Sick of sitting on the grass with a flat tinnie? It’s probably time to up your picnic game. Here, a tablescaping expert shares her advice for having a chic, coordinated (and delicious) picnic.
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Even if you haven’t heard of tablescaping, you have almost definitely seen it in action on your Instagram feed. Put simply, tablescaping means to lay your table. But since lockdown began in the UK, influencers and small business-lovers all over the country have taken the ways they decorate their tables up a notch, adding flowers, accessories and even fake cakes to various surfaces.
With the weather finally warming up, the idea of sitting around your dining table might seem less appealing than it once did. But there are ample opportunities to use your tablescaping skills outdoors. In fact, a stylish picnic is just about the best way to impress your friends (and your Instagram followers). Plus, it’s the perfect way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or life achievement al fresco.
“In France, we call tablescaping, ‘Art de la Table’, which literally means the art of setting the table,” says Léa Zana, the founder of the tableware brand Vaisselle. Léa lives in London but she grew up in France, where tablescaping was a big part of her upbringing. “My grandmother was raised after the second world war and she loved finding things that could improve the appearance of her home. What we now call tablescaping was a big part of that,” she says.
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Léa founded Vaisselle at the start of the first lockdown in 2020, embracing the tablescaping trend to show off her tableware online. She has now become known for her beautiful pastel, patterned designs and the ways in which she styles them, indoors and outdoors, attracting the attention of retailers including Liberty.
“I love picnics and they are the perfect place to try out tablescaping, especially if you don’t have huge indoor or outdoor spaces at home,” Léa says. “I love going to Hampstead Heath and setting up picnics.”
Here, Léa shares her tips for creating a beautiful, chic outdoor picnic setup, using tablescaping techniques.
Bring one blanket or tablecloth that you don’t mind getting dirty
The main difference when it comes to outdoor tablescaping is that you will be surrounded by nature, which is part of what will make the experience so enjoyable. But things also might get a little messy, especially with the weather in the UK being so unpredictable.
To counter this, Léa advises taking one old tablecloth or blanket that you don’t mind getting dirty to lay below your Instagram-friendly picnic blanket. This way, you won’t be worried about grass stains or mud. “Waterproof tablecloths work really well,” she says. If you don’t have an old cloth, you could also use a couple of yoga mats, Léa suggests.
Léa likes to use a linen blanket on top of her waterproof one in either a block colour or an interesting pattern. “The cloth you choose will really set the tone for your tablescape,” she says.
Choose a colour scheme
Léa recommends sticking to three colours for your tablescape, where you can, as this will help make everything appear more harmonious. “It can sometimes look a little bit childish if you use too many colours,” Léa explains.
“I love bright colours – coral, lilac and turquoise is one of my favourite combinations and I also love choosing deep blue accessories with red food,” she says, adding that she also loves a pink tablescape set up with green food.
“When I use patterns, I stick to graphic patterns like gingham or stripes,” Léa adds. “If I am going to clash prints, I like to make sure I use the same colour scheme for each of them – so a green gingham cloth with green striped tableware would work.”
Layer your tableware and accessories
You should bring various plates, bowls and glassware of your choice to your picnic, Lea advises. “You can get great glassware in charity shops,” she says, adding that “you don’t have to have the full set. Having a unique glass for each of your guests is a nice way to make it feel more personal.”
“When it comes to crockery, I love layering plates,” Léa continues. “Adding different sizes of plates on top of each other for different courses creates a really nice effect – the more plates you add, the more it will give life to your tablescape.”
Léa explains that you can bring all of your favourite homeware accessories to your picnic too, so long as you can carry them. “Vases, ornaments and flowers will add life – focus on adding different shapes so it doesn’t feel flat,” she says.
Coordinate your food to your picnic blanket
“I try to buy food that matches my linen cloth,” Léa says. “Sometimes I’ll only buy red food like peppers and tomatoes, maybe adding some mozzarella and feta to lift it up,” she says.
“I also love Instagrammable cakes!” she says. “There seems to be a different cake trend every month on Instagram, whether it’s the pavlova or the cassata. You could keep the rest of your food budget really low and invest in a cake as this will instantly make your picnic look pretty,” Léa suggests.
Don’t ask too much of your guests
Tablescaping is an art form so this picnic might not necessarily be a potluck. You want to keep your table looking coordinated and that includes the food you serve, so, if you can, keep things simple for yourself and buy things people can pick at, while avoiding asking others to bring along food.
“I like to ask people to bring drinks, instead,” Léa says, explaining that they won’t disrupt your theme as they can go into the glasses you have brought with you.
Don’t overthink how you transport your picnic food and accessories
It’s all too easy to fall into a last-minute panic before an outdoor event, panic-ordering cool boxes and extra bags and storage. But Léa says that this really shouldn’t be necessary. “I just like to use stiff straw baskets – my family have used them for years and they’re great because they keep their shape which means everything inside is really safe and they also look great and can be used as decoration inside your home when you’re not using them for a picnic,” she explains.
Léa explains that she tries to pick foods that don’t need to be totally cold when you eat them, like olives and other fresh fruits and vegetables and bread. She does sometimes put cool bags in her baskets if it’s a particularly hot day, however, to help keep things fresh.
Léa Zana, founder of Vaisselle
Léa founded Vaisselle during the first lockdown, having previously worked in the fashion industry as a footwear designer. Vaisselle is inspired by Spanish antique ceramics with a colourful twist.