Use varying heights to add excitement to tablescape

“The quality of life is determined by its activities.” — Aristotle (384-322 BC), an ancient Greek philosopher, “Nicomachean Ethics”

No doubt, Aristotle wasn’t necessarily talking about working in our homes, but it makes sense. Our lives are determined by our activity.

So back to tablescapes. When I wanted to write about tablescapes, I Googled it, of course, and Wiktionary describes it as “an artistic arrangement of articles on a table.” Yes. And Webster’s Dictionary says there is no such word. Wow. Well, there you go.

Webster’s doesn’t seem to know what a tablescape is, so aren’t you lucky that I do. For those of you who have read my tips, you will know that I have two entries about tablescapes:

1. Vary the heights on your tablescape.

2. Learn what a tablescape is.

The second one is from the sarcastic muse.

So today we’re going to learn not only what it is, but how to create beautiful and exciting ones.

OK, to begin with, any piece of furniture that has a top can be home to a tablescape. This includes tables (duh!), dressers, bureaus, bookcases — any flat surface.

Do you realize just how important tablescapes are? Some major shelter magazines (home, design, etc.) have tabletop editors. Really.

Like magazine editors, I hope we all realize the importance of accessories. Those pieces we bring into our home to accessorize our space are just as important, or more so, than the major pieces. The entire look of a room can be enhanced or ruined by these important purchases.

It seems that originally the term tablescape was used to describe a holiday or special occasion table. But, please, we know that every day is special, and so should every tabletop.

There are simple rules for tablescapes, and when you know them, you can have so much fun creating these little mini-environments.

Rule No. 1: Remember the rule of three or the rule of odd numbers. When setting up your tablescape, keep in mind that the eye likes to see an odd number of things. We could go on and on about that, but, trust me, it’s true.

So when picking pieces for your tablescape, pick three, five, seven, etc. More than likely you won’t exceed five. And for smaller surfaces, you may just have one; for instance, a small bedside table may just have a lamp. That’s perfectly OK.

Rule No. 2: For interest, pick different shapes, finishes and heights for your tablescape.

So now we have a blank canvas — a nice clear surface on which to create our little masterpiece. Let’s pretend the surface is that of a table next to a sofa or chair. In creating a tablescape, we have to also think of practicality.

On our table, we will probably start with lighting, since it’s next to seating. So, our first piece will be a lamp, and it will serve as the anchor for the creation.

Now you can add other pieces of graduated sizes and heights. If you have something you want to use but it’s a tad smaller than you want, use books to raise it up and give it more importance.

Mix round, square and flat pieces to create interest, and if you maintain some sense of sameness with either color or theme, your choices are unlimited. Examples include a lamp, a picture frame and a smaller box, basket or bowl. Books are also excellent for tabletops, either by themselves or as a base for a smaller piece.

Being an expert in anything opens you up for all manner of compliments and people seeking advice. When your friends and family see how expertly you have now managed your space, look out — you will be in great demand.

Keep in mind that, as with all design and decoration, there is no decorating police. It’s your space, and you can do what you wish with it. But, if you can follow a few simple suggestions and make everything better, why wouldn’t you?

Have fun with your tabletops. Make them your own personal masterpieces. And if you have any you would like to share, I would love to see them. Drop me an email.

Carolyn Muse Grant is a founder and past president of the Architectural and Decorative Arts Society, as well as an interior design consultant and stylist specializing in home staging. She can be reached at