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Tabletops: Curated look is in for the holidays

Elaine Markoutsas
Special to The Detroit News

As the holiday entertaining calendar unfolds and stepped up demands are made on the table, thoughts turn to menus, prep and presentation.

Make styling the seasonal table fun, not stressful, especially with a little tweaking of what has worked in the past. Whether you go all homespun, boho, bold and bright, glittery, or mix it up with an eclectic look that’s casually elegant and chic, there’s a lot of latitude for table dressing in the context of your own home’s decor.

And there are plenty of style choices. Even if you opt for the tried-and-true, traditional table settings that might include heirloom china – pieces held dear by grandmothers, moms or favorite aunts – there’s always room for a fresh ingredient, just as there is for a new recipe.

Retailers (both brick and mortar and online) have streamlined the shopping process by expanding all categories of entertaining, with thematic options for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, as well as glamorous offerings that can serve New Year’s Day and other more formal events year-round. As you navigate, you’re likely to see recurring themes. Choosing some key pieces – salad plates, serving bowls and serveware, place mats, napkin rings – can add just the spark you need to freshen up the table.

Take cues from popular blogs and from retailer websites, such as Crate and Barrel, which advises creating “a curated, collected look instead of going matchy-matchy.” Also, “celebrate contrasts like shiny and matte, metallic with rough hewn.”

Table decorations really spring to life with an artful presentation of fruit and produce of the season. Real Simple magazine says that it just takes a trip to the farmer’s market or grocery store to create the bountiful look shown in its current issue: red apples, pomegranates, green and red grapes, fancy pumpkins or squash, acorns, purple cauliflower – “in a loosely undulating line.”

Celebrate the season. It’s always exciting to see what’s new in seasonal motifs, just as it is to check out the latest ornaments and lights for the holidays. Some of the obvious symbols of autumn, winter and the holidays – leaves, pumpkins, turkeys, Pilgrims, Hanukkah menorahs, stars of David, reindeer, trees, angels, nutcrackers and snowflakes – have become signature looks for some china companies. Each year, new painterly or graphic imagery lends an artisanal element, which always is appealing because of the handcrafted look.

Some images are more like sketches, often whimsical and sometimes childlike. The trend of scripted messages hasn’t faded, either, with simple directives. Earthenware appetizer plates decorated with pumpkins, feathers, acorns and leaves from Pier I each display a different message: “Grateful Hearts,” “Gather Together,” “Count Your Blessings,” “Always Be Grateful.”

Add a pop of color. It’s so easy to layer in your fave hue or those of the season – autumnal orange, aubergine, gold and berry tones, red and green, or blue and silver, – especially on neutral tables, which really can add life. Stretching the boundaries of the traditional can be exciting, too (like hot pink and a more citrus-y green, or coral and olive, or different shades of blue, such as teal and turquoise. Introduce modern patterns or unexpected colors, as in a beautiful fresh paisley print table runner in apricot and rusty red on a natural linen ground from Pottery Barn that will make the table memorable. Plaids in different scales are again gaining traction, and you’ll find them in both red and autumnal blends on linens, serveware and plates, with borders or allover patterns. Consider the colors of the foods you serve and imagine how those hues, along with the tabletop pieces, will be integrated.

Adorn with a touch of beads and bling. They can be subtle – like “gold dust,” a simple thread woven into the fabric of place mats, tablecloths, runners or napkins. Or a little beading on place mats – borders or allover – that catches the candlelight. The glow from mercury glass candles, crystal or a mirrored place mat can add a dazzling element. Another idea to consider: strands of LED lights. Tiny bulbs or stars snaking down the center of the table bring their own magic and sparkle.

Turn to a classic. White. A universal favorite for dinnerware and serving pieces, white is pristine and so versatile. Just as in decor, white on white, especially defined by shape and texture, can be very elegant, particularly when teamed with metallic accents.

Complement with gold, copper, silver. Weaving metallics into the tabletop lends warmth and shine. Mottling, relief and hammering lend texture. Flatware, serving dishes, charger plates and candlesticks also are prime candidates. Don’t forget glassware. There’s a wide range of metallic embellishment, from swirls to polka dots, stripes to geometrics on glass.

Decorate with natural elements. Riffing off the outdoor landscape or some of the imagery on plates, go for real pumpkins, gourds, evergreens, berry branches or well-crafted facsimiles in wood, resin or glass. Wood and wood grains are especially popular elements of home decor, and they’re showing up in chunky charger plates (at Ballard Designs, where the mango wood pieces stand 1 3/4 inches tall and have bark edges), and faux bois patterns in fabric.

Make it your own. Create a personal connection – salt and pepper shakers or a gravy boat that once graced your grandmother’s table; pieces handcrafted by your children; a small collection of pottery gathered from travels; personalized place cards; family photos from previous holidays in decorative frames that are part of the centerpiece or on a dining room sideboard.

The inviting table, as well as the aromas of good food, will seduce all family and friends to gather around. And the visual feast will long be remembered.


■ Ballard Designs, 800-536-7551,


■ Crate & Barrel, 800-967-6696,


■ Gump’s, 800-284-8677, gumps.com

■ Horchow, 877-944-9888, horchow.com

■ Neiman Marcus, 888-888-4757,


■ Pier I Imports, 800-245-4595, pier1.com

■ Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176,


■ West Elm, 888-922-4119, westelm.com

■ Williams-Sonoma, 877-812-6235,


■ Wisteria, 800-320-9757, wisteria.com