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Holiday tables: Add present to your past

Elaine Markoutsas
Universal Uclick

Tradition, with a hearty sense of nostalgia, guides so many of us as we get ready to entertain for the holidays. Whether it’s giving thanks or sharing a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or cheers for the New Year, the celebrations often center around the table.

And just as you might tweak recipes or ingredients, adding to classical favorites, think about curating your table as well. Just a little freshening up, with an eye to what’s new, can add immeasurably to the look, no matter what your style.

To that end, you’re likely to identify with one (or more) of several strong trends in home design that correlate to table styles. It’s always fun to blend family or vintage pieces with current designs. You might want to add dishes, serving pieces or glasses. Introduce something handcrafted, whether it’s with serve ware or something a child has created. It may be part of a focus on accessories or a piece to enhance the dressing of the table – like a conventional centerpiece.

That dress up, as with clothing, welcomes metal, much like adornment with jewelry. There are plenty of choices for tabletop – from salt and pepper shakers to napkin rings, chargers or gravy boats. While gold tones are especially hot in home decor this year, silver lends its own cool luster, and copper and rose gold also offer a warm glow.

Whether you opt for drama, luxury or an understated look rooted in natural elements, think about ways to make your presentation special.

On Caroline Roehm’s tables, you’ll always find beautiful flowers. The former fashion designer, who has a passion for flowers, just released her latest book, “At Home in the Garden” (Potter Style). In September, she styled a magnificent table that celebrated crystal for Maison Baccarat in Paris, in three different palettes for place settings: red, green and plum – all stunning on white.

Bunny Williams loves the mix of vintage and new, and drew from a collection of early French china pieces for inspiration for her most recent Gold Star collection for Ballard Designs. For Christmas, she likes things sparkly, with glittered reindeer and candles, for example.

“We did different patterns to give it that collected look,” says Williams. “It’s simple but a little elegant because it has the gold. But you really can use it all the time. After Christmas, you could use it with an Indian bedspread tablecloth to tone it down.”

Style-maker, designer and TV personality Courtney Cachet is a huge believer in ramping everything up for the holidays.

“When it comes to setting a fabulous table for the holidays,” says Cachet, “one phrase says it all: More is more. Minimalism just does not work here. Think about it. The prettiest, chic tables are always awash in color, depth, flowers, shiny objects and light.”

For fall tables, Cachet likes starting off with an off-white base and building on it with a mix of vintage fine porcelain.

“Hermes Chasse Yellow is luxurious,” she says, “but still unpretentious when layered with rich hued linens and crystal. Use gold flatware because it’s special and everyone will have an ‘oooh’ moment when seated.”

For the unexpected, Cachet suggests mixing in an animal print, “like Ralph Lauren’s gorgeous leopard” border on the Hutchinson porcelain, for a casual chic dessert setting. “For Christmas, mix some mismatched vintage red china for an unfussy yet elegant vibe. Florals in rich reds and violets are perfect for winter holidays. Don’t be afraid to mix up your dishes. French and Italian hostesses do this frequently with ease, and it’s fabulous.”

Cachet says she’s seeing a return to “unabashed opulence” in home decor, which naturally extends to the table. “What better time to show it than during the holidays? If you have one very beautiful vase, dish or bowl, try to incorporate it onto your table. Beautiful things are useless if they aren’t displayed and admired. And send paper invitations and use place cards (she designed a line for In a digital world, this still is a tradition held closely by the most chic hostesses.”

Here are just a few tips for setting the holiday table.

■Simply white. Who doesn’t have white dinnerware? And if not, why not? So versatile, it can be dressed up or down, teamed with bold or pastel colors.

■Colors of the season. An autumnal palette draws guests to the Thanksgiving table, just like the complementary hues of squash, pumpkin, cranberries and the golden brown skin of turkey. Red and green spell Christmas, in poinsettias, candy canes, green boughs, Santas. But you don’t have to be locked into only what’s expected. Bring a little aubergine in with saffron and persimmon; amethyst or indigo also are vivid additions to the December table that can be very rich and elegant.

One of the settings that Carolyne Roehm designed for the Baccarat Museum in Paris took a cue from plum and cream Picasso calla lilies, which she teamed with floral-patterned porcelain from Bernardaud, Baccarat crystal glassware and charming amethyst butterflies.

■Natural/rustic. Reclaimed wood, natural linen, greenery and pine cones complete a look that’s casual and inviting. The appeal is that it’s unfussy. It embraces nature. But it also can stand a touch of glamor or bling as a strong counterpoint.

■Artisanal. Hand-craftsmanship is so appreciated in everything for the home. So hand-painted dinnerware depicting pumpkins and vegetables really is appreciated, especially with seasonal imagery.

■Layering. It’s especially fun to mix plates and their surrounding elements, and you can totally change up the style by doing so. A place mat of woven rattan or ruby beads might be teamed with a gold or silver charger, then a creamy white dinner plate, and topped with a shimmery metallic glass or patterned salad plate.

■Seasonal shapes. Iconic symbols like turkeys, pumpkins, Santas, reindeer, angels and nutcrackers have risen above kitsch because many now are artist-drawn. Some have the look of vintage postcards, others possess a more modern vibe, and still others are so graphic, often with an image embedded in the design.

■Metallic accents. What’s great about gold, silver, copper and other metals is that their sparkle elevates the decor. Whether it’s a gleaming, polished finish, hammered surface or texture, metals can be woven into tabletop modestly or lushly. Even pumpkins are getting gilded and “silverized.” Imagine an all-white table setting. Now picture those white plates sandwiched in between textured gold and silver glass, topped with a napkin that’s circled with a pretty gold beaded ring. A table runner sprinkled with fallen snowflakes, embroidered in silver and gold on ivory sateen cotton is an added treat, all thoughtfully put together at Crate and Barrel.

■Make it your own. Whenever you can personalize, it will add warmth. Get creative – perhaps starting with your table covering. Tap into unexpected patterns from lengths of fabric doubling as tablecloths. Something playful like stripes or polka dots, or even a shimmery brocade or beaded fabric. It can be beautiful or quirky, and totally reflect you. Your guests will love the personal touch.


■Baccarat, 800-215-1300,

■Ballard Design, 800-536-7551,

■Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696,

■Horchow, 877-944-9888,

■Kim Seybert, 212-564-7850; product available at Neiman Marcus or visit

■Neiman Marcus, 888-888-4757,

■Pier I Imports, 800-245-4595,

■Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176,

■Villeroy & Boch, 212-213-8149,

■William-Sonoma, 877-812-6235,

■Z Gallerie, 800-908-6748,