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Creative Tablescapes on a Budget: The Ultimate Guide

Today’s Ultimate Guide will help you successfully set a creative tablescape for any occasion. This step-by-step guide to planning and setting a beautiful table will take the stress out of hosting a dinner party, and you will learn budget-friendly techniques that will impress your guests.

Do you feel intimidated when faced with setting a dinner table or creating tablescapes? Are you wondering what a tablescape is, and is it really a word?

Do you feel you don’t know all the proper etiquette?

Do you think it will cost a lot of money to set up a beautiful table?

Today, I’m taking all the mystery out of the process and giving you a step-by-step guide, plus creative tutorials that will also enhance your tables.

My goal is to give you the confidence to express your own creativity and realize you can’t make a mistake, so just go for it.

Neutral Christmas Tablescape compared to a traditional red and white table setting on the screened porch.

First, what is a tablescape?

Well, the Cambridge Dictionary definition is: “the arrangement of items on a table that produces an attractive and decorative effect, often with matching plates, bowls, etc., and items such as napkins, flowers, and candles.”

It is basically the items needed for a meal with some pretties thrown into the mix to make the table beautiful.

Today, I’ll break down all the elements for a tablescape to simplify the process.

Faux Tulips for Ultimate Guide for a Budget-Friendly Creative Tablescapes

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Are you a rule breaker?

I love to set a beautiful table and don’t need any excuse to create a new tablescape.

Because I love to collect tableware, linens, and accessories, I’m always playing around with different styles, and my tables rarely follow any rules.

Have you watched The Gilded Age on HBO Max? We just finished the first season, and it’s really a fun show to watch.

I mention it because one episode was devoted to setting a proper table. There was a serious difference between how Americans and the English set a dinner table. Remember, this is early 1900s American history, and everything in society was very prim and proper.

Although the table was stunning, I’m so glad that we don’t have to follow all the rules in today’s modern age.

Table setting from the Gilded Age TV Show
Photo Credit: The Vulture

If you are looking for “the rules” or proper table-setting etiquette, Emily Post will tell you more than you want to know.

Today’s guide is more about entertaining to maintain social interaction with our friends.

It’s about having fun and enjoying the process.

If that’s why you are here, welcome, and let’s get started.

The Ultimate Guide to Creative Tablescapes

First, I don’t really have all the answers, but here are my best tips for creating a creative tablescape!

  • Use what you have and love.
  • Be a rule breaker.
  • You don’t have to have a special occasion to set your table.
  • Think outside the box.
  • Look for creative tableware at thrift stores and resale shops.
  • Mix and Match for a more creative table.

Thinking outside the box, I used recycled bamboo plates mixed with terra cotta saucers on this outdoor summer tablescape. See all the details here.

Creative Tablescape Ideas for outdoor entertaining.  Country living and rustic table setting ideas.

Where to Shop for Tableware

If you have followed me for a long, you know my first choice is Thrift Store Shopping, yard sales, and resale shops. You can get quality tableware for a fraction of the cost.

I rarely buy a full set of dishes because I love to mix and match. I recently purchased 12 dinner plates and 12 dessert plates in a vintage SPODE Rose Blair pattern for $12.50.

Had this been a full set, it would have been priced at around $500.00. You can see this pattern here.

Thrift Store Dishes mixed with new dishes to create a stylish table setting.

Several years ago, I purchased a full set of Ever Yours Boutonniere dishes at a yard sale for only $10.00.

They are the same pattern that my mom had when I was a child, and I love the sweet aqua and pink flowers.

I shared the memories they evoke on this Memories of Mom Tablescape.

Alfresco Mother's Day Table Setting with Memories of mom using thrift stores dishes and unique accessories.

Things to consider when thrifting

Don’t worry about perfection.

If a few of the dishes are stained or chipped, that only adds to the character of the table setting.

The set doesn’t have to be complete; however, I would like at least four plates if possible.

You may find tablecloths with stains; however, unless it’s really bad, you can arrange your table to hide the stains if you cannot remove them.

I don’t recommend purchasing stained napkins unless several in the set are useable.

New Shops

Obviously, I buy new tableware as well. I might have an addiction! LOL

Some of my favorites have come from HomeGoods, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls. They are like a thrift store in that you never know when you will find a great deal or a set of dishes.

In addition, just like thrift stores, you need to check back often because their inventory is ever-changing.

When I don’t feel like a treasure hunt, I rely on Amazon. I’m always amazed at what I can find for a great deal.

The new dishes I’m sharing today are available on Amazon, and they are lovely. See Summer Provence Here.

Tablecloths, Table Runners, and More

Now that you know there are no rules, let’s decide about the table covering.

You can leave your table bare, add a table runner, a table throw, or a table cloth.

