by Maghie Ghali
  • 5 minute read
  • April 23, 2024
Lea Sfeir shares her tips for crafting beautiful tablescapes

With the Middle East being almost synonymous with hospitality, French-Lebanese designer Lea Sfeir grew up surrounded by family and friends hosting elegant lunches and dinners, full of delicious food, flowing conversation and every detail taken care of.

Embracing the adage ‘We eat first with our eyes’, Lea firmly believes no meal is complete without a beautiful table to set the scene, from a comprehensive theme to handpicked plates and enchanting decorations. For the Dubai-based creative, tablescaping has become an art she aims to constantly reinvent.

Lea started out in the fashion industry and spent over a decade working in Milan and Paris, handling communications for the likes of Elie Saab, Jo Malone, and Anne Valerie Ash. Whenever
a special dinner was being hosted, she would help design the aesthetic.

A tablescape by Lea Sfeir

“For me, having grown up in this environment, because of my mum, my grandmothers, and my aunts, presentation and hospitality are so important. Even when it’s simple, it’s sophisticated,” says Lea. “For Rami Kadi and even for Anne Valerie Ash, I was always setting up tables. Once, I did a beautiful table for one of Rami’s presentations inspired by the Versailles Palace – for me, it was so important that we do something really pretty, because in the fashion industry these details are crucial,” she adds.

After moving to Dubai in 2019 and deciding to focus more on family, Lea filled up her free time by inviting friends and family over for meals – all bedecked with her signature styled tables. Proud of her curation, she began posting her tablescaping process on Instagram, where she already had a healthy number of followers from her days in the fashion world.

“I started documenting it, showing what I’ve always done, but just for the fun of it and for personal events. For each dinner, I was so happy to organise and show all the details, share my tables and how I prepared and I cooked all the food,” Lea says. “Then Covid arrived but, even so, for Christmas, anniversaries or birthdays, I still wanted to celebrate. As I was in Dubai and couldn’t access flowers during Covid, I decided to use artificial flowers and whatever I had in my house to decorate.”

Another tablescape designed at the artful hands of Lea

Lea’s tablescaping began to draw serious attention when she hosted some friends for dinner – Lorena Vergani, and her then-husband, renowned art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin, who were visiting the city.

With Indian food on the menu, Lea served up a bright and colourful table inspired by traditional Indian design, collecting objects and glassware from small artisans around the Emirates and floral arrangements from Indian florists, to create an immersive experience.

“I wanted to create an Indian story on my table. I did research and a mood board,” Lea recalls. “I even got a chef who cooked Indian food for us at home and I offered flower necklaces to guests, made an Indian-inspired drink, and decorated the table with new plates.”

“I was filming my table with my guests as I always do, and Emmanuel wanted to share videos too,” she continues. “I posted it and made a small reel. Everyone was messaging to find out what was happening. I suddenly had many Indian followers because I hashtagged India, saying ‘Thank you for honouring India.’ This was a big step for me, because I gained followers and the attention of many people in the industry who wanted to know more.”

Lea Sfeir poses with her ByLeaSfeir box

Lea’s next viral hit was a dinner planned in honour of her friend Shourouk, the well-known French-Tunisian jewellery designer, who was in Dubai to open a pop-up store, and eagerly awaiting one of Lea’s dinner parties.

Both women hold a fascination with Marie-Antoinette – especially the pastel-coated look iconised by Sofia Coppola’s film. The menu was French cuisine with a Tunisian twist, as a nod to Shourouk’s heritage, while the table was bedecked with macaron towers and frosted cakes from Ladurée, who sponsored part of the dinner.

Lea also asked Shourouk to bring along some of her artworks to act as table decorations – retro food packaging, vintage cigarette cases and detergent bottles all encrusted with Swarovski crystals.

The next day, Swarovski contacted Lea and asked her to design the tables for their Dubai gala dinner. The following months would include tablescaping for Montblanc – inspired by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert with antique décor – and a collaboration with Dior to promote their Cruise 22 plate collection, inspired by ancient Greece.

With her success, Lea decided to take her art a step further by creating her own designs and vision, neatly packaged in a beautiful box, so that anyone could host spectacular dinners. In 2021, she created ByLeaSfeir, a series of boxes containing everything needed to recreate one of three current tablescape collections she has personally designed and produced with the help of local artisans.

The boxes contain eight plates, a selection of decorative vases or ornaments, placemats, napkins, candle holders and candles. She also sells the items individually due to popular demand.

Her first collection, Khanum, drew inspiration from the beautiful colours and geometric patterns found on mosques around Uzbekistan, Turkey and Iran, primarily from the Timurid era. 

“I wanted to create a collection inspired by the Bibi-Khanum Mosque of Uzbekistan. So I did a mood board, then asked artists to draw me something inspired by this. After maybe 30 designs, I created my first collection,” she explains. “I also wanted the price point to be reasonable, so that many people can afford to have a beautiful table.”

Lea’s Ramadan collection Olive Branch, is styled with minimalist white ceramics dotted with hand-painted motifs of moons, dates and olive branches.

“For Ramadan, I have worked on a collaboration with Villa Aumedan, this concept flower shop in Jumeirah that local customers love,” Lea shares. “They told me they wanted to do a collaboration with me, having me dress a Ramadan table and selling my items, so it’s very cool.” 

Visit and follow @leasfeir on Instagram.

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