How to create an inviting summer table

Table stylist Ami Kothari's rustic setting.
Table stylist Ami Kothari's rustic setting.

Summary

Table settings have gone beyond flowers and candles to become lush, busy landscapes with a theme and a story

For an al-fresco, sit-down meal in Jaipur in early April, creative consultant and designer Rosanna Falconer put together a table featuring pink bougainvillaea, handpainted menus and candles to match the blooms, dainty floral plates and rosy bows cascading down the cutlery. It was creative and elaborate, taking inspiration from Jaipur, her second home, and featuring a certain aesthetic comprising an interplay of colours, patterns and textures.

Elaborate table settings are not a new concept; anyone with a passing acquaintance with British period dramas will have noted grand dinner tables with all manner of cutlery, crockery, candles and complicated flower arrangements. However, “tablescapes" are beginning to catch on in India. Arguably coined by television chef Sandra Lee in the early noughts, the term “tablescape" denotes creating an evocative experience that tells a story through curated table settings. Whether it’s a lavish wedding or an intimate at-home dinner, table settings have gone beyond flowers, candles and linen to become a lush playground for ideas executed by professional designers. We asked a few of them to share with Lounge readers ideas to create conversation-starting tables for house parties during the scorching summer months.

Tell a story

An experiential tablescape engages the guests, sets the tone for the party and makes for a great photo-op. Often, there is an overarching theme—Falconer’s tables take inspiration from the pastoral themes of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dreams or Rajasthani architecture and colours. “I’m certain that my time in Jaipur has impacted my confidence with colour. A summer tablescape is the perfect setting to experiment with the most adventurous colour palette—be bold!" says Falconer.

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Keep it fresh

Another advocate of all things colours is Archana Raniwala. Founder of Bloom Barn, a Mumbai-based boutique floral company, she says a summer tablescape should be fresh, fragrant and bold.

Raniwala recommends mixing and matching decor accents you already have at home in creative ways—like seasonal fruit, vegetables and flowers inspired by your theme and menu—to add more character to the table. At an Italian-themed luncheon table designed by her, Raniwala slit and hollowed bell peppers to hold oregano and chilli flakes. Limes were emptied to become tealight stands and small pots overflowed with fresh herbs and baby’s breath. There were food trivia cards placed around to spark conversations. “Your decor shouldn’t just be a prop. It should draw your guests in, inspire conversations, and have that one ‘wow’ element that engages them," says Raniwala.

For a birthday lunch she designed for a client, an interplay of dragon fruits, pomegranates, cherries, oranges and a bunch of colourful blooms sprinkled with gypsy flowers became the talking point. “Go as elaborate or as simple as comes naturally to you, without feeling the pressure. If you had a good time doing the table up as a host, that energy is bound to rub off on your guests too," she says.

 

Archana Raniwala uses decor elements to draw people in.
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Archana Raniwala uses decor elements to draw people in.

Summer tableware

Shachi Bakliwal, founder of Supper Story, a Jaipur-based tablescaping company, emphasises using the right tableware. She plays around with functional table accents, such as colourful drinks trays and elegant brass vases, to create Indian-themed tablescapes. Bakliwal often uses brass cutlery with lean ladles, katoris and vases that are equal parts functional and pleasing to the eye. Playful, handmade crockery shaped like fruits and vegetables will draw the eye and add pops of colour.

Interactive tables

Ami Kothari, table stylist and founder of bespoke table styling company Dining Couture, Mumbai, which also conducts table styling workshops, has a fun idea to engage guests. Place terracotta planters on the table potted with herbs or microgreens that are as much table decor as a pluck-and-garnish station, she says. They also add a summery aroma to the table.

Bakliwal says a good tablescape should get people curious about the food being served. One of the themes she plays with is bringing the farm home by incorporating ingredients of the dishes served into the decor, such as placing a bowl of millets on the table when the cooling raabdi, a Rajasthani dish made with bajra flour and yogurt, is being served. “Encourage your guests to feel the texture of millets by hand to get a better understanding of what they are eating," she says.

Add some flourish

If you are one for trends, Kothari recommends going all out with bows, which have been making a comeback with #Barbiecore and #couquette. Tie your napkins or wrap your candles with brightly coloured, cascading bows that add texture and a tinge of whimsy. If classic design pairings are your thing, Kothari says tropical decor and summer go hand in hand. Use hibiscus, orchids and birds of paradise paired with palm or monstera leaves. You can also add coconuts, pineapples or a bunch of bananas. For centrepieces, use citrus fruits like lemons and limes that add colour and also infuse the air with their fresh scent.

Divolka Jain, founder of Jaipur-based Saltt Design, says it’s best to explore your local flower markets and make do with the freshest blooms of the season. Don’t underestimate the impact of good old mogra, rajnigandha and marigold paired with the limes and mangoes, she says.

Poorvi Singhal is a Jaipur-based food and travel writer.

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