In addition, you can use placemats, plate chargers, etc.

For this Spring tablescape, I used two handwoven tea towels under the woven placemats instead of a traditional table runner.

The colors work great with the new Bico Ceramic Summer Provence Collection.

Creative Tablescapes on a budget the ultimate guide for a summer refreshing table setting.
Grace Upon Grace Print Available Here

I rarely set a matchy-matchy table, but this vintage tablecloth and napkins were an exception when I was planning a Galentine’s Day Brunch table.

A matching table cloth and napkins for a Galentine's Day Brunch Tablescape

A table runner adds just a touch of texture to this simple Mother’s Day Tablescape.

Click to Shop

Fall table setting with a rustic DIY Dollar Tree Burlap leaves table runner.
Falling Leaves Dollar Tree Burlap Leaves Table Runner Tutorial.

You can easily make table runners, and these two tutorials are easy to duplicate.

Hand-Painted Drop Cloth Table Runner / Easy Christmas Table Runner

Although these both appear to be seasonal, by changing the colors, they can work for any season.

Adding a table throw or quilt is another fun way to add texture and color without the stuffiness of a full tablecloth.

A table throw instead of a tablescloth is acceptable for creative tablescape ideas

Centerpiece For Creative Tablescape

Next, it’s time to settle on a centerpiece for the table.

I love to collect vases, pitchers, breadboards, etc., all to be used on a tablescape centerpiece. Instead of one large floral centerpiece, I like to mix in pieces to create a centerpiece vignette.

You can also break the centerpiece into smaller pieces along the center of the table to allow everyone to enjoy the arrangement.

NOTE: Do consider the size of your centerpiece. You want to be sure all guests can see each other and have a conversation without being distracted by the centerpiece. You can also place the centerpiece at the end of the table while food is being served if necessary.


For this Spring table, the oversized ironstone vase is perfect for holding faux peach stems.

The vase sits on a breadboard, and a wood slice as a riser.

The centerpiece is complete with the addition of a live angel vine and a milk glass bowl filled with porcelain fruit.

Spring Centerpiece for Tablescape ideas with peach stems in a vintage ironstone vase container.

When planning a centerpiece, I love to mix real flowers with faux flowers and greenery.

Here are some examples of both, and see if you can guess the real from the faux.

Cinco de Mayo Centerpiece / St. Patrick’s Day Centerpiece / Spring Tablescape

The centerpiece doesn’t always have to be floral, as seen in this cozy winter tablescape.

In addition, you can add the flowers to another location instead of the table center if you desire.

Winter Tablescape Ideas / Inspired Picnic Setting Ideas / Simple Christmas Table

You can add candlesticks and salt and pepper shakers, as well as other serving pieces, to make up your centerpiece vignette.

In this Promise of Spring Table, I added forced blooms to the church pew instead of the actual centerpiece.

The table holds a vintage tureen filled with the angel vine, vintage candlesticks, and heirloom brass bird salt and pepper shakers.

You can see the full table here.

Winter Tablescape with green vine and brass candlesticks, bird salt and pepper shakers and thrift store dishes.

Click to Shop

The Tablescape Place Setting

Next is the fun part: the dishes!

I love to stack a mixture of plates and bowls.

Here is the new Summer Provence Collection again, and it works so beautifully as a set.

The Ultimate Guide to Creative Tablescapes

However, the same dishes will mix and match beautifully all summer long.

Changing out a few pieces gives the place setting a whole new look.

Mixing dish patterns is an acceptable method of setting a dinner table.

Here are some additional examples of mixed-matched place settings.

I like to add a surprise color occasionally or a fun, surprising napkin choice. Remember to make it fun.

Spring Blue & White Table / Pink & Green St. Patrick’s Day Table/ Spring Tablescape

5 Creative Christmas Table Decor Ideas / Easy Tips For a Christmas Table Setting

Cutlery and Silverware Do’s and Don’ts

Don’t be intimidated because you don’t have a 20-piece place setting of silverware. You can mix and match here as well.

Collecting vintage silverware allows me to mix and match my cutlery and make the table more interesting.

Silverware Placement

Although you will see forks and knives placed on the plates, beside the plates, or inside a napkin, some feel you should follow these rules.

The cutlery should be lined up in the order of use. The salad fork is on the left side of the plate, and the dinner fork is next to it, beside the plate. The knife should be to the right of the dinner plate, with the blade facing the plate and the spoon next to the knife.

Rustic DIY recycled tin can and aluminum can cutlery pocket for a Summer Table.

If you use only a knife and fork, they remain in the same position but alone.

I don’t follow the rules necessarily, and you will see placement everywhere. Check out this table setting from a well-known national retailer. It looks beautiful but doesn’t follow the rules.

cutlery options
Photo Credit: Pottery Barn

As with all tableware, I’m a fan of the various cutlery styles and have many mixed-matched sets.

