers.
After the foundation is set, the goal is to achieve depth.
- Create peaks and valleys with decorative items. For example, separate two tall candleholders with a smaller vase of flowers. The peaks of the candleholders contrasted with the valley of the flowers creates depth.
Finally, use the pyramid principle to perfect the tablescape.
- Assemble the decorative accessories so that they stair-step up and/or down from the height of your display.
- It’s important to understand that peaks and valleys will exist within the overlay of the pyramid. A good tablescape has a gradual rise to the top with many peaks and valleys along the way.
Get more tablescape tips from other creative types during the inaugural TableScape Championship at the new Teays Valley ReStore.
The following entrepreneurs have accepted our challenge to design and assemble their own tablescape including items that will promote their own small business. At the conclusion of the event, the contents of each tablescape will be donated to the ReStore and resold to fund the mission of Habitat for Humanity.
Rock Paper Sisters
Twin sisters Lindsay Rotella and Megan Hannah launched Rock Paper Sisters in January 2012 after deciding to turn their hobby into a business. They specialize in paper goods for all types of events.
Kelly Mangus believes in repurposing and upcycling which is why she started Sweetly Salvaged in 2015. Her creativity shows in every vintage piece of furniture and decor that she restores.
Birds, Blooms & Butterflies by Design
Owners Rob and Liz O’Quinn have a passion for preserving and creating native habitat for wildlife and it shows in their very unique boutique located at 3475 Teays Valley Road.
Marisa Jackson’s love of art and her skill as an illustrator inspired her to open an Etsy.com shop in 2015. Through her online store Marisa sells stationary, prints, invitations and whimsical illustrations.
Community members are encouraged to visit the Teays Valley ReStore, across from Hurricane City Park on Teays Valley Rd., Tuesday, February 14 through Saturday, February 18 to vote for their favorite table. The tablescape artist with the most votes will be named the champion and invited to return for next year’s championship.
This article originally appeared in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in February of 2017.