How To Make a Simple, Colorful Tablescape

I think one of the most deceiving things about centerpieces is that they always seem so… complicated and EXPENSIVE. And it just doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you can decorate an entire table with super simple (read: super affordable, some of which came out of your recycling bin) elements and still make it look effortlessly elegant. Which, really, done. People look at your wedding centerpieces for the one second between when they find their seat and when they start talking with their old friend from high school and then go eat. You shouldn’t spend much more time and energy on them, when you think about it.

So first, the centerpiece. The secret to a centerpiece like this is that it doesn’t look too arranged (but… it still is kind of arranged). We used a variety of glass containers (most of them from the recycle bin) to give the centerpiece an easy, unfettered look. (Refer back to this tutorial on easy watercolor jars for instructions on how to get the labels off.) Here, balance is more important than perfection, so don’t worry about getting it just right. If you’re having trouble, try placing the tallest jars evenly spaced along your runner, and then surrounding them with the medium and shorter jars. Once you’ve got your jars arranged, add even more variety and visual interest by placing candles every in ever third or fourth jar (here we used floating candles, tapers, tea lights and pillar candles for extra variety). To finish off the look, place flowers and greenery in the empty containers. Lady, it’s BEAUTIFUL. And really really close to free.

Now, of course, you won’t actually do the centerpiece first. Nope. First you’ll use basic table rentals. The best part about this tutorial is that it doesn’t require fancy anything. We used the standard rental folding chairs, china and glassware, and linens to show you how much you can change the way a table looks even when you’re using the standard-issue rentals that are often included with either your catering or your venue. Fancy linens, dishes, and chairs can be fun, but can also get shockingly expensive, and we wanted to show you some ways to decorate your wedding without having to swap out rentals. Then, we added the kraft paper table runner, then our super simple place cards, and finally, we tied the napkins with dip dyed yarn (which you can buy at any fancy knitting store). Bam. Done. Super cheap. And gorgeous (if we do say so ourselves. And we totally do).

Photos by Emily Takes Photos, Crafting by Elizabeth of Lowe House Events, Graphic Design by Michelle Edgemont

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  • Kamille

    Love the advice on not spending too much time on centerpieces. Come to think of it, the only centerpiece I actually remember was one at a friend’s wedding that was SO BIG that I couldn’t see the people on the other side of the table!

    • Another Meg

      Pretty much ditto. Except you could kind of see through it- it was a giant metal frame bent into the shape of a heart, covered in ivy and stuck in a planter. It blocked some conversation but it made for hilarious photos of us making faces through the center. :)

  • Carolyn

    For what it’s worth I want to add that it’s super simple to dye your own yarn with kool-aid or food dye/vinegar (and a microwave, that’s it!). Definitely on the order of Lazy Girl Crafting, and for realz it is fun in the childhood alchemy kind of way. I’d never thought of using it for decorating/entertaining but now I’m eager to have a go.

  • Paranoid Libra

    I feel like the tutorial is missing something….oh yea where’s the PUPPY BOMB pic. Every other tutorial had him. I’ve grown used to cute puppies and easy tutorials…my life is spoiled.

    • The puppy is currently starting at me from under my desk with a ball in his mouth. Don’t think I’m going to get much work done this morning.

    • meg

      I think we probably kept him away from the set up table on purpose. Don’t worry, he will be back in two weeks with THE OUTTAKES. Honestly, they are probably better than the whole rest of the series put together.

  • youlovelucy

    This is almost EXACTLY what we’re doing, if you swapped burlap for the kraft paper. So easy!

  • daynya

    Um, doing this!!!

  • CBB

    THANK YOU! This is what I have been envisioning, but I’ve been worried it would look cheap/sparse. So nice to see how gorgeous/ achievable it is!

    These tutorials are amazing.

  • Bubbles

    I would *highly* recommend using unscented candles, particularly if you’re splurging on the food. Scented candles can interfere with your guests’ ability to taste properly, and can also trigger allergies and whatnot.

    The table definitely look gorgeous!

    • CBaker

      Thank you SO MUCH for this mention! (most) scented candles make me a snot-covered sneeze monster. Not hot at any event, much less someone’s *special* day.

