As we gather round our dining tables, now more than ever, there's a new trend for 'tablescaping'. Hugely popular in America and taking off over here, it's simply the art of dressing up a table for a special occasion.
Tablescaping is a wonderful way to show off your creativity and taste, and of course, ensures your table is Instagram-worthy (if you're seeking inspiration, there are more than a million entries on #tablescaping on Instagram).
"I think of dressing the table as being similar to the way I dress up myself for a night out," says Ellie Moore at Dress For Dinner, a company offering bespoke tableware solutions.
"I like to look glamorous and the table should look the same, but it needn't be complicated or expensive. There are no rules, it's just about using your imagination and whatever you have to hand," says Moore.
"The trend for tablescaping's grown hugely, because we've been at home so much more, and that's fuelled a real desire to make the occasions we do have count. A curated decorated table helps create a magical atmosphere, is welcoming and shows guests you've really taken trouble."
If the task still feels a little overwhelming, there's help on hand - we've got table-tastic advice and tips from the experts who can help you create your own stunning table setting.
Maison Margaux: Create a destination
"Home tablescapes are all over Instagram and have replaced those food images from restaurants, which were so popular pre-lockdown," says Louisa Preskett, co-founder of Maison Margaux, which offers inspired looks for a tabletop that can be hired or bought.
"It's about those meals we've cooked and the tables we have created, and people are pouring more and more creativity into them. It's no wonder, because at the moment, we all need to escape, cheer ourselves up, share and express our taste, and entertain our friends."
On trend buys this year, she says, include scallop-shaped details for plates and linens, green and white foliage-inspired designs on china, bamboo-style cutlery, woven rattan place mats, and a profusion of hand-painted Italian lemon motifs.
"With travel put on hold for so many, table settings evoking memories or feelings of holiday destinations are in big demand," points out Preskett.
"A printed, patterned tablecloth - my choice would be fresh blues or greens for summer - can elevate the look of the plainest white china," she points out. If an expensive cloth is beyond the budget, she suggests sourcing fabrics from markets.
Work on three items for each setting, she advises; a charger or place mat, a middle plate for the main course, and finally, a beautiful, smaller 'top' plate.
"Candles, seasonal flowers and simple touches (like a bowl of lemons or lush red vine tomatoes) don't just add colour, but bring a table to life. Hand-written place cards or guests' names written on shells, stones or even leaves can look charming."
If the whole thing still feels a bit intimidating, she adds reassuringly: "It's lovely to have a theme and to pay attention to details, but things don't need to be too perfect. The best tables feel personal, intimate, and beautiful but welcoming."
Summerill & Bishop: Talk to the table
"If a table is a visual feast, people will spend more time there, linger and the occasion will be extra special and memorable," declares Seb Bishop, CEO of Summerill & Bishop, specialists in sophisticated, timeless tableware and accessories.
"The table, as a place where we share time, talk, and exchange experiences and worries, has really been valued in the current difficult times," he adds. "People are much more aware of taking time to enjoy moments with friends and family."
Ramp up the colour if you want to be on trend, he advises, with bright, bold tablecloths, which can transform the look of a room, as well as a table.
"Don't be afraid to mix and match, and include items that mean something to you and bring you joy. Add an heirloom plate, a quirky vase or a bloom tied with ribbon to each napkin - so you conjure your own table 'recipe'," he says.
"A successful table is one that looks lovely, but also has individuality and details which trigger memories and anecdotes, which will be talking points and add to that sense of occasion."
Alice Naylor-Leyland: View it like art
"It's a bit like creating a painting," explains Alice Naylor-Leyland, lifestyle writer and influencer, who provides bespoke settings and also tableware and accessories.
"I start with the base (a tablecloth) and then build it from there," she says. "I arrange all the settings and then work on the middle - 'the dead space' - and decide what I want to fill it with, whether it's candles, flowers or a theme, so eggs if it's Easter."
She says large vases can overwhelm a table and make it hard for guests to see each other, so opt instead for small bud vases. "You only need a couple of blooms in each and if you add coloured candles, complementing the colour of the flowers, you will create an instant tied-together look, which isn't expensive," she confides.
Wayfair: Go al fresco exotic
"Think of your summer tablescape in the same way that you would your interior, choosing a handful of recurring colours running throughout," advises Nadia McCowan Hill, resident style advisor, Wayfair.
"An exotic faux plant or tree will always add atmosphere. If you're looking to channel destination style, focus on a few hot accent shades - think look-at-me pink, bold cobalt or sunny yellow. Use a range of jugs, vases and glasses in staggered heights, and a medley of different florals, from blowsy roses to majestic foxgloves for a more wild, organic look."
Her top tip is to include an eclectic mix of ?plates and platters with organic forms? and finishes, for informal occasions, as it conjures a more laid-back but stylish look. If you're short of a centrepiece, fill a clear glass carafe with fresh fruit or leafy herbs, and you can enjoy its contents as part of the meal.
The White Company: Play with light
"For a special table, I love using lots of reflective surfaces to pick up candlelight: glass storm lanterns or mercury tea light holders, and then pure white china, which sets the food off beautifully," says Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company.
"Make sure your glasses are buffed, as they'll sparkle more," she says, "and personalise place settings with simple luggage tags, or tie napkins with raffia and add a little sprig of flowers.
"Seasonal flowers or an arrangement of leaves sprayed silver or gold for a special occasion, and a cluster of candles, make a perfect table centre, but do keep arrangements low, so they are easy to talk over."