Ok, first of all I want to address the elephant in the room. I know that many of you will have been surprised to see that a few weeks I worked with Iceland running Instagrammable Christmas table styling sessions for their Christmas influencer event (and I’m going to share everything in those workshops with you here). Surprised because Iceland probably isn’t the first brand you’d associate with Simple & Season and what I talk about here on the blog. But before you think I’ve sold out(!), let me tell you what drew me to Iceland and what they’re doing.
There’s nothing I respect more than a person or a brand pulling their socks up and trying to be better. So often it’s easier to carry on cashing the cheques and keep on doing things the way “they’ve always been done” and it takes bravery and passion to do things differently.
And that’s exactly what the team at Iceland are. The brand are repositioning away from the crass noughties advertising that haunts them and are investing heavily not only in their marketing but in the quality and development of the food. Everybody I met, from the social media manager to the head chef, had an excited, almost cult-like passion for what they were doing that was just infectious. They were all there to pull Iceland around and produce amazing food and content.
That, plus I ate exceptionally well all weekend. From the best gnocchi I’ve probably ever had, to a creamy Brussels sprout coleslaw, a herby, flavourful mushroom pithvier to some genuinely fantastic macarons, every single mouthful was a surprise and a delight. So much so, me and another blogger looked at each other with mouths full of cake and eyes full of delighted disbelief, and agreed we had no idea the food would be this good.
Honestly, just go and get some of the macarons and you’ll see what I mean.
Christmas Table Themes
The start of any Christmas table is the theme. I created three different table themes for the workshop at Iceland: Festive Copper & Marble, Pure White Christmas and Nordic Wood Cabin.
Festive Copper & Marble
This style is all about taking a trend and make it feel Christmassy – and copper and marble has been one of the key trends of 2017. The key to this theme is taking the key colour (copper) and reflecting that in the festive elements – cinnamon sticks, dried oranges and natural wood tones.
Pure White Christmas
This theme is for those looking for a minimal table style – and is especially perfect for small tables! This is all about creating a visually interesting table using one colour – I’m using white, but the same principles apply for any colour you want to use. The key here is using textures and foliage in the single colour to achieve interest.
Nordic Wood Cabin
A Scandi twist on a more traditional Christmas table – I’m having a real wood cabin moment right now so this is my favourite theme. This is all about using natural elements to bring the outside in, with cosy colours and textures and Christmassy foliage – think candles, hessian, pine branches and moss.
My Top Christmas Table Styling Tips
Anyway, shall we get on with the styling?
Whether you choose to recreate my themes or come up with your own, both me and Iceland would love to see how you style your Instagrammable Christmas tables this year. Tag Iceland and use the hashtag #ReasonsToBeJolly when posting your table pictures and you could win £50 worth of vouchers.
Don’t make it about the styling
That might seem counter-intuitive, but the two most important things when styling a table is the food and the people. That means the styling shouldn’t overpower the beauty of the food someone has painstakingly prepared, nor should it make it difficult to interact with everyone else around the table. The styling should complement those two things, not dominate them.
Restaurant or family style?
The first thing to decide is how you’re actually going to bring the food to the table. Are you going to plate it up individually like in a restaurant, or bring bowls out into the centre of the table for everyone to dig in and share. If you have small numbers for Christmas then plating up restaurant style will help to reduce waste, and similarly if you have a small table then restaurant style will help to make it feel less crammed in. But there is something so festive about sharing bowls of food with your loved ones, of hands passing across a groaning table, that makes family style very appealing too.
Keep everything below eye level
Because the Christmas table is all about laughing and conversation, we don’t want our styling to get in the way of that. We’re not going for those huge centrepieces you get at weddings that mean that you only get to see the people on your side of the table. A good rule of thumb is to keep everything below eye level. So use small posies of flowers in glasses or jars, scatter decorations or foliage across the table and keep levels low. This means that you can see and speak to everyone around the table, plus it makes it much easier to photograph from above.
Use shape and texture
Because we’re not creating visual interest using height, we need to find a different way to make our styling engaging. You can do this by contrasting shapes, so echoing the circle of the plate in the platters or vessels in the centre of the table, and contrasting those with rectangular napkins and coasters. You can also create interest by using different textures, contrasting a smooth table cloth with spikey sea holly and evergreen. If you’re planning a minimal monotone scheme, like my all white table, then texture is the perfect way to lift the table without contrasting colours.
Try using the rule of thirds
I’m sure you’re all familiar with the rule of thirds, but if you’re not it’s a photographic compositional concept that says that if you draw a imaginary grid over a photograph, the eye is automatically drawn to the lines and where they intersect (hence why many photos have the subject off centre). This rule is widely used in flat lay styling, and can be a really useful framework for thinking about your table if you’ve got blank canvas syndrome with it. Create a grid using your centrepiece and a runner, and then begin adding your elements around those grid lines.