You’ve dressed your house, planned your outfit – but what about the festive table? Meet the mother-and-daughter team who have turned settings into true spectacle. Jessica Doyle gets some well-timed tips…
‘Tablescaping’ has become something of a phenomenon, but in the hands of Alice Naylor-Leyland and her mother, Serena Fresson, it is an art form. Since Alice’s pictures of the setting for her 30th birthday party went viral in 2016, she has racked up 114,000 followers (and counting) on Instagram.
Here, she posts pictures of her spectacular tables for lunches, dinners and parties – think faux-topiary bunnies at Easter, bats suspended from the ceiling at Halloween, and balloons galore at her children’s birthday parties. And, she says, she learnt it all from her mum. ‘We’d always have more on the table than anyone else. There would be a wind-up chick at Easter, or different coloured ribbons tied around water bottles, so you’d know which one was still and which was sparkling,’ says Alice of her childhood. ‘I remember thinking, “That’s weird, but kind of cool.”’
‘I’ve always loved setting the table – it’s my creative outlet,’ says Serena, who has ‘definitely scaled it up’ over the past 10 years or so, and now hosts tablesetting demonstrations of her own. ‘I think food deserves it; I prefer sitting at a nice table, and I love to do it.’
Layering, they say, is the key to elevating a table. ‘It’s exactly like getting dressed,’ says Serena, who tends to start with a tablecloth and build from there. Alice’s starting point will often be an ornament (such as the mushrooms she used recently for her Halloween table). There is always something playful involved, but the trick is to get it just the right side of kitsch – a glitter reindeer teamed with a chic mercury-glass candlestick, for instance.
For the less initiated in the art of table decoration, it can be a tricky balance to strike, which is why Alice has just launched her own business, alicenaylorleyland.com, selling plates, cutlery and the like, but also curated tablescapes with place mats, napkins, glasses, vases, candlesticks and table ornaments – everything you might need to create the perfect dinner-party setting.
Both Alice and Serena are at pains to point out that table decorating should be enjoyable, not stressful. ‘It’s not a chore,’ says Alice. ‘I definitely got it from Mum, that excitement when you add a napkin or change the glasses and it all fits into place. It’s almost cathartic, like painting. Sometimes I’ll get an idea late at night and run down to my dining room to put it together.’ Serena finds it relaxing, almost mindful. ‘I’m not trying to impress people,’ she insists, ‘it’s just that I get such great pleasure from doing it.’
We visited Alice and Serena at Serena’s house in Hampshire, where they demonstrated three different festive tablescapes, and gave their top tips on creating the perfect setting.
Budget for beginners: red and white
This festive look, a mix of traditional motifs and playful touches, would be perfect for breakfast or brunch with the kids on Christmas morning. It’s also proof that putting together a creative table setting doesn’t have to cost the earth. Serena and Alice found the reindeer-motif plates on Amazon (for around £3 each), and they work beautifully with the side plates (originally from Zara Home), which were already part of Serena’s collection.
She recommends trying shops such as The Range and Homesense for inexpensive decorations and ornaments that will help to create a centrepiece with wow factor.
- Invest in faux berry sprays that you can bring out year after year – John Lewis sells one similar to this
- Look around for inexpensive pieces – Serena often shops in H&M Home, Zara and Homesense
- Buy basic crackers and and dress them up with hand-tied ribbon for a personalised decorative touch
Sophisticated yet relaxed: chocolate and orange
Dress up a lunch or supper with this relaxed yet sophisticated look, which brings in plenty of natural elements and colours. Rattan charger plates, leaf-print napkins and mini trees give a laid-back, natural vibe and make for a chic alternative festive palette.
Gold accents, in the form of glitter reindeer and decorative salt and pepper pots, add a bit of subtle sparkle, while extra-tall candles and tortoiseshell cutlery elevate the earth-toned scheme.
- Take inspiration for your palette from the decor of the room – Serena’s leopard-print curtains were the starting point for this tablescape
- Faux mini trees are small enough not to block anyone’s view across the table, and you can decorate them too
- Use fruit and herbs as decorations to save money on flowers. Serena has placed satsumas in little piles of moss on mini side plates here
Ultra-glam: blue and green
Pull out all the stops with an ultra-glamorous look for a spectacular dinner party. On-trend scallop-edged table linens are layered with leaf plates, silver cutlery and textured, coloured glassware.
This table is a shining example of how to blend classical with kitsch – the decorative swans, glitter birds and sparkly reindeer are balanced by the cabbage-leaf plates and understated place mats and napkins. Each place setting has its own little vase of flowers, while a pair of vases filled with bouquets of silver twigs and white feathers make a dramatic centrepiece.
- Add height with vases of grasses and twigs. Once guests sit down to eat, remove them from the table
- You don’t have to splash out on an expensive tablecloth – this one is a length of fabric cut to size
- Sticking to a limited colour palette, such as the blue and green here, means you can go wild with different decorative elements
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