      I would also love some advice on how to politely ask guests not to smoke at our outdoor wedding. Cigarette smoke has the same unpleasant effect (see above) on me.

      • H

        Wow, I didn’t even think of this! Hopefully our enormous families remember that I have terrible asthma and will not smoke near the outdoor ceremony? Should I make a sign?!

        I second a request for suggestions on how to politely request that your guests stay smoke free!

        • aine

          A sign might be a good idea, for a start. I recommend directing smokers to an area where they CAN smoke, wellaway from you, if course. People will be very accommodating if they know they’d make the bride sick!

    • Maddie

      I will never forget the top chef episode when a team chose vanilla scented candles for Restaurant Day. Never again!

    • Calon

      Yeah – scented candles = headache and nausea :(
      Even good quality essential oils can make some people feel sick.

  • Kelly Cunningham

    Oh GAWD did I need you ladies today. I talked to someone on the phone about our upcoming wedding, and they got all bent out of shape about what the groomsfolk were wearing (to wit: I don’t know), and that got me all bent out of shape about what the groomsfolk were wearing (even though it’s not on my list of concerns), so I called my partner and got him all bent out of shape…. It was a classic snowballing of Things We Shouldn’t Bicker About Ever; add a little Wedding Pressure 2.0 and a dash of my anxiety disorder, and boom, essplode. So in my panic, what did I do? I did not go down the street to the cheeseburger shop, though I seriously considered it. Instead, I opened up today’s APW and what did I find? A tutorial on the exact way we’re doing our centerpieces; simple, recycled, varied, imperfect, essentially free. And then more photos of mismatched, beautiful, heartfelt ceremonies. What’s that I hear? The ringing sound of validation, that’s what. Thanks for being here when I needed you, Team.

    • meg

      Aw. Cheers. (But you’re totally allowed to get a cheeseburger and then come eat it while looking at Wordless Weddings while listening to their sound track songs…)

    • Oh man, your cascading “getting bent out of shape” is giving me wedding planning flashbacks! Just stay here with APW and breathe – it’s all gonna be OK.

  • Sarah

    I am now trying very hard not to think about the amount of money we spent on centrepieces when we could have done this.

    On the positive side, my next dinner party is going to look gorgeous!

  • LOVE! How I wish I’d done something like this for my wedding.

  • The variegated yarn looks so good! I’m totally stealing this whole set-up for my summer parties (so fancy).

  • Jane

    Already married, but I think I need to throw a party now.

  • Kay

    Lovely. I took this approach with my wedding. The dinner was in a fairly dark room in a restaurant. I agonized about trying to hang light strings and what I was going to put on the tables until it dawned on me — tons of candles. And nothing else. So that’s what I did. Each table was covered with a crap ton of candles in glass vases/jars of varying heights and that was all. Everyone said it was really stunning. Nothing else would have really been visible anyway.

  • Jen

    I love this! Elegant but cheap! Candles are so pretty. Filing it away for someday.

  • You guys totally have the mind reading down. I try to explain to my mom and sister what I want to do, they don’t quite get it and then a few days later I send a link here. Here Mom, this is what we’ll do with the flowers next weekend. And done. Makes it really easy for me. Thanks!

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  • Wow these look fantastic, whoever said DIY means basic, these look awesome

  • I have been reading out many of your stories and i can state clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your site.

  • Sarah H. E.

    Yes! This!

    We just had our wedding 2 weekends ago, and this is exactly what we did! I collected 50 pasta jars and wine bottles over 8 months and spent a few Saturdays getting the labels off, then filled them with wildflowers from the local flower wholesaler.

    And after the wedding, the bottles and jars went back to the recycling bin, or went home with people. It was perfect and so pretty and although it’s more work than buying Mason jars, what would I do with 50 vintage Mason jars??

    Hooray DIY!

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  • Kira

    Can anyone comment on a length to bottle/candle ratio?
    ie on an 8 foot rectangular table, how many bottles/candles would one need to get the same effect as in the photos? (I understand the 3/4 bottles to 1 candle ratio).

    Have been looking at a lot of centerpieces/tablescapes, saw this one, love it, my mom can grow a lot of the cut flowers prior to our backyard wedding and seeds are exceptionally cheap! Also found which has a large variety of shapes/sizes for very cheap prices – $1 (ish) per bottle. In case I can’t collect the variety I will need in time.

