Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The ABC’s of Designing a Captivating Back-to-School Tablescape

Artful Back to School, Seasonal Harvest Tablescape 
While it was time for students to trade in their summer swimsuits to return to school, it was also time for me to change out the red, white, and blue patriotic-themed tablescape design that was in residence.

The summer’s look was fueled by Independence Day and the Fireworks and Mother’s Birthday party. The design proved to be very enduring; with a few minor updates and edits the look took us straight through Labor Day.

I was sorry to see it go.

But as the ornamental grasses were sending out their inflorescence, the summer style was looking jarringly out of sync… Out of style... It was time...

Part of my rationale was I had so many other garden and writing priorities - but I was clearly pushing the limit. Even my yogi master told us today,”It is a time for change. And be mindful of the change,” he admonished. I will be mindful, I promised myself.

Upon reflection, I knew I wasn’t yet ready for Halloween. So what was the inspiration to be for an end of summer/September look?

Not a surprise, it happened at the Greenmarket. I took one look at those irresistible and happy-looking Teddy Bear sunflowers and I was immediately smitten.

It was an easy next step to broaden the design concept to include the harvest! And to complete the Tablescape story, to add a bit of whimsy -- in this case, the "Back-To-School” element. I always look to add a wink and some charm when designing a tablescape.

The art of a tablescape’s storytelling is what distinguishes it from being just a pretty table. Furthermore, the story makes it unique -- no one else can tell your artful story.

Of course -- the very edibles we’ve been nurturing all summer in our farm-ette need to be celebrated. Just as the cornucopia of yore spilled forth with the bounty of the garden, I wanted to give our pretty - and delicious -- fruits and vegetables their own time to shine in the spotlight.

We revere our food -- so it’s only natural then they were to become the stars of a Harvest Tablescape.

What would be the best receptacle for the sunflowers? See, I don’t always use a traditional vase. Floral designs can often be best showcased in other, repurposed vessels, including liqueur glasses, antique or vintage glasses or jars, local glass works, napkin rings - I have ghost ones that have a side pocket insert for buds and blossoms. There’s also plenty of cocktail and baking items that are cute and clever enough to re-purpose within a tablescape.

I discovered a long-forgotten vase that seemed to jump out from my tablescape inventory shelf -- and why not? After all, it is adorned with -- drum roll, please -- sunflowers!

It made the cut, of course. To balance out the center of table floral display - I looked for two others. The glossy black urns would work in scale and the color looks crisp with the yellow of the sunflowers. I had to find a way to keep water inside the urns for the flower stems, and found that egg cups did the job -- in turn placing them inside the urns.

I also brought out the autumn soup tureens that look like squash and pumpkins that I got some years ago at William-Sonoma. Pretty. And functional.

Overall, you can see and understand how the tablescape design gets layered. Each element adds to the story and suggests yet another object or component that will enhance the look.

I kept the mirrored plates with the gold glitter on the table (preserves the integrity of the antique table -- and well, you just can’t have too much glitter!)

Gold and black was fashioning a bold and striking color statement for this emerging tablescape. It was infusing an elegant, eye-catching appearance.

I spray painted small faux pumpkins last year and placed them at key spots on the table.

I also used the big gold pollinators: bees, grasshoppers and butterflies. After all, the pollinators are key to growing our gardens -- in the real world!

Clear glass square vases could best hold the harvest -- a colorful display of peppers of all colors, and topped off with lipstick red tomatoes.

We grow shisito peppers (these are super delicious to enjoy at your evening’s cocktail hour - just blistered and seasoned with sea salt), jalapeno, chile,

and this year we grew chef Dan Barber’s Row 7 peppers. We were delighted with the beautiful Habanada Pepper -- all the taste without the sizzling tongue burning.

Love it! It’s a perfect ingredient for so many dishes - from salads to soups.

The whimsical “pièce de résistance” that anchored the Back to School story line was the placement of little chalkboards on a tripod -- used to label or identify food / dishes on a buffet. You’ve seen them at events, probably.

I used the chalk that comes with the mini blackboards and wrote out a few “lessons.” Arithmetic: 1+1+1=3; The Capital of NJ is __; A,B,C, and “Teacher’s Pet.”

They looked great - - so engaging and fun -- plus, the blackboard’s color accented and harmonized the black and gold cover style that this composition had taken on.

To add sparkle when the sun goes down -- outside (ha) -- I added string lights to the tabletop to keep the spotlight on our sunny, sunflowers, inside.

Concealed in short gold cups that are repurposed from a previous, floral display; topped with mini green-striped faux pumpkins to hide the mechanics of the string lights. This way, the glitter peeks out, adding just the right amount of enchanting glow to the sunflowers and table decor.


Today’s “lesson” in tablescape design is:
  • Tell a story with your tablescape look; 
  • Design with the season; 
  • Use what you have -- repurpose items 
  • Celebrate the “food as character” design element
  • Add in some fanciful or playful elements that solicits a wink and smile for you and your guest

Enjoy your glamorous, Back-To-School tablescape. Or contact me and I’ll design one for you.

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