Napkin and cutlery choices for Spring Tablescape

Additional Options

Cutlery Pouches or napkins with cutlery pockets are also acceptable and throw all the rules out the window.

These cutlery pouches from Cutlery Couture work perfectly with the bees on the dinner plates.

Spring Tablescapes with cutlery pockets in burlap with bees.

These DIY Patriotic Napkins with cutlery pockets can be customized for any occasion. See the tutorial here.

DIY Patriotic Napkins with cutlery pouch for tablescape idea

Napkins Options

This brings us to the final chapter in the Ultimate Guide for Creative Tablescapes.

Napkins are great for adding a decorative flair to your tablescapes.

You will find napkins at many price points. When entertaining a large group, I opt for paper or inexpensive flour sack towels.

There is no rule that you have to use cloth napkins on your tables. However, some will say the proper placement of the napkin is to the left of the dinner plate.

Although that may be the proper placement, you will see napkins all over the place, just like the cutlery.

Here, I placed the napkin under the plates and, therefore, didn’t need a napkin ring.

In addition, the napkins are actually tea towels. I couldn’t resist using them because of the embroidered bee that looks so cute with the bee on the dishes.

Tablescape option for cutlery by using a cutlery pouch.

I recently started painting flour sacks to create one-of-a-kind napkins for my dinner parties.

See How to Paint Flour Sack Napkins Tutorial and these custom handpainted napkins and tablecloth instructions.

Crochet Dollies used as napkins on an Easter Table Setting with black and white rabbit dishes.

Other napkin options that I’ve used are vintage embroidered linens and crochet doilies, as seen on this Easter Tablescape.

To Ring or Not to Ring

I love pretty napkin rings and have been known to use tapered candle rings as napkin rings on occasion.

The napkin rings used for my recent Tea Party are actually candle rings. They are available here from Piper Classics.

Tea Party Tablescape Ideas with vintage thrifted tableware.

I’ve shared several DIY napkin ring tutorials, including Twig Napkin Rings and these Burlap Napkin Rings.

Whether you use a napkin ring may depend on the fold of your napkin.

Bow Tie Napkin fold for a formal dinner table.
Simple Napkin Fold

For example, if you want a bow tie fold, a ring is necessary. If you prefer a tulip fold or a Christmas Tree Napkin Fold, you don’t need a napkin ring.

You can see more tablescape inspiration each month when our Supper Club shares a tablescape theme. We have an extensive archive of table-setting themes that you can find by searching “Tablescapes” on this blog.

In Conclusion – Let’s Party

Finally, don’t feel you must host a sit-down dinner to entertain. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s so important to maintain friendships and social interaction.

Invite friends over for a casual evening. Have everyone bring a dish and enjoy time together.

Y’all know I don’t like to cook, so a lot of our entertaining is casual with my husband by the grill.

The more you entertain, the more comfortable you will feel about setting a table.

Just take that first step, invite friends over, and have fun.

You can read more about the importance of girlfriend time on How to Plan Girlfriend Time.

I hope these tips were helpful and that you feel more confident about creating fun tablescapes in the future. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment.

Thanks so much for your continued support and encouragement. I look forward to sharing my next adventure with you.

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Living Large in A Small House | Fabulous Friday Link Party 5.13.22

Friday 13th of May 2022

[…] Rachel at The Ponds Farmhouse has some wonderful ideas for creating a beautiful tablescape. She shared an easy-to-follow guide for putting together a creative tablescape yourself. Rachel is a queen of using what she has on hand, thinking outside the box, and thrifting for unique pieces to incorporate into her tables. […]

Vintage Home Designs -

Friday 13th of May 2022

[…] Rachel at The Ponds Farmhouse has some wonderful ideas for creating a beautiful tablescape. She shared an easy to follow guide for putting together a creative tablescape yourself. Rachel is a queen of using what she has on hand, thinking outside the box and thrifting for unique pieces to incorporate to her tables. […]

Fabulous Friday Link Party 5-13-22 - South House Designs

Friday 13th of May 2022

[…] Rachel at The Ponds Farmhouse has some wonderful ideas for creating a beautiful tablescape. She shared an easy to follow guide for putting together a creative tablescape yourself. Rachel is a queen of using what she has on hand, thinking outside the box and thrifting for unique pieces to incorporate to her tables. […]


Monday 9th of May 2022

Such wonderful ideas Rachel! We will be featuring you on the Fabulous Friday Link Party this week!


Tuesday 10th of May 2022

Michele, Thank you so much.


Friday 6th of May 2022

Thanks, Rachel, so much good advice.


Saturday 7th of May 2022

Judy, I'm so glad you found this helpful. Thanks so much for stopping by.