How should you decorate a dining table when you're not using it? 8 decor ideas for between mealtimes

Stylish, yet easy to move when it comes time to set the table, try these designer-inspired styling ideas for decorating a dining table when not in use

A dining room with modern dining chairs and a decorated dining table
(Image credit: Baxt Ingui Architects. Photo credit Nicole Franzen)

There are endless ways to decorate a dining table when you're not using it, and inspiration is all around you. After all, the dining table isn't just a place to sit down and eat. When not in use, a large, empty tabletop will feel incomplete, and in an open-plan room especially, the table can become a spot to display curios, plants, flowers and more. 

How to narrow down your options, then? We asked design experts for how they like to style a dining table for their clients, and from colorful tablescapes to sleek centerpieces, and everything in between, here's how they suggested getting experimental with dining room ideas

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari
Aditi Sharma Maheshwari

Aditi is a homes writer and editor with several years of experience. Her articles, backed by expert insights, offer suggestions aimed at helping readers make the best home design choices. For this article, she spoke to top experts to understand ways to decorate the dining table when meal time is over.

1. Play with height

A dining table decorated with vases in different heights

(Image credit: Studio SFW)

A great way to decorate the dining table is with the magic of vases. While these are usually used to fill up living room corners, countertops, and more, when displayed on the dining table, vases filled with fresh, dried or preserved flowers can add color and charm. 

For bigger impact, consider using more than one. 'Vases are a no-fail addition to any space that could use a little decor, and if you have a few stunning options worth showcasing, display them all at once,' says Noorein Kapoor, founder of NKD Studio. 'Mix and match vases of different sizes and colors, and remember that you don’t have to fill all of them. If the vases echo colors that are already in your home’s palette, they’ll fit right into your space. And if they don’t, look for options that will complement your dining room decor.'

2. Add color with a fruit bowl

A dining table with fruit bowls

(Image credit: SIMON BEVAN)

Who doesn't love fresh fruit as part of your home decor? Where else will you find a natural orange tone, the perfect yellow or delicious green, if not in nature? Use these to add a pop of hue and personality to an otherwise-minimalist space, and add to your dining room color.

'Styling a tabletop doesn’t have to be a laborious and time-consuming task,' says Ajay Arya, founder of A Square Designs. 'With some quick and easily adaptable ideas, you can set the stage for cherished moments with your family every single day. Decorating with fruits can’t be difficult. With their varied colors and shapes, fresh fruits are a sight for sore eyes. Place them in an attractive bowl or a basket; a tiered stand or a crystal or silver bowl, or simply a charming wicker basket, and you are done.'

3. Go autumnal with dried flowers and grass

A dining table decorated with pampas grass

(Image credit: ANNA STATHAK)

Dried foliage and pampas grass have their charm, especially during fall - plus, they last much longer, if not indefinitely, making them a more practical alternative to fresh-cut flowers. If you're looking for interesting fall decor ideas, then consider using twigs, leaves, and dried florals for an easy display. 

'For a brown, autumnal vibe, put together a centerpiece using dried twigs, leaves, and flowers,' says Ajay. 'Paint a few of the components and pine cones in white, and you have a wintery, Christmassy look. We all have a collection of charming cake stands and cookie jars of different styles and makes. Use them to decorate the table – you can also serve cut fruits, desserts, or salads on the cake stand.'

Aside from seasonal foliage, you can use other natural materials for an earthy look. 'Using natural materials such as linen and rattan will add warmth,' says Brittany Farinas, CEO of House of One. 'Be selective on the more visually heavier pieces on the table, such as the metal finish for napkin holders and utensils. I'm loving copper lately, and I think it's perfect for the holidays. Creating a festive floral arrangement will add a warm and inviting detail that may also serve as a conversational piece.'

4. Include an assortment of objects

A dining table designed with an assortment of objects

(Image credit: Soho Home)

Use your dining table as a wonderful display unit or a curio space – a surface that hosts some of the best collectibles you own. Don't feel limited by categories; indulge in interesting dining table ideas to host a collection of interesting objects. 

'Don't overthink how to set a dining table when not in active use,' says Jennifer Morris, founder of JMorris Design. 'An easy, stress-free solution is using a collection of items. It could be vases that you have amassed over the years or something more personal and vibrant like inherited pictures. I also love some romantic touches like candlesticks or candelabras.'

