10 tablescapes by David Hicks — inventor of the term

David Hicks tablescape

Used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

My spotlight on the essential mid-century decorator David Hicks continues with: Tablescapes. David Hicks not only did beautiful tablescape, he invented the word. He had a philosophy about tablescapes, and I adore it. Quoted in an interview in The Independent, he said:

My passion for arranging masses of things together is part of the way I see objects and use them. It not only looks mean, but is visually meaningless, to have one bottle of gin, one of whisky, a couple of tonic water and a soda syphon on a table in the living-room, even though that might be perfectly adequate for the needs of one evening’s entertainment.

It is perhaps I who have made tablescapes – objects arranged as landscapes on a horizontal surface – into an art form; indeed, I invented the word . . . What is important is not how valuable or inexpensive your objects are, but the care and feeling with which you arrange them. I once bought six inexpensive tin mugs in Ireland and arranged them on a chimneypiece to create an interesting effect in a room which otherwise lacked objects. They stood there in simple perfection.

How to learn to do this? Stare at photos, study and analyze them. Then practice a lot . Fortunately, we have nine more David Hicks tablescapes to help get the studying started — yes, “Simple Perfection” –>

David Hicks New York tablescape

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

I took an interior design class once. I learned, that when making tablescape, think “Tall, Fat & Flat”. One tall item, one fat item, one flat item. I think this David Hicks tablescape kind of exemplifies that thought — although he takes it one step further and makes the tablescape even more dimensional by ensuring the artwork on the wall is part of the scene. Really, the carpet, stool and chair are also part of the vignette.

Tablescape by David Hicks

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Here, lots of tactile layering going on.

David Hicks tablescape

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

The blue lampshade gives this particular dimension. And the tall print adds height. Otherwise, this might be *just* a collection of teeny tiny stuff — clutter.

David Hicks tablescape midcentury modern

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

“Balanced asymmetry” is a mid-century modern concept, I think. Although, from feng shui *I think* I learned that the tallest piece should be to the left.  Left Dragon, Right Tiger.

David Hicks tablescape

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Dragon and Tiger are correct here. The fuzzie ferns soften this arrangement and otherwise prevent it from being a sea of porcelain. Three’s are good.

Tablescape by David Hicks

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

Notice here — as in the other examples — how David Hicks is very careful not to make his tablescapes a cacophony of color. He chooses one maybe two colors. Again, this kind of “focus” prevents things from looking cluttered.

Tablescape by David Hicks

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

This is so charming! This could EASILY be an interior promoted as ALL THE RAGE TODAY.

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

I do have to say, though: If you are going to have tablescapes like this, keep the swiffer cloths handy. Pretty pretty pretty — but dust magnets, all!

David Hicks portrait

Photo used with permission The Estate of David Hicks

 David Hicks’ later life portrait — with a gorgeous tablescape, of course. It sure seems like this man knew how to live well.  Thanks to The Estate of David Hicks for the great photos.


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  1. wendy says

    I am personally not a fan of “tablescaping”. Everything above appears cluttered and contrived, and looks more like a gift shop than a home. There’s no place for your eyes to take a rest! And how do you actually USE any of the surfaces with all of that stuff in the way? I prefer having just one or two fabulous items and a lamp on an end table. My treasured clutter is confined to the mantle, wall shelves, and a glass fronted piece.

    I also see no love in the photos – it’s just stuff that’s been arranged. Many (most!) of the items have no apparent meaning other than being part of the tablescape. He even says he bought items specifically for display purposes. Feh. The photos I see from readers here are so much better – items that are obviously adored and show the personality and artfulness of the owner.

    Yes, I know these are just examples, but unlike much of Hicks’ other work, these photos bug me!

  2. Shannon H. says

    To each their own, but personally, it looks like too much competition for your eyes going on. For me, less is more.

  3. adam says

    I realy enjoy tablescapes. To me it shows how a series of objects related or not ,in all shape, forms texture and colors can tell a story that can be read differently by the ones whom takes time to view it or try understands ones collection of objects. Its sorta like the buildings in a big city or a groug of people at a train station some how we all are different yet can relate in a setting and create something beautyful. Yet at times it lovely to see one objet all alone on a table tablescapes can simplely be 2 rocks on a mirror we are the creater and writer of the story the viewer is the one to read it if they chose to take the time. David Hicks sure does have a great eye

  4. gsciencechick says

    Meh, not really a fan of this look. Maybe just doing one console table would be enough, but all over the house would drive me nuts.

  5. Marion Powell says

    Pam, thanks for the post. As you always say, you’re not an expert and no one should take your posts as gospel.

    Tablescaping has its place and so does minimalist design. In our busy lives, with no maids to do the dusting, tablescaping is an indulgence. But, it is an art form. Do it wrong and it “hurts” the eye. It will always annoy you and you’ll be constantly rearranging the pieces.

  6. Ranger Smith says

    I agree that limiting a tablescape to two colors is a great idea, however I would still remove at least 50% of the items from the surfaces in these pictures. These are just way too cluttered. Three items on a side table and maybe 5 on a large console would be my preference.

  7. JMo says

    I like tablescapes in other people’s homes. I often see them and think, “Now, why shouldn’t I do that?” Then I see my kids and remember why.

  8. Aubrey says

    Where you sit to work, if you put pictures of loved ones that bring meaning to your life, who remind you of what matters most, who keep you grounded, by all means have a tablescape.

    Serious legacies, display them under glass. Protect them. Arrange thematic, NEVER artful for it suggests frivolity and superficiality. Display medals and honors of one’s ANCESTORS awarded from all the major battles of the nation. Copies of handwritten wills from benefactors–frame them to remind you what you were given and expected of. Never souvenirs, never holidays–be a traveler, not a tourist.

    All other clutter is junk. Showing off. And to buy more stuff to just display? Its manifesting one’s ego.

    This site is about appreciating the vintage. So, recycle OLD stuff to USE, give them a new life. May they live SIMPLY, in all ways, with us.

  9. virginia says

    As someone who loves fabrics, ceramics, and artwork over cars, jewelry, and just about anything else, I am and always have been an inveterate tablescaper. It gives me great pleasure to change things up seasonally and put various items on rotation. I tend to prefer very simple window treatments — no frills and ruffles there — and also simple floor coverings. I’d like to think it works for us — actually, I know it does.

    When my son was little, all this was kept to a minimum for sure. But now many of his objects and artwork have become part of the scene. It’s fun. It’s amazing how well old dinosaur toys and action figures go with a nice selection of Gonder ceramics, Winfield porcelain, and atomic barkcloth.

    So, thank you, Mr. Hicks. The “tall, fat, and flat” motto is useful. And not every surface needs to be done. The eye does need to rest and the rocks glass needs a place to land.

  10. Dawn says

    As an interior designer, my philosophy is to find the main preferences of a client, but having that in mind, find a way to add something “unexpected”. (Which, on this subject, would mean having one special grouping among the other, more simple accessories in the home.) In other words, you can do BOTH!! 🙂 It also really allows that grouping full attention–
    P.S. Love your site!

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