For most families, the dining table is the centerpiece of holiday events. Whether set formally, casually or buffet style, it's the gathering spot, where favorite seasonal foods are shared, and lively conversations flow like the spirits.
The festivities start with fall -- and a change in seasons in most parts of the country -- leading up to Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, and then Christmas and New Year's Eve to kick off winter. It's the richest stretch of home entertaining, much of which revolves around food. Most of us want the table to be at its coziest, but also special, elegant, memorable, beautiful, simple.
Many retailers feature blogs on their websites to get you in a holiday mood and (hopefully) remove a bit of stress. And new etail sites like Fete Home (www.fetehome.com) offer a curated assortment of products, including tableware, that are eye-catching and distinctive across categories from chinoiserie to modern. It's a collaboration of two former executives to New York designer and tastemaker Bunny Williams.
Even most creatures of habit like to tweak their standard tabletop settings. Mixing something old with something gold or something new. Tapping into something holiday themed, which might include table linens -- runners, cloths, napkins. And fashioning some kind of focal point.
The concept of layering -- mixing up solid colors and patterns in dinnerware as well as glassware -- has been more and more embraced in recent years, which plays right into adding something new to the table -- and these days, that often means an artisanal touch.
At a recent tabletop show in New York, a few current trends spoke to the kind of products retailers currently have in their stores or online. Millennials have created some of the sea changes -- relaxing formality in favor of dressed-up casual, and adding different metal looks like gold and copper, as well as more color to flatware. A desire for modern looks, which includes black matte as well as white dinnerware that can be paired with colorful geometrics or other modern patterns.
There are plenty of options for dressing the holiday table.
You can't go wrong with a touch of gold or copper. The warm metallics have been embraced in home decor -- as furniture frames, threads in woven fabrics, picture frames and all kinds of accessories. On the table, metal chargers can add a sleek finishing touch, even to casual dinnerware. Gold-rimmed plates or serving platters in porcelain or glass add sparkle. And gold can shimmer as splashes or sprinkles on white or colored porcelain or on eglomise plates -- reverse painted glass -- which look as if they have been brushed with gold leaf. (One example is Reign, made out of soda lime glass, at Anthropologie.)
Some, like Constellation, with its moody deep blue ground, resemble their names -- in this case, a smattering of gold stars, which West Elm calls "serving up a side of subtle glam."
There also are a lot of gold-embellished patterns in usually plain barware. There's lots of gold flatware, as well, sometimes paired with black or even other surprising colors, like seafoam at Anthropologie.
Silver seems to especially complement blues on a Hanukkah table, where a selection of mercury glass candle holders can offer additional sparkle.
Matte-black finishes have been a popular look in everything from kitchen appliances to hardware to furniture frames and tables. In tableware, the no-sheen black commands attention, especially dramatic when placed on an unexpected tropical print runner, as shown at Crate and Barrel.
Of course, at this time of year, all of the popular seasonal motifs are trotted out, often as ornaments and other holiday decor. Traditional turkey platters or turkey-shaped tureens (white and gold offer some contemporary looks) are especially effective in all-white settings. Whimsically drawn turkeys (angular shapes in a modern palette) at Crate and Barrel bring artistry and a smile to the table. Other watercolored looks -- pastel-hued pumpkins and leaves, as well as rich-hued turkeys and birds -- have become a staple at Pottery Barn.
Dreidel and Hanukkah motifs also are refreshed each year. This year at Pottery Barn, a plate bears a blue-on-white dreidel, and there are embroidered white-on-blue napkins to match. The same is true with Santas, angels, nutcrackers and reindeer -- all popular candidates for new imagery, sometimes done with a wink and a smile, like a set of mod reindeers in party mode.
The enormous range of product also opens the door to more thoughtful, eclectic tables. Imperfect squiggly stripes, asymmetrical abstract painted looks, ikats and other globally inspired designs, bold geometrics (at Neiman Marcus) and geometric patterns -- some taken from the shapes of eggs or ornaments -- all in a lively assortment of colors, offer a rich tapestry for layering. Often these are salad or dessert plates sold in sets of four and perfect for layering.
Marble and gemstones like agate add a lush touch to serveware. A black marble footed cake stand teamed with a golden oval onyx serving board can be stunning additions to a holiday table or sideboard, say one for New Year's Eve. Marble and wood continues to be a favorite teaming, but this year there also are updated pairings like marble and copper dip bowls (West Elm) and stone patchworks that introduce colors such as forest green. Emerald is engaging in serveware, as in an enameled elongated oval plate from CB2.
