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Monday, Aug. 23, 2021

Dining by Design


Turning the tables on creativity

Who knew “putting piles of dirt on your table” and “putting a pot in the middle of it with flowers” can be a “gorgeous centerpiece”?

Jessica O’Neill, that’s who. O’Neill is a painter who studied fashion design at The Savannah College of Art and Design. She has teamed up with fashion and lifestyle consultant Janie Howe Dickson to take part in Dining By Design, a tablescape exhibit at Sci-Port Discovery Center. From Sept. 3-26, you will – with your general admission to Sci-Port – see and vote on different-themed tablescapes from 16 local designers/design teams.

The top three designers/teams will receive $500, to be given to the charity of their choice.

There is also a preview event on Sept. 2, which is a fundraiser for Sci-Port. Tickets are $50.

A tablescape is the overall design of a table.

For this exhibit, designers will decorate a table for eight, along with a 10 x 10 space. Each designer had the choice to decorate either a round or rectangular table.

“We went with round, because we felt like for everyone to enjoy the dining experience, it’s easier when you can see everyone’s faces at once,” O’Neill explained.

Each designer/team also chose their own table and space theme. The lineup of themes includes “Breakfast in Bed,” “Disco is not Dead” and “Rock Paper Scissors.”

O’Neill and Dickson – both mothers of young children – went with “Midnight in the Garden.”

“I think when you have children around, sometimes it’s just good to escape,” O’Neill said. “Midnight in the Garden – it feels like fall, it feels mysterious, dark, fun. You don’t really know what to expect, but there is a nature component to it. That’s where we are pulling a lot of our inspiration from. We’re in Louisiana, where God has made the landscape around us so lush. So, what could we do to emphasize and play off that? Also, thinking about what isn’t here and what can we bring.”

O’Neill and her husband, Jack, enjoy entertaining, although the pandemic – and having a 14-month-old daughter in addition to a 6-year-old daughter – means they don’t have people over to their house as often as they used to. However, when guests do come, O’Neill relies on her table decorating skills – not her cooking – to impress her visitors.

“God bless my friends, because they know that they’re coming for the experience and not my food,” O’Neill joked.

And creating the “experience” is what a tablescape is all about.

“At the end of the night, you want (your guests) to take away memories from the evening,” O’Neill explained. “I hope our table shows people – and inspires people – that you can really go outside of the box and use unusual and ironic things for the table. Everything doesn’t have to be so perfect all of the time. What you really want when you’re creating a tablescape and entertaining your guests is to inspire them – spark conversation. A table should get people touching things and looking at things and talking to one another, because talking to one another is what we’re really missing right now in this world.”

Dining By Design Honorary Chairperson Waynette Ballengee sees the exhibit as a way for you to pick up some great ideas for your own tablescape.

“You may not be able to replicate what these designers have done, but maybe you could,” Ballengee said.

“Maybe you can take something from several different tables and use it in your home.

In the past, I’ve been to some tablescape events in different cities. It’s amazing the talent people bring to it. The creativity – things you would never have thought about.”

But while Ballengee has seen tablescape events in other places, she is confident the tablescapes you see at Sci-Port won’t take a back seat.

“I think people are going to be amazed at what (the designers) do with their space, with the table, with the space around the table,” Ballengee said. “These people are going all out, and it speaks to the fact that people want to make Shreveport-Bossier a better place to live, work, play. They want people to know how much talent we have in our area, which I think we underestimate. Sometimes, we get the feeling we need to go somewhere else to see amazing things. I think amazing things are available in our own back yard.”


• Jacquie Barber and Clint Downing
Mode Luxe

• Bonne Summers and Ryan McCutcheon
Breakfast In Bed

• John Cariere and Susana Van Norman
Disco Is Not Dead

• Dennis Beckman and Deb Cockrell
The Enchanted Garden

• Kyle Loyd

• Myron Griffing
Head Of The Table

• Katy Larsen
No Rainbow Without Rain

• Luke Lee

• Lauren and Derek Simmons

• James Osborne
Rock Paper Scissors

• Cathy Zahn
A Royal Tea

• Cassie Stone
Feed Your Soul

• Janie Howe Dickson and Jessica O’Neill
Midnight In The Garden

• Niema Longstratt
Coming To Wakanda

• Catherine Lewis Hobbs
Dinner On The Terrace


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