Everything You Need to Know About Setting Your Holiday Table

When you are setting the table for any occasion, the first thing that you should remember is you need to eat at it. So keep your decorations at a tasteful level and ensure your guests have room — especially if you like to serve family style. Even with this limitation, designing a holiday table that dazzles is still possible. Here are five tips that will elevate your surroundings without disturbing your meal.

Christmas plate table setting

Tip 1: Choose a Color Theme and Tone

“Start with the overall color scheme that will give your decorations a cohesive look,” advised Sydney Brisco, founder of Just a Homeowner. “That way, everything fits within the same colors and it gives your overall design a professional appearance.” Brisco suggests selecting a color scheme with a common metallic color, such as silver, gold, or copper, since it is easier to find accessories that match in those hues. You can also play off the colors in your surroundings, using those from your drapes or chair upholstery for your theme. Colors should not fight with the usual décor of your room.

beautiful table setting

You’ll also need to think about the tone you want to set. Do you want it to be warm and cozy? Unique? Elegant? Maybe you want a magical and whimsical mood? “Think about the feeling you want to convey first which will help with the next steps,” said Stacy Garcia, CEO at Stacy Garcia Inc., an interior design company. 

Theme doesn’t always need to adhere to a holiday. For a recent table setting, Susan Spath, president of Kern & Company and principal designer of Susan Spath Interior Design, wanted a luxurious outdoor setting using Baccarat crystal as the motif. “To incorporate my theme throughout the table I added Baccarat Butterflies to each place setting as well as having them flow throughout the table,” she explained. All the glassware, votives, vases and decorative pieces were all Baccarat as well, and she added fresh floral arrangements to add some color and height to the setting.

table centerpiece

Photo credit:  Alan Barry Photography for Stacy Garcia Inc.

Tip 2: Work Those Placemats and Table Settings

When decorating a holiday table, always keep the purpose of that table in mind: will people eat here or is it merely a serving station. “Those answers should direct your choices for décor,” said Liz Toombs, owner and president of PDR Interiors. “If your decor is impeding the purpose of the table, you have gone too far.” 

Think about what is important to you before selecting your items. “Using special holiday dishes or family heirloom china can set a nice tone for a holiday table,” offered Toombs. “You can use the colors and patterns on the dishware to guide the colors and patterns in your linens and glassware.  If you want to create an elegant aesthetic, incorporate china and crystal or cut-glass cups paired with cloth napkins and silverware.”

Don’t feel that disposable plates and paper napkins are verboten. These can add a fun, carefree feel—even if you are using more formal placemats, centerpieces or napkin holders. After all, nothing says holiday like a bright-colored place mat beneath your plates. A table runner can also liven up the theme with a bright design or dash of color.

outdoor table setting

Photo credit: Kern & Co.

Tip 3: Find the Focal Points on Your Table

When creating your the table look, remember to keep it balanced. You want to incorporate pieces of varying heights, different textures and colors that work well together, said Garcia. So, consider your color palette and base your choices on your main centerpiece whether it’s florals or a specific focal piece on the table.

table setting and centerpiece

“Make sure to incorporate different levels in it,” Brisco recommended. “So, have some items that are tall and some items wrapped around the centerpiece that are short.” For instance, try using tall vases full of flowers with short, white pillar candles around them for contrast. Brighten the look up more by tying colorful ribbons around them. Consider trying a loose, natural arrangements create an elegant, whimsical feel, advised Garcia, who also suggested using branches in your arrangement to add interest and height.

“Whatever you do, do not use a centerpiece that inhibits conversation of guests across the table from one another,” said Toombs. “This is one of the most common mistakes I see on tables.” While long and low centerpieces offer equal beauty, be careful with those tall ones. Toombs suggested trying really high pieces, but to ensure there is enough space beneath it for guests to talk around or under the centerpiece. 

halloween table setting

Tip 4: Let There Be Light

To light your room, without changing your home’s fixtures, the easiest way is to add candles and twinkle lights, said Brisco. “Set up candles near elements that you want to highlight. Twinkle light strands are an excellent option to wrap around other decoration items to provide complexity and to give an overall glow.”

Decorations that light up also can illuminate the area and offer a festive flair. Fiber optic decorations can give a fun and unique look if you’re looking for something more novel. Let your personality shine. Go more traditional with a single color scheme if that’s your vibe but feel free to explore other options — such as colors that pop or moving figures — if you like something novel.

Don’t miss the opportunity to bolster the impact of your overhead lighting. For example, you can nestle flowers, branches or leaves in your chandelier, suggested Garcia, or swap out light bulbs for fun colored ones.

napkin on plate

Tip 5: Add Special Touches to Make the Event Memorable
You can instantly add elegance by renting chairs for the holiday or using chair covers that provide a sparkle or a twist on your normal dining décor, said Garcia. “Plain dining chairs (or even folding chairs) can be dressed up with covers in a variety of designs and patterns that fit your theme,” she said. For a soft cozy feel, you can even offer throw blankets folded on the back of chairs.

Music also creates a festive mood and welcomes your guests. Make sure your selections fit into the tone you’ve chosen. Keep it low so it remains in the background and doesn’t interrupt conversation. Toombs suggested using Individual salt and pepper shakers “Nobody has to ask for them to be passed around, they are available at your fingertips,” she said.

candle centerpiece

Try personalizing your table through imaginative place cards. For instance, Garcia recommended, ones putting quotes that match people’s personalities on them and letting guests figure out their seat using these. Or scrawl a little note inside each person’s table card so they can take remember the evening through the personal message you compose.

Now that you know how to decorate your holiday table, read this Fabrics & Home article on making your inside decor festive as well.

If you need custom table linens, napkins, accent pillows, etc., Fabrics & Home specializes in customization. Just choose a fabric and let us know what you want.

stockings on wall, accent pillows


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