5. Consider a collection of candles

a dining room with arched windows with curtains

(Image credit: Daniel Wang. Design: DesignbyRUCHI)

Add to your table decor ideas that are in the spirit of the holidays with differently-sized or shaped candlesticks or candelabras. This is a great way to make the room feel dynamic, yet cohesive. And since you’re curating the set yourself, you can make it as vibrant or sleek as you want it to be. 

Add to the room's sensorial feel with scented candles so the room becomes even more inviting and cozy. 'Take pleasure in creating a table that sits, jewel-like, within your dining space,' says interior designer Matthew Williamson. 'It should be a feast for the eyes before the feast itself. The perfect tablescape needs to have depth. Try placing tall candles, long-stem flowers, and other tall elements on your table to add some height.'

6. Pick a large houseplant 

A dining room with a large plant pot on top of the table

(Image credit: Maestri Studio. Photo credit Nathan Shroder)

The good thing about houseplants is that they can be placed inside any corner, room, or unit to lift their look and feel. If your dining table feels too drab, requires color, or simply needs a striking piece to make it feel grand, consider an oversized houseplant.

Also, in addition to their aesthetic value, plants have many health benefits, and surrounding ourselves with greenery is incredibly beneficial for our bodies and minds. Consider houseplants that clean the air, like the English Ivy, Peace Lily, Snake Plant, or Devil's Ivy.

'You can display your newest plant obsessions on your unused dining room table,' says Noorein. 'The same goes for fresh flowers. They are the cherry on top of any well-decorated space and they make a stunning centerpiece. Yes, it can be a little frustrating to cycle through dining room table decor every week, or slightly less frequently, if your flowers are particularly long-lasting. But, when the upside is a fresh, new centerpiece that looks and smells great, the trade-off is worth it. Even a plant in a small vase is impactful. The bright greenery stands out in any room.'

7. Keep to a low-hanging ceiling light 

A cane lighting piece above the dining table

(Image credit: Lights&Lamps)

The clever thing about tabletop decor is that you don't need to crowd ithe surface at all. A low-hanging light that throws diffused or patterned light on the table and in the room can be all the decorative touch you need.

Indulge in interesting dining room lighting ideas and choose fixtures in different materials, shapes, and sizes. A large-scale pendant over a petit dining table can look dramatic and eye-catching. Pieces in natural materials are the trend currently, so choose ones made in rattan, bamboo, or wood.  

‘A ceiling light that can highlight the table without shining on everyone’s faces is also ideal,' says  Niki Wright, co-founder of Lights&Lamps. 'We are currently designing a small pendant that has a focused/spot downlight that is still diffused and still within a softer more decorative form – ideal for a cluster over a round table or in a line above a long table.’

8. Place a collection of coffee table books 

A dining room with a tabletop of coffee books

(Image credit: Studio DB)

Who says coffee table books are only meant for coffee table decor? If you have a good collection of paperbacks, preferably in vivid colors, use these to decorate your dining table, and convert this space into a fun, reading nook when not in use. This is a particularly useful idea in small apartment homes where the dining table can be put to more use than one.

Create pretty vignettes with books, and add a vase, a curio, or two to pepper the setup. To give the decor some height and visibility, consider stacking the books inside a rimmed tray, or atop decorative boxes or bowls. Use these as a way to showcase your interests, in art, photography, or literature. 

How can I make my dining table decor look more expensive?

A great way to lift the look of your humble apartment dining room is to up the look of the table by using decoratives that reflect class and style. Consider adding gold flatware to your dining table. These could be gold urns, vases, or small trays. Another way is with large, sumptuous floral arrangements. If the season doesn't allow it, you could go in for artificial blooms that look just as good. 

Hang a low yet grand chandelier that not only lifts the look of the dining room but also makes the table area seem unique and modern. Embroidered tablecloths and runners can have a striking look as well. And finally, tall, ornate candle stands can give a sophisticated, period vibe to the dining table.

Design Editor

Aditi Sharma Maheshwari is the Design Editor at Livingetc. She is an architecture and design journalist with over 10 years of experience. She's worked at some of the leading media houses in India such as Elle Decor, Houzz and Architectural Digest (Condé Nast). Till recently, she was a freelance writer for publications such as Architectural Digest US, House Beautiful, Stir World, Beautiful Homes India among others. In her spare time, she volunteers at animal shelters and other rescue organizations.