How to design your Thanksgiving or holiday table / by Paula Henry

It is often said the gift is in the giving and I couldn’t agree more.  My husband Dennis and I love to entertain and we always try to welcome our guests in such a way that they feel at home.  Good food, good drink and good company is a winning combination and indeed a gift to all fortunate enough to enjoy it.  Add to it, touches of seasonal décor and a pretty table, you can’t go wrong.

When contemplating your holiday table, think about the story you want it to tell and the feeling you want to evoke.  Some folks have special holiday china and they build their theme around it for a lovely, festive table.  You can also use your everyday dinnerware with seasonal embellishments to create an equally beautiful table.

As an Interior Decorator, my approach to decorating a holiday table is much the same as it is when I am designing a home.   In a word…layers.

You may start with a tablecloth and layer it with a runner and/or placemats.  Consider using traditional elements in non-traditional ways such as using multiples in various shapes, colors and textures, then take it a step farther and turn them in different directions.  For example, one placemat can anchor a place setting much the way a rug anchors a grouping of seating.  Use one placemat horizontally, and then set another set on top vertically.   

Be mindful that not everything has to match to achieve a cohesive look.  If you don’t have a complete matching set of china or you want to be creative, mix your patterns and colors.  Starting with a charger and/or dinner plate, add a salad plate and bowl. 

Cloth napkins are nice way to give a voice to the season or holiday you are celebrating.  I mentioned using multiples and it can apply to napkins which like placemats, can be placed in different directions.  Get creative with your flatware too.  Staggering forks and spoons on either side of your plate and laying the knife across the top of the dinner plate is unexpected and adds interest to your place setting.

The Thanksgiving table is one that lends itself to using gifts from nature to tell the holiday story.  If you plan to leave a centerpiece on the table while dining, keep it low so your guests can see one another.   If you prefer something taller, make it something airy like a tall clear glass cylinder with a sparse array of leggy stems or twigs. 

A simple and elegant centerpiece can be created by…wait for it…using multiples.  Clear glass hurricanes and vases can be combined for a stunning effect.  If you have a rectangular table, use at least three or more depending on the length of your table.  When possible, I work in odd numbers so if you need more than three, add two more, etc.

Start with a larger diameter glass vase then add a smaller one inside of it.  You can add pinecones, leaves, acorns, cranberries or anything else you prefer to the outer layer.  Fill the inside vase with water and add floating candles or low flowers.  To make it more personal, tie or glue ribbon around the outer vase with a message for your guests.  “We are Thankful for our Guests.”   

Dennis and I are fortunate to celebrate the holidays with family and friends and think it is important to count our blessings.  We have created a game out of sharing what each of us is thankful for at Thanksgiving.   On a slip of paper, everyone writes down what they are thankful for and puts it in a basket.  At various times during our meal, we pull one out of the basket, read it out loud and everyone has to guess whose it is.  No prizes, just fun and enlightening. 

Our guests often arrive with host and hostess gifts which are appreciated but unnecessary.  For us, the gift truly is in the giving so in addition to the “experience” we endeavor to create, we also try to have a “gift” for everyone, and these gifts are usually incorporated into the décor.  They are meant to be a remembrance of the occasion and vary from very simple such as little candles wrapped in clear bags and tied in pretty ribbon to more extravagant such as custom embroidered aprons for a dinner party where all of our guests participated in the cooking.

Happy Holidays!