For some people, the holiday season is the time for dinnerware that hasn’t seen the light of day since last season to make its annual appearance. Maybe those dishes in that box in the basement are a family heirloom or maybe they’re the dishes that you registered for years ago and they just don’t feel like you anymore. Either way, they can take on different personalities by tweaking the accessories.
I’ve inherited LOTS of dishes. I now have the reputation in the family of being The Dish Collector, which means that more and more dishes come my way. One of my favorite sets is from my husband’s Aunt Joan. It comes out to the table for every special occasion. It has blue in it, not an obvious Thanksgiving or Christmas color. But I find that the contrast of the cool blues really punches up warm colors so oranges and browns go a long way. I love it.
To show how a few simple seasonal pieces can turn the dinnerware you already have into a holiday table, I’ve set up examples of two possible table settings using Aunt Joan’s china and silver.
The first is really me. Lots of pattern and layers. This table is about shapes as well as color. I love the way the glass salad plates pick up the lines in the heavy paisley tablecloth. And the pattern in the silver also seems enhanced by the lines in the cloth. The flowers, glassware and candles are low and weighty.
The second table is more classic and straightforward. The color scheme is less complex and repeated in the details. The orange flowers, warm napkin rings and the copper in the candlelight are the stars of this table. There isn’t a lot of weight visually — most of the lines are light and vertical with long-stemmed wine glasses, candlesticks and smaller, more vertical flowers. The interest is all in the contrasts between warm browns and grey-blue hues.
The three most important accessory elements on both of these tables are the lighting, the linen and the flowers. The details really make the difference when setting a table for a formal gathering.
I have to say, all bias aside, that the Sur La Table candles are really high quality. The colors are rich and yummy, and as they melt down the color stays true (meaning they don’t melt white on the inside). The candlesticks truly are dripless. I have several boxes on hand at all times. It just isn’t a party without special lighting on the table.
I used my own paisley tablecloth on the first table and a beautiful Chilewich runner on the second. But either way, to me, a dress-up dinner party means linen napkins. They feel good, they look good, they are always in season. I have a large stock of off-white because they go with my dishes, but there are so many colors out there to choose from, you can really have fun with it. Napkin rings are always another place to add some personality and, of course, if you are hosting a dinner party place cards are a must!
I actually used the same flowers for both table settings. I wanted to enhance the warm/cool contrasts in the second table and play off the organic shapes in the first. The second table’s arrangements are small and controlled; the first’s large and organic. I love to use found containers for flowers. I don’t have room in my kitchen to store multiple vases so small crystal drinking glasses or a beautiful French cookie tin do double duty as flower containers at my house. I would say that smaller, simpler arrangements make the most sense if you are serving at the table. The large, single centerpiece would only work if your guests were serving themselves buffet-style since it takes up too much room on the table for serving platters and bowls.
The silver service detail is the same in both tables. I prefer this when setting a formal table for a special event. But I wanted to add a note about this because changing the amount of silver at a place setting can really change the tone of the event as well, not just the style of the silver. So if you want to present a lower-key Thanksgiving you should absolutely still pull out grandma’s silver if you are lucky enough to have it — just use less of it. A fork, knife and spoon sitting together on a beautiful napkin present just as pretty a picture as an army of flatware.
No matter if you are creating new traditions or remembering old ones, I hope that your holiday season is warm, cosy, and full of light. These are my takes on holiday tables — how do you like to set yours?