Each year the holidays offer us an opportunity to break away from the daily grind to focus on those things that matter most: Family and Friends. The aroma of freshly-baked pies fills our grandmother’s cozy kitchen. We warm ourselves with a fluffy, wool blanket as we curl up in our favorite chair with a new book. We hear the sound of the little ones playing games outside with their cousins. Whatever traditions you carry on each year, the stress and anticipation of planning the perfect meal at a beautiful table can be enough to make one think twice before hosting the dinner this year.
But with a little planning and some thoughtful tips, you too can play the cool, calm host for the family. Here are a few ideas to help make your day as relaxed and joyful as possible.
First, PLAN, PLAN, PLAN.
You know Aunt Marie’s perfect tablescape or Uncle Marty’s dish you envy? These don’t happen overnight. A trick I use to help me plan out the big day is to layout the plates and label where everything will rest on the table. Not only does it help one to think about the placement, but also gives a sense of texture, color and dish height on the table.
Candles offer a bit of elegance to any table. The dancing flicker of the flame allows for light and shadows to dance among the objects of the tablescape. To create a more formal table, try anchoring with two larger hurricanes. If your budget allows, enhance with additional crystal candlesticks of varying heights. Remember, while fragrance can be lovely throughout the home, it’s best to keep scented candles away from the dining room, which can affect the aromas and taste of food.
Depending on the season, there are many ways to enhance your holiday table with flowers and greenery. Natural garland is always lovely, but it isn’t always practical for every setting or budget. Try purchasing artificial garland and augment with natural pine sprigs, magnolia, holly or boxwood. For that extra “wow” factor, insert aspidistra leaves. For contrast to the green, consider incorporating ilex berries and a gold, velvet ribbon which will add depth and a sense of luxury to the arrangement. Remember, no matter how beautiful the table, the most important part of the dinner is the conversation and the guests. Therefore, keep arrangements low, or if your ceilings afford you the opportunity, take high—just be sure that the florals don’t interrupt direct eye contact with each person at the table.
Tablecloths, napkins, and runners provide an opportunity to add color, texture, and elegance as they soften the hard surfaces of the table and dishes. But depending on the condition and age of your dining table, it isn’t always necessary to use a tablecloth. Why cover the rich grain or patina of a mahogany, walnut, or oak table, for example? It can be celebrated by placing the dishes on chargers directly on the table. Soften with napkins pulled through interesting rings. Look for ways to add special and unique details.
For Thanksgiving dinners, I have been known to collect beautiful maple leaves a week before. I allow them to dry and press them flat. Once dry, I use an antique gold acrylic paint and paint the top and allow to dry on wax paper. If so desired, one can paint the back as well—just be sure to lift off of the wax paper between paint jobs so that it does not seal to the paper. This small detail can be a nice touch when tucked into the napkin ring with the lovely napkin. For a more elegant dinner, allow the leaves to double as placecards.
If you do use a table cloth, I prefer the simplicity of white, which makes the florals pop with interest. Be sure it is large enough to drop from the edge of the table. For casual events, tablecloths should have a 6- to 8-inch drop from the edge of the table to the bottom of the tablecloth. For more formal events, tablecloths have up to a 15-inch drop from the edge of the table to the bottom of the tablecloth.
A runner can be used several ways. It can be used as a contrast, laid on the tablecloth, or by itself. The most traditional way is, of course, to run the length of the table, again with an appropriate drop. Another fun table setting uses a runner across the table under each facing place setting, again with a drop at each end. That means purchasing several shorter runners, enough for each pair of facing seats.
The most visible way to express one’s personality in the dining room might be through one’s choice of china. Gone are the days of everything needing to match, like grandmother’s Christmas dinner china. While nothing says classic more than a beautiful crisp white dinner plate, the holidays call for a festive use of color. The holidays are about traditions, so try incorporating some family heirlooms with your own modern selections of china. Many past china patterns incorporated the traditional silver or gold band. For gold bands, try a colorful salad plate that plays to the traditional Thanksgiving colors such as golds, mustard yellows, oranges, and browns. For Christmas, draw from the greens and reds. Silver banded china lends itself wonderfully to the use of most colors, especially royal blues for holidays such as Hanukkah.
While all these tips are offered to generate ideas to make your holiday table festive, nothing compares to the memories of laughter and love that surround your table this holiday season. From our family to yours, Happy Holidays!
Chris Coggins, Linden Lane Interiors