Youre hosting a Christmas gathering for the extended family. You want to set a table thats refined and elegant but not too fussy, a table that makes loved ones feel merry and comfortable.
Go for maximum impact with minimum effort, keep shapes and forms simple, says Susan Spungen, author of Whats a Hostess to Do? and culinary consultant for films such as Julie & Julia and Its Complicated.
Sculptural and versatile carafes, vases and platters can all serve as centerpieces. (Even better – theyll last through New Years.)
Then add natural elements to create an authentic mood.
Ideas for dressing up your dining room:
My No. 1 thing to tell people to get as a gift is the Oval Oak Wide Carafe ($38, www.tabletopdc.com) for wine, says Daphne Olive, co-owner of Tabletop DC in Washington.
Its so modern and so classic at the same time, she says. Theres not a house that this wouldnt go in.
To create a centerpiece on short notice, pile up some beautiful seasonal produce on pedestals, says Susan Spungen, author of Whats a Hostess to Do? (Artisan, 2013).
Spungen recommends Round or Square Pedestal Trays from Serena & Lily ($78-$198, www.serenaandlily.com). These pedestals make instant centerpieces easy – just pile them with beautiful seasonal fruits or vegetables.
For a cocktail that impresses guests, Spungen recommends in her book a champagne cocktail, made by putting a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne glass, soaking it with two dashes of Angostura bitters, and then pouring chilled champagne.
For a classy vial, she likes the Camden Champagne Flute ($14, www.canvashomestore.com).
Gold can look really fantastic as a charger under a plate or a napkin ring, Spungen says. Festive notes add a little bit of formality to a holiday. Try the Paramount Dinnerware Charger (set of four, $79.80, www.zgallerie.com) under a patterned or rustic-style plate for a polished, on-trend look.
Glass containers are wonderful, Olive says. You can put grasses and flowers in them – shells, rocks or leaves. You can put candles in them on a different day. You can even fill them with Christmas decorations. Crate & Barrels Baird Covered Server ($59.95, www.crateandbarrel.com) will also keep cake, fruit and cheese fresh for cocktail hour or a buffet meal.
In Spungens book on entertaining, she writes, If youre entertaining a crowd or serving drinks outside, stemless glasses are great because theyre not as delicate as stemmed glasses, and you can fit a lot of them in the dishwasher at the end of the party without fear of breaking them.
Try the Color-Drop Stemless Wine Glass ($14, www.anthropologie.com); the subtle touch of gold in the bottom is warm enough for a fall meal and festive enough for a glitzy holiday gathering.
The best way to set a table is to have really fun pieces to put in the center, says Olive, who confesses that vases are her personal obsession. When not being used for its original purpose, Billy Cottons white stoneware pitcher ($39, www.billycotton.com) can serve as a centerpiece and vase.
For a table that youd prefer to show off, use place mats or runners. Sferras Dusty Hemstitch Table Runner is available in 10 muted shades ($47, www.horchow.com) to match any style. Spungen likes to take a few runners and place them in rows down the table for a striped look.
Olive advises hosts and hostesses with small spaces (and little room for elaborate centerpieces) to find beauty in the functional. Even practical pieces such as an ornate carving set – try Ricci Silversmiths Two-Piece Japanese Bird Carving Set ($85, www.horchow.com) – add to the ambiance.
Its nice to have little hints of metallics, Spungen says, though she warns not to overdo it. Gold flatware can look really fantastic. Or a charger under a plate or a napkin ring.
Chilewichs Small Napkin Rings in various colors ($9, www.chilewich.com) offer the sheen of stainless steel and the texture of basket weave patterns.