Set­ting the hol­i­day ta­ble sets the mood

El­e­vate your hol­i­day din­ing decor to give your guests a spe­cial place at the ta­ble

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By MICHELLE HIG­GINS

A fes­tive ta­ble set­ting is about more than just pro­vid­ing some decor for your hol­i­day din­ner.

Afes­tive ta­ble set­ting is about more than just pro­vid­ing some decor for your hol­i­day din­ner. It can set the mood for a party, spark con­ver­sa­tions among guests and give you an ex­cuse to dust off your grand­mother’s sil­ver and china.

But how do you pull ev­ery­thing to­gether in a creative way that doesn’t feel clichéd?

“The foun­da­tion of your hol­i­day ta­ble is the tex­tile you choose for your run­ner or table­cloth and nap­kins,” said Liz Cur­tis, the founder of Ta­ble + Tea­spoon, a San Fran­cisco rental ser­vice that of­fers pre-planned ta­ble set­tings start­ing at $24 a per­son.

Go with a neu­tral color and pat­tern, rather than a hol­i­day theme, to cre­ate “an el­e­gant, el­e­vated feel for your guests,” Cur­tis said.

That’s not to say you have to run out and buy new linens. “I like to make my own run­ners out of beau­ti­ful fab­ric that I have turned into the length of my din­ing ta­ble by my lo­cal dry cleaner’s al­ter­ations depart­ment,” she said, not­ing that “a black-and-white pat­terned li­nen works as a base for any­thing you want to put on top of it.”

Make it per­sonal

The hol­i­days are a time to cel­e­brate fam­ily, so the most mean­ing­ful dec­o­ra­tions weave to­gether the per­sonal and the fes­tive,” said Bron­son van Wyck, who owns a de­sign and event pro­duc­tion com­pany, Van Wyck & Van Wyck.

At Christ­mas din­ner, van Wyck, who is of Scot­tish and Dutch de­scent, uses tar­tan-pat­terned nap­kins and blue-and-white china. “Not an ob­vi­ous com­bi­na­tion,” he said. “But even pat­terns that don’t seem to fit the oc­ca­sion work if they’re mixed and matched with con­fi­dence and whimsy.”

To add an­other per­sonal touch, van Wyck said, “I will some­times em­broi­der the ini­tials of my guests onto nap­kins, which I then use as place cards” that guests can take home.

“Guests love to see them­selves,” he said, “whether it’s their photo tagged on so­cial me­dia, their re­flec­tion in a mir­ror or even just their own name beau­ti­fully writ­ten on an el­e­gant place card.”

In­cor­po­rate na­ture

“There is some­thing so spe­cial about us­ing pieces from the earth, by adding a gar­land of green­ery or win­ter fruits down the cen­ter of the ta­ble,” said Mag­gie Burns, owner of Mag­gie Rich­mond De­sign, in Man­hat­tan. “Pomegranates and figs add the per­fect punch of hol­i­day red to a place set­ting, and noth­ing smells more beau­ti­ful than sprigs of ev­er­green scat­tered through­out the house.”

Van Wyck, who grew up in Arkansas, likes to hang a mag­no­lia wreath. “It’s a tra­di­tional sym­bol of hos­pi­tal­ity in the South,” he said. “And the leaves look just as great dried as they do freshly cut, so it’s not a once-and-done pur­chase.”

He added: “The com­bi­na­tion of deep green and brown and gold is a per­fect pal­ette for hol­i­day dec­o­rat­ing. You get a lot of bang for your buck, be­cause they work for Thanks­giv­ing as well as Christ­mas.”

Break some rules

“I’ve never used a for­mula when set­ting a ta­ble, and I def­i­nitely don’t want it to feel so per­fect that you’re afraid to mess it up,” said Ken Fulk, an event de­signer in San Fran­cisco known for his ex­u­ber­ant style. “It should be loosely ar­ranged for bal­ance, but not per­fectly sym­met­ri­cal.”

Glass­ware and sil­ver should be ar­ranged in the or­der they’re used, start­ing from the out­side and work­ing your way in, he said. “But we give our­selves some flex­i­bil­ity with glasses when there are more than five pair­ings. In those cases, we’re of­ten mix­ing vin­tage glass­ware with crys­tal, and it looks so much pret­tier to ar­range by style, size or color.”

Dec­o­rate with food

Caro­line Bailly, the owner of L’ate­lier Rouge, a Man­hat­tan flo­ral de­sign and event com­pany, likes to use pur­ple egg­plants, kale and bunches of root veg­eta­bles like radishes and beets to add tex­ture, color and in­ter­est to her flo­ral ar­range­ments.

“You get a more pow­er­ful ef­fect by work­ing with colors in groupings, rather than mix­ing the shades,” she said.

And com­bin­ing flower stems of dif­fer­ent lengths al­lows cer­tain el­e­ments to stand out, adding depth to the ar­range­ment. “The flow­ers are so beau­ti­ful on their own,” she said. “You don’t want to them to be packed to­gether.”

Avoid clichés

“Just be­cause it’s Thanks­giv­ing doesn’t mean that you’re re­quired to put pump­kins and corn­cobs all over an or­ange table­cloth,” said Cur­tis, of Ta­ble + Tea­spoon. “Plac­ing mandarins or or­anges on each plate at a tra­di­tional blue Hanukkah ta­ble achieves style sans kitsch.”

Oc­ca­sion­ally, she’ll slice the bot­tom off a pear and stand it in the cen­ter of a plate as dec­o­ra­tion, or cut a per­sim­mon or pome­gran­ate in half, with the sliced side up. “Ev­ery time I’ve put an or­ange or a pear or a quince on a plate, at least one guest ends up eat­ing it,” she said.

Jung Lee, a founder of the event de­sign com­pany Fête NY, likes to in­cor­po­rate tiny fig­urines and other un­ex­pected el­e­ments that will sur­prise and de­light guests. “Lit­tle vignettes or col­lec­tions will spark con­ver­sa­tion, es­pe­cially when el­e­ments are not as lit­eral,” said Lee, who added minia­ture owls to a hol­i­day ta­ble she re­cently cre­ated.

Light the can­dles

The eas­i­est, least ex­pen­sive way to add drama to the din­ner ta­ble is to light some can­dles,” van Wyck said. “Ev­ery­thing and ev­ery­one looks amaz­ing by fire­light. For the most flat­ter­ing light, aim for a mix of ta­pers and vo­tives scat­tered the length of the ta­ble.”

And don’t skimp on them. “You can never have too many,” he said. “For a warm, invit­ing glow, at least triple what you think you’ll need.”

Marco Ricca/the New York Times

De­signer Bron­son van Wyck dresses his hol­i­day ta­ble in tar­tan linens to re­flect his Scot­tish her­itage. “Even pat­terns that don’t seem to fit the oc­ca­sion work if they’re mixed and matched with con­fi­dence and whimsy,” he says.

Liz Cur­tis/the New York Times

A pear with the bot­tom sliced off is a fes­tive, un­con­ven­tional way to dec­o­rate a place set­ting, says Liz Cur­tis, the founder of Ta­ble + Tea­spoon. It’s also one that guests of­ten end up eat­ing.

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