A centrepiece serves as a formal dining table's focal point and unifies elements of the overall design scheme, a seasonal formal meal or a themed social gathering. During the Victorian era, the centrepiece also functioned as both a marker of the family's class and one of few creative outlets available to Victorian women.
Victorian Centerpiece Linens
Victorians didn't set an unanchored centrepiece in the centre of the table, but instead placed an embroidered oval, rectangular or round table linen beneath the centrepiece. Victorian homemakers made and embroidered their own table linens by hand, and often used repeating floral themes. If you have embroidery skills, you can purchase a plain linen centrepiece mat and decorate its borders in Victorian style. Study china patterns such as the Dresden pattern for decoration ideas.
Victorians took their dinner parties very seriously: Hosts seated their guests by rank, served multiple courses -- each with specific utensils -- and displayed their finest silver at the centre of the table as a symbol of their social standing. Silver, filigreed candelabra centrepieces provided plenty of light for dinnertime conversation, and hosts used the bowls on silver epergne centrepieces to serve side dishes, sweetmeats or desserts. Find vintage or reproduction silver epergnes and candelabras at estate sales or vintage decor resale stores. You could also group a collection of large silver spice shakers or tea service accessories in the centre of the table for a dramatic, eclectic effect.
Floral Arrangements or 'Tussie Mussies'
Flowers weren't just for decoration during the Victorian era; each type of bloom carried a special significance that sometimes changed depending on the flower's colour. Use flowers in your Victorian centrepiece to send a message about your family or a special occasion. For example, if you're celebrating an anniversary, you might fashion a "tussie mussie," the Victorian term for flower bouquet, out of bluebells, jasmine and forget-me-nots, which mean constancy, joy and true love, respectively. Ivy would also be a good choice, as it symbolised fidelity and marriage to Victorians, who often used ivy in their wedding tussie mussies. Arrange your floral centrepiece in a large silver vase, and tie it all together with a large pastel ribbon bow.
Victorian Holiday Tables
During the holidays, Victorian formal dining tables featured elaborate seasonal decorations. Victorians never shied away from bold colour choices, and their holiday decor reflected their bold preferences. Augment your standard Victorian centrepieces for holiday use: Fill your silver epergne's bowls with bright red, yellow and blue ceramic eggs at Easter or shiny gold ornaments at Christmas. You could also decorate your table with a short Christmas tree, also known as a tabletop Christmas tree. Create tiny scented ornaments out of crushed, clove-covered kumquats or crab apples; these balls are called pomanders, and were a Victorian favourite.