When Kirthanaa Naidu found herself furloughed from her job at Amnesty International at one point during the pandemic, she considered what to do with her extra time, particularly when it came to boosting the moods of both herself and her working-from-home flatmates.
“I started cooking a lot,” says Naidu, who is based in Britain. In addition to nurturing that passion, she relished setting the table at which to enjoy the meals she was making. A bud vase here (ensuring the flowers didn’t block the view of others, natch), a playful candle there, with vintage silverware placed purposefully on a joyful tablecloth – the key element of a wonderful tablescape in her opinion.
Naidu likens the practice of tablescaping, as it’s known, to “a form of escapism,” one that can foster a separation between using a dining room table as a work desk, as well as creating a distinctly pleasurable distance from the day or week that was. As she began to share on social media her whimsical table settings, often inspired by trips she had taken, and in correspondence with the types of cuisine she’d serve, a secondary career path was laid out. “I started working with brands … to do some content creation for them, whether it was for homeware brands or food [businesses],” she says. “People like tablescape content for their Instagram.”
Indeed, our current obsession with unique table settings is a cultural confluence, combining the potent visual stimulation of social media, our heightened urge to update our interiors throughout repeated lockdowns and our desire to let self-expression flourish via all possible avenues.
According to statistics providers such as MarketWatch, it all adds up to a boost for homeware categories, which are forecast to continue to see increasing revenues. And media outlets, not simply social media platforms, from Forbes to Vogue are paying attention to our fascination, creating more and more content in consideration of tableware and the jazziest ways to tablescape for the holidays (and plain every day, too). Could it be that a well-dressed table is the new well-dressed individual?
“As people were spending more time at home during the pandemic, our homeware category went from strength to strength,” says Lianne Wiggins, head of women’s wear and home at e-tailer MatchesFashion. Historically the site was an haute fashion destination; it began selling homewares, such as sculptural crystal candleholders and water jugs, in 2018. As of this November, its homeware offering was up 30 per cent year-over-year, and the company has seen a distinct evolution in what customers have been adding to their carts.
“Our customers were looking for ways to inject joy into their surroundings, and we saw a shift toward investing in homeware pieces as there were fewer opportunities to dress up and go out.” There’s no sign of this trend slowing down, she adds. “The rise in people entertaining from home means we continue to see a great reaction to tabletop items as one of our top performing categories, with [brands] La DoubleJ and Reflections Copenhagen being highlights.”
The Milanese lifestyle label La DoubleJ, which was launched by former fashion journalist JJ Martin, takes a maximal approach to its tableware – all juicy colour palettes and off-beat geometric combinations that beg to be seen. So strong were the sales of its initial offering of dishes, tablecloths, napkins and glassware that the brand added a cake stand and espresso cups to the roster this past fall.
Other cult-status and utterly Instagrammable brands have caught on to the appeal of a dynamically set table. New York’s Dusen Dusen recently released a quirky salt and pepper grinder duo, and fashion accessory line Susan Alexandra launched a homeware category over the summer. Within it, you’ll find charming glasses festooned with flowers and cheerfully embellished placemats and napkins. For those who appreciate an extra kitsch-tinged table, beaded napkin rings, some which boast fruit details, are sure to rouse a smile.
But, it should be noted that a grand tablescape doesn’t always have to be wavy-gravy to get attention. Misette, a Toronto-based tableware brand that launched this past spring, has collections of dishes, candles and more that cater to both bold colour-lovers and those who prefer neutral territory. And Montreal’s Maison Tess, a brand that began with bedding, now has a tableware selection that speaks to softness, both physical and visual.
“The fabric that you sleep in needs to be a certain way and have a certain quality because you want it to be comfortable,” says founder and creative director Laura Nezri. “The same approach really falls into everything that is our tableware.” Maison Tess’s trademarked Coco Linen and washed linen fabrics make up the napkins, placemats and table cloth options, which come in hues like amber, clay and sand. (One benefit of the tablescaping trend is how it touts sustainably minded approaches to living, like natural-fibre cloth napkins instead of paper ones, or sleuthing out glamorous vintage glassware at an antique market.)
Thanks to the restrained colourways of her products, Nezri proposes that “a neutral canvas” allows for reinvention; that is, tableware that lets you decorate according to whim, season and guest selection. And such is the anything-goes approach that today’s tablescapes possess – less Emily Post precision, more frivolity and festiveness any time of year. For consumers who feel they need guidance in setting a well-laid table, Ikea introduced its Set The Tablecloths in early December, two cleverly instructional styles (“modern” and “traditional”) of homeware that give one the goods in terms of where to put what, from candles to side plates.
Anyone seeking free-wheeling table setting suggestions can look to proponents of eating-centric eclecticism like Justina Blakeney, founder of decor company Jungalow, and Bangkok-based entrepreneur Sarin Vongkusolkit. And those following Vongkusolkit’s Instagram have likely noticed an array of curvy, colourful candles in her tablescape photos, which are crafted by Regina-based brand Viisiionss.
Viisiionss is run by Manny Raquel Johnston and Jordan Goodwin; they launched the business after Goodwin was laid off late last year. “I’ve always had an interest in decor and interior design,” Johnston says. “[And] I am fortunate to come from a family of designers and artists. For this venture, I was inspired by Lex Pott, a designer from the Netherlands; he created a Twist Candle that I started seeing in my decor Instagram feed. We wanted to create a candle that could both sit in a holder and function as a sculptural art piece.”
After posting their candle designs on social media, Johnston says “the response was almost immediately overwhelming,” and today Viisiions’s wares are carried by stores worldwide. “Now that people can open their home to others, they are ready to find joy in this new beginning and express themselves through entertaining,” she says. “Events like dinner parties and brunches seem completely thrilling, [and] setting a table is a form of self-expression.”
If you need a nudge to get your creative juices flowing, Johnston offers these tablescaping tips. “I think the beginning of an ideal tablescape uses a distinct colour palate that creates interest. Stick to three to five colours that you find are intriguing and complement each other. You can then begin to build a mood where the dinnerware, flowers and candles play off one another in a fascinating way. I like to pick a focal point for the table, which for me, is often the candles and flowers or greenery – the table just doesn’t seem finished without them. The freshness of nature paired with the warmth of a candle speaks to guests’ spirit on a level that, I think, is innate.”