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Solutions: Add modern touches to family holiday favs

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Though holidays tend to honor family traditions, it’s refreshing to bring a few of your own to the table when entertaining. For instance, you can still embrace a modern aesthetic while mixing in some vintage relics.

It’s fun to supplement authentic family heirlooms, like your grandmother’s dishes, with secondhand finds from flea markets and antiques stores.

At Odd Fellows Antiques in Berkley, Cathy Gagnon, co-manager, says, “People fill vases and bowls with vintage flashbulbs from the ’50s and ’60s that show very well.”

Peacock feathers perk up a monochromatic dining environment. “They add a touch of color,” says Gagnon who also suggests introducing red accents to a black and white palette.

Antique silver plate flatware often has clean lines, making it easy to mix with modern furnishings.

Vintage linens range from simple monograms to souvenir varieties from popular destinations like Las Vegas. Their graphic quality makes them a good fit for Christmas and other holidays.

Flower frogs double as candleholders. “They come in different sizes and you can mix and match different items with them,” Gagnon says.

Vintage Christmas ornaments are less ornate than some of their contemporary counterparts, giving them a modern edge.

Layered tablecloths and vintage runners bring warmth to a contemporary table and vintage mirrors and trays can be used to carry food and beverages and then displayed on a buffet.

Seasonal serving pieces, such as white embossed turkey platters, pair well with contemporary dining furniture and a skillful mix of colored stemware and clear beverage glasses is a winning combination.

“The biggest thing for the holidays is to make it personal. It’s all about the memories,” says Dawn Newkirk, director of fashion merchandising for Gorman’s.

She suggests turning black-and-white photos into place mats when pairing a modern table with traditional elements. Spray them with silver or gold glitter for a festive touch. Instead of name cards, Newkirk recommends tying a ribbon around the back of each chair attached to a picture of the person to be seated there. “Everyone has to find their chair by looking at the pictures,” she says.

Newkirk suggests putting candles and plants in vintage gravy boats for a seasonal centerpiece or creating a holiday tablescape with Christmas villages. Glass vases in a variety of shapes and sizes scattered down the center of the table can be filled with old photos and decorations.

Heirloom Christmas dishes placed in between modern chargers and plates lend a layered effect that only reveals the edges of the most traditional element.

Newkirk suggests hanging vintage Christmas bulbs from a modern chandelier, like the one sold at Gorman’s contemporary store in Southfield made from chrome pipes.

A unique table they carry that features cracked glass sandwiched between two more pieces of glass makes a dramatic backdrop for special occasions. “It looks like ice on a lake,” she says.

Taking traditional objects like ornaments and displaying them in contemporary glass bowls shows that mixing is much more interesting than matching. “It brings personality to the table,” Newkirk says.

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Jeanine Matlow is a Metro Detroit interior decorator turned freelance writer specializing in stories about interior design. You can reach her at