Tablescaping Pro Tips with Alycia Nichols

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Tablescaping Pro Tips with Alycia of Tablescapes at Table Twenty-One

At LinenTablecloth, tablecloths are our business; however, table linens are just one part of designing event tables. Tablescaping is the official term for artistically arranging the articles on a tabletop, and there really are no restrictions when it comes to designing a tablescape. Besides the obvious decorative pieces like candles and centerpieces, pro tablescapers employ a wide variety of tabletop decor from potted plants to ceramic figurines. Tablescaping may seem like a walk in the park at first glance, but the truth is that tablescaping is an art form that takes a creative mind and a sharp eye for details. Recently, I started designing tablescapes to feature on the LinenTablecloth blog, and I quickly learned that tablescaping takes a LOT of trial & error. That’s exactly why I decided to ask Alycia Nichols of Tablescapes at Table Twenty-One for some tablescaping pro tips to share with anyone interested in pursuing the art of tablescaping. In addition to designing tablescapes for occasions ranging from birthday luncheons to weddings, Alycia also articulates her design process with such eloquence–it’s one of the reasons I love reading her blog!

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Without further ado, I’ll now share some great tablescaping tips from the pro herself, Alycia Nichols! If you’re interested in seeing even more great tips, Alycia compiled a list of other table tips on her blog.

Q: When you plan a design scheme for a tablescape, do you follow a set of rules when choosing colors and textures so they work together? What’s the best way to prevent colors and textures from clashing? 

Eyeballs and common sense! I believe that “rules” are made to be either bent or broken in the world of fashion. And that’s just what tablescaping is…a form of fashion with trends and buzz just like clothing and home furnishings. I think knowing what your guests will be comfortable with is a big part of it. Being able to read your guests and cater to their comfort zone is key. If unsure about what might work together, get out to some of the high-end stores or hop on the Internet to see what’s trending (did somebody say Pinterest!?), then tailor it to make sense for the guest list.

Q: When designing a tablescape, a very common issue is that centerpieces may block guests’ view of one another from across the table. What are some tips for designing a functional yet aesthetically pleasing tablescape so guests can converse with each other without moving the decor?

If you don’t want to have to move anything, keeping the centerpiece elements low, very tall and narrow, or virtually see-through is the best route (Or even a mix of 2 or 3 of these!). I still want my guests to be WOWed when they enter our home, so if the centerpiece will be too much, I simply remove it and place it elsewhere while guests are enjoying the cocktail hour. That area in the middle of the table either gets an alternate but complementary centerpiece OR is left bare to accommodate platters or bread bowls.

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Q: A beautiful tablescape can be beautifully complex or elegantly simple in design, but when it comes down to it, guests are meant to eat on the table. How do you balance a complex aesthetic with a table that’s practical for eating? 

So glad you asked! Guests don’t want to wrestle their way through dinner, and it’s up to the host or hostess to make sure that doesn’t happen! Our dining room is the first room seen upon entering the front door. I like to make a WOW statement in that room so that guests know they’re in for a treat. It’s easy to get carried away, though, so I sit at the table with my husband or a friend to make sure it is both pretty AND functional. That’s where the importance of a written menu comes into play, too. I want to make sure there are sufficient utensils on the table for every food being served.

Q: What are some of your favorite spots to shop for tabletop decor?

EVERYWHERE!!! I’m an equal opportunity shopper!!! I actually put together a list called “Where To Shop” for my “Art of Tablescaping” students so they could explore places they may never have considered. But if you’re going to hold me to a few specific names, I guess I’d have to say Home Goods, Marshalls, T.J. Maxx, Tuesday Morning, Z Gallerie, Pier 1, Old Time Pottery, thrift stores, and, of course, LinenTablecloth.com for all the fabulous textiles to show off whatever’s on top!

Q: What’s the best way to shop for tabletop decor for a specific tablescape design idea?

I keep a computer catalog of every single decorative item that crosses our threshold. It helps to keep my mind straight about what I have and what I might want to find to complement it. Sometimes I take a picture of something I already have and key in notes about it on my phone so that I’ll have the information handy. When out shopping, I just look for those things that catch my eye that are affordable. But if I can’t come up with at least FIVE ways to use it right there on the spot, though, it stays at the store…even if it will work perfectly for a single event. That’s painful sometimes, but it’s the only way to spend wisely.

Q: Any other tips of the trade you? Feel free to share any and all design tips in your arsenal! 
1) First and foremost: organization!!! It’s always the key to good planning and execution.
2) A centerpiece can be as simple as a bowl of fruit or a vase filled with flowers. It can be as complex as the imagination will allow. It should always, however, make a statement about the meal itself, the guest of honor, or the theme (e.g., Christmas, Valentine’s Day).
3) I think guests like to feel as if you went a little overboard on their behalf. It’s what makes the difference between a Tuesday night takeout meal in front of the T.V. in your jammies and something that says in all its glory, “I’m so glad you’re here! Come in and feel pampered!” But don’t get hung up on designer names and theatrics. Whatever you design should come from the heart AND keep within your budget.
4) Start creating your tablescape as far in advance as possible so that you can critique and edit it over time.
5) Don’t be afraid to mix and match, but be sure there are ties that bind the items together (e.g., color, shape, pattern).
6) The best two items to have in your tablescaping arsenal include white dishes and clear glassware. These are the basics to which you can add as much color, texture, and/or drama as you like vis a vis napkins, placemats, tablecloths, centerpieces, and fun menus that can double as take home mementos of the event.
Interested in learning Alycia’s tablescaping origins? I know I was, and that’s exactly why I asked!
Q: How did you first get into tablescaping? 

I worked in the public and non-profit sectors as an event planner for many years. When I “retired” in 1997, I was bored stiff within a couple of days and began laying the foundation for my own event planning company, Alianza Celebrations. The company focused on wedding-related events. Once it was up and running, I expanded by adding a rental component called Something Borrowed Fine Rentals. We focused on all the “bling” items that help make a reception space come alive like fabulous candelabra and floral vessels, unusual centerpiece items, and gleaming silver cake plateaus. I poured most of my energy into the dining tables and that first impression guests would have upon arrival. When my health took a bad turn in 2006, I sold my businesses and once again “retired.” I kept a few items from the rental inventory to use at home. Being at home provided an opportunity to entertain more, and having so much time on my hands allowed time to set extraordinary tables. I was fiddling around online one day and discovered there was a whole world of women and men like me who truly relished the art of setting a fine table, and that’s when I set up my blog, Tablescapes at Table Twenty-One. I’ve been blogging for nearly five years now, and I even teach a community course in “The Art of Tablescaping” through our local college.

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It was a pleasure to interview Alycia, and I always look forward to seeing her new tablescape designs. You can follow Alycia on her blog at Tablescapes at Table Twenty-One and check out Between Naps on the Porch where Alycia and other amazing tablescapers gather every thursday to share links to their latest tablescapes!