Originally Published on September 7, 2018. Last Updated on September 21, 2023.
The cooler fall evenings create the perfect setting for an intimate backyard gathering. What better way to enjoy the autumnal scenery than by dining alfresco with good food in front of you and family beside you?
Creating a tablescape is easier than you may imagine, and our team is here to guide you every step of the way. We’ve compiled tips, tricks, and ideas for styling Pinterest-worthy fall tablescapes, so follow our lead to liven up your outdoor space.
Step 1: Pick the Right Dining Set
To properly design a tablescape, you first need a table. (If you already have your desired dining set, move on to Step 2). When shopping for alfresco furniture, look for products that meet these goals:
- There’s plenty of room to accommodate family, fall decor, and the feasts you prepare.
- The set’s size fits your space. We advise measuring your outdoor dining area first to know how much room you have to play with.
- The furniture is built to withstand harsh weather and frequent entertaining.
- You’re pleased with the colors and designs and how they complement your style.
Step 2: Plan According to the Occasion
Are you hosting this year’s holiday dinner, planning a themed birthday party for your child, or just feeling like dressing up your dining space? Whatever the reason, your tablescape design should rise to the occasion.
Large, lavish dinners will take up most of your tabletop, so use minimal decor.
Include interactive items in the table decor to keep guests occupied between courses. Gourds and markers so kids can doodle, themed crossword puzzles for adults, etc.
Ages of Guests
Steer clear of candles, glass decor, and sharp objects if the attendees are young children.
It gets dark early in the fall, so include enough light sources so everyone can see. Strands of lights overhead, outdoor lamps lining the room’s perimeter, and flameless candles will ensure your space is well-lit.
Depending on your climate, entertaining late in the season means contending with cold temperatures. Offer blankets, set up outdoor heaters, and light your fire pit table to keep everyone warm and cozy.
Step 3: Learn to Set a Table
When dining alfresco, you typically will not need a formal table setting (unless you’re hosting a backyard wedding). For a casual evening meal with family, setting the table is straightforward:
- Set a dinner plate at each seat.
- Position a folded cloth napkin to the left of the plate and put a dinner fork on top.
- Place a dinner knife and a teaspoon to the right of the plate. The knife goes between the plate and spoon, with its blade facing left.
- Set a water glass in front of the plate and a wine glass slightly to the upper right.
Even a meal that’s slightly more elevated only requires a few more pieces of dinnerware. Follow the method above for the casual setup, then add these extras:
- Place a salad plate on top of the dinner plate.
- Add a salad fork to the left of the dinner fork.
- Position a soup spoon between the dinner knife and teaspoon.
Step 4: Fall for These Tablescape Ideas
Now that you have a solid foundation for your fall tablescape, it’s time to let your creative side take over. Let these decorating ideas lead you to your perfect autumnal alfresco setup.
1. Farmhouse Fall Tablescape
Celebrate a happy harvest with plaid placemats, colorful gourds, and a rustic basket filled with rosy fresh-picked apples.
2. Contrasting Table Decor
Go monochrome with a black tablecloth and glasses, white plates and Baby Boo pumpkins, and then incorporate autumn colors here and there (red vases, gold cutlery, etc.).
3. Woodsy Tablescape
Create a rustic and cozy table setting using large wood slice chargers, and top a gauzy sage green table runner with pinecones, leaves, and a manzanita branch centerpiece.
4. Metallic Meal Setting
Choose one or two metal accent colors to liven up your tablescape. Copper mugs, brass chargers, or silver vases are all great choices; just make sure not to go overboard with metallics. A little goes a long way.
5. Spooky Season Tablescape
Your time has come, Halloween lovers. Grab that black lace tablecloth, carve up some jack-o’-lanterns, and place a pair of creepy candelabras at the center of your spine-chilling setup.
6. Abundant Table Design
Top a bare wooden table with a woven cornucopia filled with wheat, gourds, and fall fruits. Surround this grand centerpiece with simple white place settings and a few glowing votives to complete a tablescape to be thankful for.
7. Fall Flower Table Decor
Use autumn blooms to create a living focal point at the dinner table. Create pretty floral pumpkins using cut mums and soft-skinned gourds, or design a homemade wreath with dried sunflowers, dahlias, and goldenrods.
8. Kid-Friendly Tablescape
Turn the kids’ table into a creation station by covering it with a layer of white paper (the tablecloth) and a length of orange or green paper (the runner). Use melamine dinnerware for each place setting, and fill pretty plastic cups with pre-cut construction paper, crayons, and glue sticks.
9. Tablescape for Small Spaces
If a cozy table is your canvas, try adorably tiny decor. Bud vases holding mums, mini gourd topiaries, or slim hurricane jars filled with floating candles are all decor ideas that take up little room.
10. Fabric-Themed Table Decorations
If you’re a proud DIYer, put your sewing skills to work and design a tablescape made (almost) entirely of varying textiles. Find materials in thrift shops or your closet to create vases of satin flowers, linen napkins, sweater pumpkins, and other handmade decor.
11. Think Outside the Table
Spread your creativity to every corner of your dining space to create a cohesive look that coordinates with your table decor. Place pots of mums, pumpkin topiaries, leaf garlands, and other autumnal additions around and above your dining set—excellent ways to avoid overcrowding your table while satisfying your desire to decorate.
12. Add Scents to the Table Scene
Let the smells of cinnamon, apples, cloves, or pears gently waft through your tablescape with candles or sachets of dried fruits and spices. Be careful not to use too much—just enough to give guests a subtle whiff of fall.
13. Sparkling Tablescape
Because glitter makes everything better. Display glitter-dipped faux pumpkins and flowers on a metal tray, or place clear glass votives on a table runner with sparkling threads throughout that catch the light.
14. Country-Meets-Chic Table Design
Mix rustic elements with upscale details to create an eclectic look. Crystal wine glasses and fine China on burlap placemats, gourd-filled wicker baskets sitting next to sterling silver candlesticks, and other mixed decor depict an elegant yet approachable setting.
What makes a great tablescape?
Follow these tips to make a great tablescape:
- Choose the right colors. Pick shades that fit the occasion and season.
- Add greenery. A verdant flourish will liven up any tablescape.
- Minimize clutter. A table overwhelmed with decor leaves little room for guests to enjoy their meals.
- Mix textures. Blending a variety of patterns and textures can add depth to your aesthetic.
- Try layering. Whether draping a lace table runner over a linen tablecloth or stacking plates of varying wood species, layering adds depth and personality to a tablescape.
How do you make a pretty tablescape?
Planning ahead is the trick to creating an oh-so-pretty tablescape. Do a bit of research to learn about the pending celebration, the invitees, and the space. From there, determine the theme and color palette, then gather the appropriate materials. Try a test run to see if your tablescape design will work, and make adjustments as necessary.
What is the difference between table setting and tablescape?
A tablescape is a decorative arrangement of items on a table. It includes the centerpiece, place settings, linens, and other decor. A table setting is more technical, referring to the types of dishes and cutlery needed for a place setting and how to arrange them. Different dining occasions call for different table settings (e.g., a casual table setting needs only one fork, whereas a formal table setting requires different forks for the salad, dinner, and dessert courses).