Rarely has the dining table played such a starring role. When the pandemic forced us indoors last year, it provided the setting for Zoom meetings, virtual pub quizzes and, once household mixing recommenced, dinner parties. With restaurants closed, we looked to our homes to create the pomp and ceremony of dining out (cue the overly complicated recipes, tablecloth and matching dinnerware). Suddenly the dining table felt worthy of celebration.
Before COVID-19, we shared images of restaurants online. Now, it’s our home-cooking achievements and the tablescapes we’ve created. In this online age when the heavily curated world of Instagram is invited to our dinner parties, dressing the table has become something of an artform. It’s a simple pleasure, one not intended to be taken too seriously, but there’s something soothing about creating a perfectly choreographed table. It’s about elevating the mundane and finding joy in the everyday, and who doesn’t enjoy sitting down at a beautiful table? A memorable table setting can set the mood for a party, create a sense of occasion and spark conversation among guests.
“I love to have pieces on the table that are handmade or have a story,” says Alicia Aulsebrook, who launched her naturally dyed napery brand, Earth Colour, during lockdown last year. “They provide a talking point and it’s a lovely way to feel a sense of mindfulness and pride when sitting down for a meal.”
For luxury table linen with eco-credibility, you can’t go wrong with Earth Colour’s range of hand-dyed placemats, table runners and coasters. Prior to launching the brand last year, Alicia worked in costume design for theatre and television, which fed into her drive to create consciously crafted textiles.
“I’ve worked with all manner of colours and dyes over the years, but I’ve always searched for and experimented with alternatives to the harsh, toxic synthetic dyes typically used on fabrics,” she says.
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An industry shutdown during the pandemic provided the perfect opportunity to turn her passion into a fully-fledged business. “I wanted to create a range that was completely natural with as little impact on the environment as possible,” says Alicia, who hand-dyes each piece in her Melbourne studio using a combination of locally sourced botanicals and natural Japanese mud dyes.
“Natural dye is a pretty underused resource, but it’s starting to be used more and more,” she says. “It has taken a lot of experimentation to create the colours. At the beginning I would test different organic matter and get really nice colours, but they would fade within a couple of washes so I couldn’t use it.”
Alicia deliberately sells her placemats separately so customers can mix and match for a more playful setting. “I love playing with colour combinations. You don’t have to have everything matching — you can make the table as quirky as you want,” she shares.
To add interest to your table, Alicia suggests introducing a variety of textures. “Native flowers paired with slick ceramics is one of my favourite combinations,” she says. But don’t overdo it; if you want your food to be the main focus, the textiles expert has a few tricks: “Keep it simple with a few key pieces and use dark-coloured plates and bowls — it makes the colours of the food pop and they look great layered over a coloured placemat.”
Textures and tones
Another brand responsible for transporting table linen from grandma-chic to statement style is Bonnie and Neil, the interiors collection beloved of maximalist magpies. Co-founders and life partners Bonnie and Neil launched their eponymous brand in 2010, combining their joint expertise spanning floristry, textile design, art, furniture making, set design and screen printing.
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What began as a textile studio screen-printing linen cushions is now an extensive homewares collective comprising statement-making napery, tableware, art and decor. “Most of our designs are original paintings and hand drawings repurposed for screen printing,” says Bonnie, who constantly collects inspiration for her drawings from botanical gardens, fashion and architecture.
Literally artworks for your table, the brand’s tablecloths and placemats are created using linen due to its sustainable properties. The design duo source all their inks locally and hand-mix the colours in their Melbourne studio. “It’s an intuitive approach that involves a combination of traditional screen-printing methods paired with unique applications that we’ve developed over the years,” reveals Bonnie.
The brand’s Instagram feed demonstrates precisely how to achieve an eye-catching tablescape. Tablecloths and napkins in the brand’s signature hand-printed designs are layered with vibrant glassware and towering ceramic vases; sculptural candles and bowls of fruit add a playful twist. It’s all quite “dining in Capri”.
So what’s the starting point to creating a successful tablescape? “The tablecloth, of course!” says Bonnie, who suggests beginning with a key piece and building from there: “Choose a favourite item to work with, whether that’s your tablecloth or a decorative piece, and find items that work with it.”
Bonnie and Neil’s table settings are a magnet for maximalists, but the key to not veering into print overload, says Bonnie, is careful layering of print.
“You don’t want too many detailed designs together. Pair a more intricate pattern with something bold, such as a floral tablecloth and a geometric napkin, so that each design has the opportunity to stand out.”
You don’t have to be confined to a traditional layout, either. “I like to serve banquet style,” adds Bonnie. “I’m always collecting different boards, platters and bowls so my table is full of different colours and textures.” She suggests thinking about the experience you want to give your guests: “Using fresh flowers, textures, pattern and colour can take your guests on a sensory journey as well as experiencing a great meal and fun time with friends,” she says.
However, there are no hard and fast rules. “Avoid perfect, think about making your guests comfortable and enjoy your experience as a host.”