Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Holiday Table Setting Ideas. Setting A Festive Table

Holiday Table Setting Ideas. Setting A Festive Table

Don't let Martha intimidate you. Setting a beautiful holiday table may be easier -- and cheaper -- than you think.

You don't have to know what a charger is. You don't have to own separate salad, dinner, fish and dessert forks. And, according to celebrity party planner David Tutera, "you don't have to spend a lot of money, just a little time and effort."

Whether you're hosting a casual or formal affair, the table can instantly set the mood for your dinner guests. Allison Reynolds, an editor and stylist, maintains that "it is about not over-decorating or over-planning the decor." The former home market editor for the defunct Budget Living magazine and current contributor to the Shelterrific design Web site added that "there are so many choices out there. Keep it simple and organic."

If you're limited on space and money, what should be the priority? According to Tutera, a unique centerpiece is the most important element of a striking table design. Although he has worked with the rich and famous -- including the Rolling Stones, former Vice President Al Gore and Elton John -- he has plenty of ideas for low-cost centerpieces.

"For a contemporary look, take a collection of simple glass vases you may already have, fill them with water, and add red food coloring to tint the water. Then add floating candles, place them down the center of your table, and accent with clusters of simple round ornaments," he said.

"For a more traditional and rustic look, take empty soup cans and turn them into unique vases for flowers. Simply wrap the outside of the can with cinnamon sticks around the outside of the cans, affix them with a rubber band along the top and another at the bottom. Then cover the band with raffia or leftover ribbon."

In his book, "The Party Planner," Tutera provides tips for a holiday dessert party inspired by candy canes. Glass vases are filled with alternating layers of rock candy and cranberries. A display is made with a glass bowl, layered with red feathers, and topped with an ornament.

"Candles are a great way to add a festive glow for little expense," Tutera said. But avoid scented ones, he advised. "Keep them in the powder room or living room. Let the aroma of the food entice your guests at the table."

But be careful when shopping at big discount retailers, said San Francisco event planner Alison Hotchkiss: "Ikea can be a great resource, but you know when something looks too Ikea? You don't want that. It's a balance of eclectic old and new."

Last year, Hotchkiss went with an all-white theme for the holidays -- decorating with white mum flower balls and white pillar candles, and even serving (what else?) White Russian cocktails. White faux fur throws over chairs created a cozy yet elegant look. (There's another tip: don't overlook texture as a design element.)

When setting the table, little things can go a long way in making guests more comfortable. "You can use mini-ramekins at each setting with individual salt and pepper so there's less passing and arms flailing across the table," said Reynolds. She also recommends keeping carafes of water within easy reach of guests.

Tutera said that "a great soft background music mix adds so much to any dinner or party." And he warns that "one of the biggest things people overlook is place cards. Whether a small or large, casual or formal party, the host should always take the time to think about where everyone should sit." Simple folded tent cards will suffice.

For a free alternative, turn to nature. "Use fall leaves placed at each setting," suggested Hotchkiss. "Use a colored Sharpie to write the guest's name." With larger leaves, this idea can be applied to the dinner menu.

Reynolds is also a big fan of leaves. "I'm a bit of a connoisseur," she said, "so I find I have a nice collection and can spread them on the table or write little notes for place settings." Pine cones, acorns, twigs and rocks are other good options for table decor. "There is always something outside that is more beautiful than something money can buy."

Tutera has a few nature-inspired tricks up his sleeve as well. "Holly branches look great incorporated into a wreath or laid down flat for a table runner or on a mantel," he said. "Birch logs also look great as the base of pillar candle holders." Cut the birch into 3-inch slices and top with a pillar candle. For tapered candles, drill a 1-inch deep hole in the log but be sure to never leave candles unattended.

Think about objects that can be recycled. For example, Tutera suggested taping together old holiday cards to make placemats. Cardboard paper towel rolls can be cut into segments and, with a bit of creativity, transformed into napkin rings.

Once the table is set, remember to relax and enjoy the evening. The hosts should not appear to be working or stressed out.

"I hate when people are picky about the spillage, so avoid caring too much if the cloth gets messy," Reynolds said. "A sign of a good time is a slightly messy tablecloth."

Source: Anh-Minh Le is a frequent contributor to Home&Garden. E-mail her at

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