By Design by Elaine Markoutsas

Designing a Holiday Tabletop for a Season Like No Other

No matter how or where we give thanks or celebrate the holidays, this year is different. And even if fewer people gather at our holiday table, that doesn't mean we can't make it special.

Setting the table, in fact, can be more than a little therapeutic.

"Sharing a table or sitting down at the table for a meal is a basic human need," says Marielle Shortell, co-founder of Hestia Harlow, which follows a Rent the Runway (an online short-term clothing rental company) model applied to table settings, including everything from dinner plates, linens, flatware, glasses and even flowers.

"When you take time to set the table, you enjoy your meal even more. You may eat slower, try a new recipe or even have a better conversation if you take the time for presentation and aesthetic. The dinner table is where the home is."

"Now, more than ever, it's important to elevate the everyday," says Kira Faiman, founder of Von Gern Home, a company focused on tabletop and accessories design. "When you're at home, there's no reason every meal can't be a chance to show your style."

"When you sit down to share a story, a drink, a meal -- or to grab a quick bite of takeout, it's an opportunity to connect, be present and simply enjoy," says Faiman. "The table is where our lives meet. It's an outlet for our creativity and personality to shine, and a place to enjoy beautiful design."

Pinterest pages, blogs and retail sites are rich with ideas. There are tips for table settings, as well as food -- menu ideas and prep. Plus, there are a few new books. Aerin Lauder's "Entertaining Beautifully" ($55, Rizzoli) draws on family tradition and includes an homage to Lauder's grandmother and beauty pioneer, Estee Lauder, and her legendary soirees.

"The best entertaining, to me, is a mix of easy elegance and effortless chic," says Lauder. "If you strive too hard for perfection, people can't relax and be themselves."

Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten also has a new book, "Modern Comfort Food" ($35, Clarkson Potter ). She's doing a virtual event with Katie Couric on November 17 (you can sign up at

Williams Sonoma also features Ina's Thanksgiving recipes with mouthwatering images of dishes. On the menu: pomegranate cosmos, fig and cheese toasts, cornbread stuffing, Tuscan turkey roulade, sauteed shredded Brussels sprouts, potato fennel gratin, mashed butternut squash, apple sauce cake with bourbon raisins, ultimate pumpkin pie with rum whipped cream.

Especially designed for de-stressing are a growing number of fully prepped meals. In fact, even the entire tabletop now can be rented for the holidays and other special occasions.

The Hestia Harlow online rental platform features 745,000 table-setting combinations on its website. The contactless rental service delivers everything to your door. When the event is over, you pack everything back into your custom, COVID-safe, sustainable box, and it's picked up the next day. Marielle Shortell's large event production company inspired this business.

Another, Bluebird in a Box, "takes the effort and overwhelm out of planning a home-based seasonal gathering for friends and family right where you are -- no travel required." Virginia Frischkorn applied years of special events planning to create her party kits. Holiday themed packages ($48) detail how to set the scene. The downloadable kit includes clever conversation starters, menus (including vegan/gluten-free options), cocktail recipes/wine pairing suggestions, links to tasteful decor, paper or paperless invitations and party favor ideas, table-setting how-tos, soundtrack playlists on Spotify and a timeline/checklist.

Coming soon are two other options that include handpicked accessories, and soon, location services.

This year linens are especially prominent. Perhaps it's because they add warmth, color and/or pattern and personality, framing table settings or providing a ground for the tablescape. They especially bring basic white and beige porcelain or stoneware to life.

Elizabeth Lake, aficionado of antique textiles, porcelain, fine art and furniture, with a passion for flea markets, launched her eponymous lifestyle brand this year. Her focus is limited-edition, handcrafted table linens sourced from mills in Belgium, Italy and Ireland, then hand-stitched by artisans on the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Those kinds of handcrafted materials are especially appreciated today. An overriding theme for much of decor and tabletop today is to design with your heart. Not necessarily with what's on trend, but with what sparks joy. Some current themes:

Indulge in nostalgia

This is the time. There's something always comforting about seasonal imagery -- pumpkins, turkeys, angels, Santas, holly, Star of David.

Wabi sabi

Embrace the Japanese concept of perfect imperfection.

Kira Faiman of Von Gern Home likes the unexpected. "Go for coordinating over precise matching," she advises. "Pair tabletop items in similar color families but different hues and patterns for a look that's fun, unique and visually stimulating."

Go for the gold

Gold flatware and accessories seem to be everywhere. For good reason. They add warmth to the table.

Abandon convention

Break out the Fiesta vibe. Bold patterns, screen printed or embroidered, bring out the boho and ethnic feels. Advice from the website Hestia Harlow: Go wild. Just choose based on your curiosity. Try something fun and different!

Go glam

Just like sparkly clothing, a little glitter on the table elevates the dining experience. Especially when you usher in the new year.


-- Ballard Designs, 800-536-7551,

-- Blue Bird in a Box,,

-- Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696,

-- Elizabeth Lake,,

-- Hestia Harlow, 775-442-7569,

-- Kim Seybert, 877-564-7850,

-- Neiman Marcus, 888-888-4757,

-- Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176,

-- Von Gern Home, where to find retailers on website,

-- Williams-Sonoma, 877-812-6235,