How to Create an Artful & Inventive Table Aesthetic

Whether you’ve envisioned your wedding since adolescence or spent hours pouring over Pinterest and every wedding magazine in existence, wedding planning can be overwhelming. You have selected the dress, the venue, the color palette, the cake and the flowers. It’s almost finalized. But now you need to decide how to show off the amazing food you and your fiancé will serve your guests. Lonely sterile chafing dishes lined up like soldiers will not do. Presentation is paramount to any well-planned event, and food styling is an important component. It unifies your look and reflects the effort you have put into the rest of your wedding design. And, let’s face it—your guests are secretly anticipating what food you will serve. Why not make it look fabulous before they even taste it? It will be worth the effort.

In your wedding planning search, you’ve probably seen countless ideas for styling a food buffet, food stations and guest tables. You probably know how you want it to look, but you’re not sure how to execute it. You may not be confident in your “eye” for design. Some people have a natural talent for it and some do not. The good news is that by enlisting a few principles of design, any bride can hone that elusive “eye for design,” and create a beautifully styled food display. Used for years to teach artists and designers, these principles are the foundation of a pleasing composition. If you filter your design decisions through these principles, you may develop your own unique “eye” while dazzling your guests.

  • Repetition (or pattern) is a regular arrangement of alternated or repeated elements or motifs. For instance, if you are serving cupcakes, make sure they are presented in a repetitious pattern rather than just a random scattering. It sounds simple, but it makes a big difference.
Repetition and contrast makes the eye gravitate towards this display of individual charcuterie boards.
  • Contrast is the juxtaposition of different elements in order to highlight their differences and create interest. This can refer to rough and smooth textures and/ or dark and light colors. Contrast is easy to achieve with food because it offers so many textures and colors.
  • Emphasis refers to a focal point. Emphasis on a buffet or food station is usually a centerpiece or repetition of centerpieces. The focal point is generally at the highest point of the composition. A floral arrangement or candles or an art object are perfect focal points for great food presentations.
Both emphasis and scale are demonstrated in this garden party food display. The elevated centerpiece serves as a lovely focal point.
  • Balance results when the elements of design are arranged symmetrically or asymmetrically to create equality in weight or importance. As an example, rather than line up chafers side by side, position them apart by adding other elements in between. This could be as simple as a condiment or bread presentation or candles and flowers. A long line of chafers appears flat and sterile without finding a way to add balance.
  • Scale is the relationship between objects (size, number, etc.) including the relation between parts of a whole. This refers to being in proportion with other elements. Simply put, if a floral arrangement is so big that it dwarfs the other elements around it and creates a disproportionate feel, the scale is wrong. The same rule applies if the object is too small.
  • Rhythm and movement is the way elements are organized to direct the eye through the composition and to the focal point. For example, a mass of slider sandwiches or appetizers presented at different heights and arranged in an undulating “S” curve “moving” to and ending at the centerpiece on either side. This can have huge impact and creates an exciting tablescape that seems to flow.
Pattern, along with rhythm and movement bring this tablescape design to life
  • Variety is established by simply using different elements to create visual interest. Examples are using risers and candles at different heights, using a tiered composition to present the food, or adding pops of color that accent the overall theme. Be careful. Introducing too many motifs or elements into your presentation can become contrived. It’s best to use fewer elements repetitively so it stays refined and cohesive.
The variety of elements used to create the centerpiece here is paired nicely with the contrast of the bright pops of color on top of the dark wooden table.
  • Harmony and unity is found when the arrangement of all elements forms a coherent whole. This is a combination of all the principles. Harmony is that feeling you get when you know the composition is right and it “hums.” It is unified. We love that feeling!
The arrangement of all elements in this moody food display brings about a harmony and unity that invites you to come take a closer look.

These principles are a great guide and can be applied to any aesthetic from rustic chic to classic elegance to a period theme like the Great Gatsby. The important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process of your wedding design. Your food presentation really is an important element of your wedding. It speaks to the style you and your fiancé want to convey, and the food you serve is really your gift to your family and friends. If it looks and tastes fabulous, your wedding will be unforgettable. Happy designing!


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