A feast for the eyes

Dec 7, 2022 by Chief Stew Bugsy Drake

Nothing sets the mood for a wonderful meal more than an extraordinary tablescape.

Finding my way into tablescaping — just like starting my career in yachting — was a happy accident. The word ‘tablescape” was not a part of my vocabulary until I started working on luxury yachts, but I couldn’t have landed my first job on a more innovative and enchanting yacht. It truly opened my eyes to the opulence and creativity that comprise a gorgeous table for high-end guests. 

The captain himself inspired out-of-the-box thinking, and being a charter yacht, the parties thrown were nothing short of spectacular. Table themes changed from breakfast to lunch, then jumped to a whole new level of sophistication for dinner. No color theme was ever the same at the different meals, nor did we ever reuse the same color napkin or place mat on the same day. For the napkins, it was a flat fold at breakfast, a napkin ring at lunch, and a starched stand-up fold at dinner. The cupboards were brimming with a kaleidoscope of colored stones and sand, glass vases, and unique bits of décor.

The first time I tried my hand at setting a table for dinner was during a charter on that yacht. I was the junior stew of six stewardesses, and my chief stew called me up to the plate to test my skills. Boy, did I fail in her eyes! The colors were off, the décor matched nothing, and what I was made to believe was a total mess never lasted long enough on the table for the guests to even see it. 

Nevertheless, I had been bitten by the tablescaping bug. My passion for creating these tables, which I have come to view as art, was greater than ever. From that day forward, I have instilled in myself and the stews I have trained this standard: “There are NO RULES when it comes to tablescaping!” I created a formula for guidance within my “No Rule” parameter, and it goes as follows: height, color, and texture. Work with different heights and different textures, and play with different colors. 

Nothing sets the mood or scene for a wonderful meal more than an extraordinary tablescape. Simply put, you can set your table or you can “scape it.” A creative tablescape not only uses décor to spark conversation and give your guests something to talk about around the table, it also creates memories and can even invoke a sense of nostalgia among families or friends.

Don’t know where or how to start? My best advice is to PLAY! As you go along, look at your work from different angles, add bits, take away bits —new ideas will come to you. And here’s the best part: After you take a walk around your creation, if you don’t like what you see, you can always pull it apart and start over! 

Never be afraid to go against the grain with unusual color schemes or to challenge yourself with new ideas and new themes. I like to break stereotypes, such as the idea that to set a nice table, everything needs to be expensive. I get an absolute kick out of incorporating different items I find around the home, repurposing glass jam jars, tin cans, and even bits of rope or ribbon to create that unique element for the table. 

Always “do you,” and your unique imagination will shine through! 


Height is very important! When placing a large vase, floral arrangement, or other décor on the table, always make sure your guests can see each other across the table. There is nothing worse than having something beautiful you have created removed from the table or moved off to the side so that your guests can chat with one another. Sit down at the table as though you were going to be eating there in order to access the view across. 

Tablecloth alternatives

  • Newspaper 
  • Netting 
  • Burlap tulle 
  • Layered place mats 
  • Kraft paper (with pens so your guests can sketch) 

Alternate different napkins or place mats; they don’t always have to be the same. This makes for an interesting color scheme or pattern. 

Contrast is crucial

  • Use contrasting textures, shapes, angles, and colors to make it exciting. It also creates balance. 
  • Use something smooth and contrast it with something spikey or with an edge.
  • Contrast light and dark colors, or try smooth and shiny napkins against a textured table base. 
  • Mix metals with organic items.

Chief Stew Bugsy Drake, dubbed the “Queen of Theme,” has worked on superyachts for 10 years, as well as appearing on two seasons of Bravo TV’s “Below Deck Mediterranean.” She is the author of “The Art of Tablescaping,” available at bugsydrake.com, Amazon, and selected bookstores.