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  • AGWK

    Hi APW team.
    I keep coming back to this post again and again. We want to do something a lot like this for our August wedding in his parents’ backyard (we had already started saving the bottles and jars).

    There are two MAJOR questions I have about implementing this.

    1: Can this be done a day ahead? What is the time commitment for 15 tables’ worth?
    I don’t really want to be doing this on our wedding day but it seems more complicated than pulling centerpieces out of the fridge.

    2) Will it work on round tables? We are going to have a mix of round and long to make the most of our space and I wonder if anyone has any pics or any ideas about how to translate this to rounds.

    Thank so much APW…you all are the best.

    • Kira

      I just did this for my backyard wedding at my parents’ house in FL. It was gorgeous!
      I asked a bar which is in my husband’s apartment building to save clear bottles and we ended up with a large assortment of interesting shapes from them, plus all the ones we saved. I had 8 tables worth, each with about 15 bottles. We arranged the bottles into groupings well before the wedding and placed them on trays. I chose hardy flowers, we picked up the flowers on Thursday. Three of us spent 90 minutes placing and arranging flowers on Friday morning (honestly, we had maybe too many flowers but it was fun and easy), and they sat in my parents’ dining room until Saturday afternoon when my day-of helper set them on the tables using the trays to transport. We did more like three loose groupings on each table because we were worried about creating a ‘wall’ effect with one long line. It was SO PRETTY. My aunt (the soon to be mother of the groom in a much larger fancier wedding) actually asked me if I could bring all the bottles up to her so that she could use them in their upcoming event (I declined). Loved it so much.

      • Lawyerette510

        Hi! Thanks for the additional tips. Do you happen to have any pics you’d share? we’re considering grouping them, but I’m having trouble visualizing.

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  • Michele

    So simple and elegant! Now all you need is a little wine in those glasses ;)
    I also love the yard around the napkins, and if you have extra yarn that isn’t so fab, you could always braid it

  • Summers

    I know this is an old thread, but I’m collecting bottles to do this at our wedding right now, and here are some tips I’ve found helpful in prepping the jars:

    Materials: jars, oil (like vegetable oil), steel or copper wool (I switched to copper, because steel kept flecking off and giving me splinters & also seems less sturdy), soapy water, dishwasher

    1) I do a quick rinse of the jar as soon as I save it. Unsurprisingly, little bits of mold will grow if you don’t do this.

    2) When time to process the jars (I usually wait until I have 10 or 15– it takes awhile, but not forever,and I think I’d go crazy if I had too many more than that at a time) I first remove any numbers printed on the jar using the metal wool. You can do this dry, and it’s really quick, just a few seconds.

    2) I then remove the jar label. I’ve found there to be 2 types of jars.
    Type 1: Glue slathered completely on every inch of the jar’s labels
    Type 2: Glue just on a few strategic places on the label

    For Type 1, I soak the label (if it’s paper), and then peel of in strips. If it’s plastic, I just peel it off. I then scrub off the glue residue, using the metal wool and little oil.

    For Type 2, I remove the label while dry, and then scrub the glue residue with the metal wool and oil.

    For some reason oil dissolves the glue! I’ve removed the glue using just a paper towel and a little oil, but the metal wool speeds things up. It also helps remove any stubborn label bits left on.

    3) I then run everything through the dishwasher to remove the oil. Typically there are a few traces of label glue left, so I sometimes have to rescrub and sometimes re-dish wash a few jars.

    4) Once all the jars are clean and beautiful, I squirrel them away. I’ve now taken to putting them in plastic grocery bags, and am hiding them under the bed, since they take up a lot of space!

    I’m planning to also supplement some of my jars with religious candles from the dollar tree with the labels removed, as suggested in this tutorial: The dollar tree website apparently also has some of these jarred candles for $1 without labels too!

    I also have a few close friends happily collecting jars for me, so that’s really multiplied my jar supply. Happy jarring!

    • Summers

      PS, when purchasing the copper wool, it was in the dishwashing section of the grocery store, near the metal wool. It was around $2.

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