Textures are a lot more prevalent in plates than ever before, but they can be introduced in other elements, such as nubby silks and linens, jute and bark cloth, as well as textured vinyls that create a backdrop for everything on the table. Faceted vases and bowls also lend texture, along with napkin rings.
The trick, of course, is mixing what you have—plus personal touches -- to make the table setting your own instead of something you hacked.
Toronto designer Cynthia Ferguson (www.cynthiafergusondesigns.com) always recommends personalizing. "If it's a family gathering, use some vintage pieces," she says. "Tie ribbon to the back of each chair and thread place cards through the ribbon."
Ferguson also suggests integrating collections like salt and pepper shakers, monogrammed napkins or mini nutcrackers. "People are gathering to spend time with you -- and collections speak a little about you," she says. "If you don't have a collection, you might start one by searching on Etsy or going to a local thrift shop. Choose what speaks to you and go from there!"
Some would never think of setting a table without fresh flowers, seasonal or not. Hydrangeas -- white, blue and green -- are a designer go-to because of their shape and volume. And you'll often see Christmas spreads in design magazines populated with bowls brimming with pretty tulips -- well ahead of spring. Others prefer to get creative with natural elements (like pumpkins, gourds, other veggies or greens) or decorative objects (new, vintage and antique) -- and not necessarily confined to the center of the table.
Ferguson is old-school. She always has fresh flowers on her table.
"If the budget is tight, spread the flowers out by using single bud vases, lined down the middle of the table for greater visual impact," says Ferguson.
Ultimately, a pretty, inviting table is only one ingredient in the formula for successful holiday entertaining. The most important secret sauce is what you bring as host, and good eats and a warm welcome always win the day.
-- Anthropologie, 800-309-2500, www.anthropologie.com
-- Ballard Designs, 800-536-7551, www.ballarddesigns.com
-- CB2, 800-606-6252, www.cb2.com
-- Christofle, 800-599-2352, www.christofle.com
-- Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696, www.crateandbarrel.com
-- Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176, www.potterybarn.com
-- West Elm, 888-922-4119, www.westelm.com
Interior designers often dress the table for clients so that the style is simpatico with the home's decor.
Here are three holiday tabletop ideas from Toronto designer Cynthia Ferguson (www.cynthiafergusondesigns.com), with photos by Natalia Dolan
-- Start with pattern. The impetus for this table was my obsession with the Brunschwig and Fils fabric I used for the tablecloth. Its warm colors remind me of fall. To balance the busy pattern, I used texture and (elements of nature) -- a footed ironstone bowl full of pine cones. I echoed the ironstone in vases from a local thrift store, filling them with fresh flowers (orange lilies, green hydrangeas), layered a collection of turned candlesticks (from Acquisitions, Ltd. antiques in Raleigh, North Carolina), small vintage cranberry glasses and silk velvet pumpkins (from Hot Skwash), which my nieces and nephews love -- I place their nametags on the stems. Dinner plates are vintage, as are the napkins (Scott's Antique Markets in Atlanta); horn flatware is from Saro; wine glasses from Tiffany.
-- Embrace seasonal red. There's nothing more traditional than a table decked out in red for Christmas. I love to layer the decor -- lots of different candle heights, some fairy lights on the mantel (in covered glass urns with moss at the bases), fresh flowers and greens. The gold gilt hurricanes (from Jacaranda Tree and Co.) are a fave, and little potted trees (Michaels Stores) just needed ribbons (red and white stripe) to perk them up. A collection of small nutcracker ornaments add humor and delight for little ones and can be a takeaway gift. I mixed antique Spode plates and vintage napkins with antique silver napkin rings.
-- Keep it simple. During the holidays, we sometimes are overstimulated, overfed and feel a need to keep it simple while entertaining. I love to strip away art, throw the tablecloths into the ironing basket and use a simpler decor. Instead of place mats, I used antique French grain sacks from a flea market. The centerpiece is live green foliage, with birch bark trees from a thrift store. A grouping of prayer candles creates immediate impact and ambiance. I love incorporating ribbon on a table; here, I hung ribbons on the backs of the bistro chairs and threaded a nametag through. The place setting: vintage pressed glass goblets, Majolica green plates and plain white dinner plates -- a perfect balance of old and new. Mini potted trees on the mantel (Michaels) were dressed with black-and-white striped ribbons. Nice touches: Sprigs of rosemary tied on the napkins and small gift boxes wrapped in kraft paper tied with raffia.