Think beyond autumn's signature color palette and motifs.
fall potluck table setting with food ready for serving
Credit: Justin Walker

After a summer of casual outdoor entertaining, prepare your home for autumn's laid-back Sunday football parties and holiday feasts with an inventive seasonal tablescape that's uniquely yours. Choose unexpected items—like raffia, seashells, or jewel-toned accents—and give the classics a subtle makeover to build a stylish focal point in a few simple steps.

Make a plan.

Before you start planning a tablescape, Tanya Willock and Temidra Willock-Morsch of Hidden Gem New York, a home boutique in Southampton, New York, say that you need a general idea of how much space you have to fill; a bigger crowd at a sit-down meal with lots of family-style dishes will need a smaller centerpiece than two couples at an intimate plated dinner do. Then build your design around concepts of water, earth, fire, and air. "The water element comes from vases and glasses; the earth can be anything from rocks, leaves, flowers, and metal accents," says Willock. "Fire is candles, and the element of air comes in with height—when putting a table together, it's important to remember the size and space above and around it. Play around with the vitality of height in vases and candles to fill the area above the tabletop."

Choose a color palette.

Iconic—and expected—tones of orange, red, gold, and brown will always work, but unconventional shades give your design an instant upgrade. "The trick is to take the more vibrant jewel tones—teal, sapphire, emerald—and mix them with neutrals to create a fun, but not too overpowering color combination," says Willock-Morsch. "One of our favorite color palettes to put together for fall is eggplant, teal, and blush; we also love the combination of charcoal, forest green, lavender, mustard yellow, and coral for a more transitional color scheme."

Look to nature for inspiration.

Most fall décor centers around items sourced from late-summer harvests, such as pumpkins, leaves, acorns, pinecones. It's a natural, but overdone theme. "If it's the first thing you see when you walk into a store come October, it's cliché," says Willock. Instead, turn to your outdoor space for natural elements you can elevate with simple makeovers. "Branches, leaves, and stones are a great way to add texture and décor to the table," says Willock. "Spray paint branches white for a clean finish, use rocks as a base for candles. We love the idea of spray-painting dried leaves with accent colors to fit your décor and theme—use the dried leaves as place cards or spread them throughout the table as fillers."

Make it your own.

Adding personal items you already own—even if they're from a different season—gives your tablescape an extra dose of personality. "It's all about using tones and textures to balance," says Willock-Morsch. Textured linens, wooden serving pieces, or macramé runners and napkin holders add a cozy element to vibrant color palettes. Seashells with brown or beige undertones coordinate with accents in deeper autumn tones, while layering raffia, dried palm leaves, and mud-cloth creates a striking table runner. "Instead of a fresh bouquet, arrange a few dried hydrangea blooms in a vase or use a potted plant in a textured pot or basket," says Willock-Morsch. "Use some cool household mugs and pitchers as flower vases to bring a lovely warm and homey feel to the table, and use your amazing dishes and serving platters as part of your décor. Don't forget, the food is the main delight."


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