Earlier this year, while working on my MOTO (Makeover Takeover), there was one area where I felt like I had a little bit of a blind spot. I had a pretty good sense of the style I wanted to achieve, the blue velvet sofa was dialed in, but when it came to figuring out what to do with the top of my dining table, I was stuck. In the grand scheme of the design, it felt like an afterthought…because it kind of was. On an everyday basis, it’s normally the spot where my piles of junk mail land (until they topple over and I have to deal with it) and where our Amazon boxes collect, well, the smaller ones. It’s a bit of a “life” wasteland, so I didn’t want to super fake it with anything too set. I wanted to do something that, post-shoot, could still work for how we live. So I dug through our archives for inspiration and it was super helpful. So helpful, that now, months later, I think it’s time to share with you guys in case you’re tabletop-challenge like I am.
Read on for six different approaches to the “everyday” dining table, though leaving it clear is also a very real option…so let’s call that style #1. Now, for style #2:
I figured let’s start with where I ended with my dining table: the “centered vase” look. Yes, I also have a candelabra and some plates, but really that was more for styling the shot. In real life, you’ll mostly find just one thing sitting right there in the middle of my table (absolutely NOT surrounded by a bunch of other junk like my husband’s headphones or a random sweater and clutch I threw there one night after going out)…
I went tall (it was a vase I had on hand from Target years ago), but you could also go much shorter, like Sara did here in her old apartment. You can go the fresh florals route, or, for something much lower maintenance, pick a potted plant (as long as your room gets the right light to keep that thing kickin’).
This is maybe my favorite dining space from our archives because BOY THAT WINDOW IS GOOD. But besides that, the one centered vase with organic, asymmetrical greens feels so liveable and laid back, and isn’t that exactly what you want in a breakfast nook like this?
When you have just a little surface to work with, like in the dining nook (which she DIYed people…incredible) of Jess’ rental apartment, I personally think simple is best, so all hail the subtlety of the “centered vase” for spaces like this.
For larger tables, I’m ALL about the “collection,” like Emily did in the Portland dining room. It’s an 8-seater, so there was a lot of table surface area to cover and empty, it might have felt a bit bare and unfinished.
Something to note with the “collection” of things is how it looks from all angles. You’ll want to make sure you’re spacing things out so that whether you’re seeing it head-on or from the side, it doesn’t end up looking like the bargain table at your local thrift store.
In Portland, they went with a set of same-colored sculptures, but in this “organic modern” dining room, it was a mix-and-match collection of vases and vassels. Note the tight color palette and variety of shapes and sizes to keep things interesting. Always remember, just because your “collection” has 10 things in it doesn’t mean they all have to be displayed together. If it works, great! But you can always split things up if you’re after something a little more curated and edited down.
Grouping of 3
The “grouping of 3” is a close cousin to both the collection and the centered vase. All the same ease as the centered vase, more of the visual interest of the collection (but without thinking too long and hard about the set up). Three candleholders in varying heights is a great option (and typically are sold in a set just like this).
If you don’t want to go the candlestick route, there’s always the three-vessel route, like they did in Sylvia’s dining room for that surprise reveal. I think the key here is the varying heights like I mentioned previously. That way, you can more casually cluster things in the middle of the table, though if you have three things of all the same size, I’d go with something a little tidier such as lining thing up across the long-way of the table.
Here’s another option that I really love (I tend to like the more non-symmetrical stuff because it gives the eye a lot to play with). This one I’m calling the “high/low” because, well, there’s one high or tall thing (ideally with some greenery to exaggerate the height even more), and one low and wide thing (in this case, a footed bowl of produce…I think).
You can either go the way of putting your high/low goods in the center of the table, or off-setting them to one side if you are casually placing anything else on the table if you find yourself entertaining.
Tray + Gather
There might be a chance you found yourself thinking anything up there I showed you previously felt a little too “floaty” so you, my friend, are the “tray + gather” type. You’ll want to be sure your tray is on the larger side (about 1/3 the wide of your table is a good rule of thumb) or else you risk things looking a little dinky. Now, what exactly do you put ON that tray? Well, that’s up to you. Ginny did a high/low thing with florals which I think feels really nice and not overly stiff, a low bowl of nuts and a small carafe, but you can go with a candle, a small collection of things…there are no rules!
In Emily’s previous Glendale house, she went with the tray + gather, too, but in this case it was styled out more like a refreshments/snack tray with a drink pitcher, some glassware and, again, a bowl of nuts (never underestimate the power of a bowl of nuts for styling, ha).
And lastly, our final category here…the “casually set” table. This one is less for everyday, I think, and more for “company’s coming over and I have a few snacks but not a full sit-down dinner happening.” You can use all the same ideas for the main anchor pieces, but shift them a little to make room for a stack of appetizer plates, napkins, glassware and anything else you want to set out.
Hopefully that was helpful for you all. I know it can be easy for us to forget to talk about these little everyday styling questions and conundrums that come up for EVERYONE, design novices all the way to the pros, but the key is to tap into inspiration, see what you think would work best for your life (and you like, of course) and play with what you have to get there.
Please let me know in the comments what other “no-brainer” type styling ideas you guys might feel stuck on and we’ll round up that inspo to help you out. Thanks for stopping by and see you this afternoon.