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Whether it's a sit-down dinner or buffet, the dining table assumes center stage for holiday entertaining. It's the gathering spot for family and friends. But it also speaks volumes for those trying to create some extra-special magic -- something beautiful, memorable, a strong visual takeaway for family and guests.

Some are tradition-bound with setting the table, perhaps bringing out special plates and family heirlooms each year, just like the menorah during Hanukkah or favorite Christmas tree ornaments. Even so, it's always fun to layer in something new, whether it's a set of salad plates, new flatware, glassware, serving pieces, table linens, candleholders or salt and pepper shakers.

Guests may not immediately notice something smallish, but you'll feel as good as you do when you're wearing a new fashion accessory or piece of jewelry to complement a staple in your wardrobe.

Tabletop trends in recent years have echoed many in home design. Settings have become more relaxed, and there's a wonderful synergy between nature as a muse and artisanal pieces, or those that look handcrafted. There's an appeal in irregular edges and imperfect surfaces.

So many of the current table settings featured on retailer websites are showing a lot of wood, with place mats or runners crisscrossing tables, often serving as place mats for two. One reason, perhaps, is that the wood adds warmth and contrast to the porcelain or stoneware. In a neutral tablescape that features white plates complemented by wood serving pieces and a salad bowl, plus woven place mats, the wood solidifies an emerging brown palette, but keeps it interesting with tonal differences and textures.

Tablecloths, of course, are perfect for providing allover color or pattern, from paisley to stripes, as well as seasonal motifs such as leaves, pumpkins, poinsettias and trees.

But dressing up has changed a bit. The new approach to glitz and glamor may appear as sparkly accents to earthy dinnerware. Just as metallic threads or beads might find their way to humble materials like linen.

These looks are especially dramatic when layered, with a mix of materials.

Remember when square dishes disrupted the status quo on tables? A lot of the buzz was generated at restaurants, which embraced the form as modern, and perfect for showing off beautifully composed food. Now, irregular shapes like exaggerated ovals are coming into play, and scalloped and even irregularly shaped plates are winning fans.

Many retailers now feature tips on how to dress the table for the holidays, some even offering recipes. There are a few underlying themes in common.

        -- Embrace the season. There's nothing wrong with bringing out those visual touchpoints that connect you to holidays. Think pumpkins, candy canes, snowflakes, dreidels, Christmas trees and noisemakers. What makes it all fresh is modern interpretations in the artwork. That may mean changing up scale -- making it either giant or mini, stylizing or adding a whimsical note.

-- Consider a color other than red and green or those most tied to other holidays. Well, doesn't blush (remember millennial pink) seem to be the color of the moment? It's a good look on dinnerware, and we've seen it beautifully paired with shiny or matte gold. It's soft and pretty.

-- Add natural touches and colors from nature. For a Thanksgiving table, pumpkins and gourds, ornamental cabbage, the red, orange and gold hues of autumn leaves. For Christmas, winter white, red berries, green fir, pine or holly.

-- Mix in metallics. Gold still is riding the hot wave of popularity. Both shiny, matte and burnished gold lends a warm look, as does copper. One huge plus for those who like gold-embellished dinnerware. A number of brands now offer plates that feature microwave- and dishwasher-safe golds. Silver also can be every bit as elegant -- in low-key pewter, silver leaf or polished stainless. And don't forget about glittery accents and beads, which you might find in embellished table runners.

-- Go modern. Even if you use traditional pieces, mix them up with modern shapes or patterns. Like a geometric or stripe teamed with a floral.

-- Just as wallpaper has become bolder and more graphic, so has some dinnerware. Large-scale imagery makes a statement, like uber-sized flowers.

-- Black (especially matte) is enjoying a huge moment. It can be dramatic in both dinnerware and flatware, the latter sometimes combined with gold for a luxe look.

-- Add whimsical, folksy or childlike touches. A new Versace design for Rosenthal recalls vintage samplers, but in a sophisticated interpretation, with an alphabet in typical bold colors, accented with gold and Greek key design.

-- Update traditional. The best way to do this is by layering. Add a new modern charger in burnished gold to set off your grandmother's dishes or pair a woven or chunky wood charger with less rustic plates.

-- Artisanal accents. This is key: Anything hand-painted or handmade will elevate the table, as it celebrates craft.

-- Mix stemmed clear glassware and others with a hint of color. From clean-lined simple shapes to textures, there's a range of colors, from soft rose and blue to gray and amber.

A beautiful table makes your guests feel special. So raise a glass and toast, as you give thanks, wish a Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas or a joyous Kwanzaa, and ring in the new year.

Table it on the side

Two side tables are competing for attention, along with the big one where holiday feasting unfolds.

One is set up for hors d'oeuvres, like cheese and charcuterie. The other is decked out with desserts -- just a little teaser to whet the appetite. And for both, the range of stylish choices for serving pieces has expanded.

Cheese boards have dressed up, some pairing materials like marble or slate with wood, others with metal inlays or simply contrasting light and dark woods.

Elevated cake stands lend interest to a buffet, when food is presented at different heights.

Sources

-- Coralla Maiuri through TableArt, 323-653-8278, www.tableartonline.com

-- Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696, www.crateandbarrel.com

-- Lenox, 800-223-4311, www.lenox.com

-- Marie Daage, shop@mariedaage.com, www.mariedaage.com

-- Pier 1, 800-245-4595, www.pier1.com

-- Rosenthal, 800-596-3503, www.rosenthalusa-shop.com

-- Sambonet, 800-596-3503, www.sambonet-shop.com

-- Spode, 888-778-1471, www.spode.com

-- Villeroy and Boch, 800-845-5376, www.villeroy-boch.com

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