Holidays tend to draw out the sentimental in all of us, eliciting childhood memories of sweet sights, sounds and aromas at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Not the least of this nostalgia focuses on the holiday table, where the tried-and-true turkey dressings and favorite family recipes for sweet potato casserole usually win out over the trendy, although serving an unexpected side dish can go a long way to shake things up a bit.
The same is true of setting the table. You don’t have to go all fashionista and edge out your grandmother’s pretty porcelain dishes or your mother-in-law’s fancy flatware in favor of a more stylish pattern du jour, but feel free to mix in some new pieces for a fresh vibe.
New York interior designer Tara Seawright offered this suggestion during a recent panel at the fall tabletop show in New York: “I like mixing flatware in one table setting.” She daringly teams fancy and ornate, such as Christofle, with something modern and edgy, like Lucite.
It’s a cool idea, and can be applied not only to flatware but to tableware and glassware as well. One of the eye-grabbing trends in glasses, for example, is color — both in opaque and sheer styles. So why not introduce a shade of plum, amber or merlot to mix with your go-to stems? It doesn’t matter if one is faceted St. Louis or William Yeoward; crystal or glass with a good shape will fit right in. Besides, that’s what the best of high-low aficionados do — team high-end with something from Target.
With white porcelain and earthenware and even some patterns that don’t shout out a specific color, you may take liberties with the palette by drawing from Mother Nature. Thanksgiving tables traditionally rely on autumnal hues — pumpkin, the brilliance of red maple, and other golden and orange leaves. But equally engaging are shades of aubergine and magenta, perhaps inspired by ornamental cabbages, which really mix well with those apricots, sage and an occasional lime.
The turkey is, of course, the star of the Thanksgiving table. And each year, there seems to be a new flock of dinnerware and serving accessories that add to rich classics, such as vintage Spode earthenware.
Some new interpretations are shapely decorative pieces or tureens, such the metal and ceramic bowls and butter dishes at Pottery Barn. Others depict images that are hand-painted or have an artisanal look. Such dinnerware often is priced in sets of four, which makes it more affordable as accent pieces. Layering turkey salad or dessert plates over white or solid color plates can make quite the statement, or you can always add a turkey platter or two — simple, fun ways to update your Thanksgiving table.
Nadja Brykina, a gallery owner specializing in Russian art from the second half of the 20th century to the present, says she loves extravagant and glamorous table decorations for special evenings. “I set my dark dining table with tableware in sensual colors: red, fuchsia and berry, and finish with accessories in gold and silver. … At Christmas, I also add crystalline balls that twinkle seductively.”
Villeroy & Boch took a cue from Brykina’s holiday page with a setting of bordered dinner plates in red cherry and a delicious shade called pink rose. Almost playful is a geometric pattern in hues of blue, red and orange.
The Hanukkah table often relies on blue and silver themes, and shades of blue are particularly plentiful on tables as they are in home decor. Rich blues from indigo to ocean and blue-greens the color of beach glass have expanded traditional palettes. At Neiman Marcus, there are beautiful agate napkin rings in cobalt. Also there is Kim Seybert, whose fashion-forward placemats and runners celebrate intricate weaves and beading as well as unusual materials. Seybert is showing capiz-shell round placemats in teal, as well as turquoise ikat placemats and companion napkins.
Christmas tables certainly don’t have to be limited to Yuletide red, green and white, although Horchow’s red earthenware seems almost appliqued with creamy white embellishments, and will even have modernists turning heads as it would look stunning on a contemporary all-white table.
Adding a touch of metallic in shimmery gold or gleaming silver always is festive, and during the holiday season it can go a long way to dress up even casual or rustic settings, much like a piece of jewelry or a beaded scarf can add sizzle to something more sedate or tailored. Think scrubbed or limed woods with natural accents, stoneware and sparkling crystals on placemats and napkins for the perfect bling.
Seasonal salad or dessert plates may be sprinkled with gilt accents like gold-dusted cakes. Serving platters and bowls, candlesticks and salt and pepper shakers also can shine with metallic glimmer. Or dress up the back of a chair with a wide, sheer golden ribbon. TouchStoneCatalog sells one with a coppery border that’s 10 inches wide, 108 inches long and sells for $15. You make the bow.
Tablescapes also are more interesting when you layer and pay attention to heights and shapes. Real or decorative pumpkins (the pastel shades of heirlooms are super), turkeys, Santas or angels can be whimsical or elegant. The form these pieces lend to a table or sideboard is similar to the play of sculptural shapes in living spaces. Candles — votives, hurricanes and lanterns — lend warmth and a range of heights.
Consider scale as well, especially on long tables that need relief from sameness. That’s where different heights can be magical.
Artistry on the table also includes those candlesticks, salt and pepper shakers and other small objets. Texture and pattern help to provide a richness at the table, much like fabrics and finishes do in other parts of home decor. In dinner and serveware, that can mean ribbed or relief surfaces. Other dimensional objects may include real or faux leaves or boughs of pine or fir decorating the center of the table.
Artisanal touches also spark warmth. Color can be introduced with pretty painterly looks that suggest an artist’s hand in table linen and plate design. That handcrafted feel is available in linens depicting a fall harvest that are based on archival botanicals at William- Sonoma Home. Check out linens in rich paisleys to add depth, color and softness.
Remember that dramatic displays can set a celebratory tone on fireplace mantels and sideboards as well as cocktail tables. Those otherwise restrained may let loose, especially on Christmas and New Year’s, when bringing out the bling seems as natural as confetti.
“Christmas is when all bets are off,” says Seawright. “Liberace rules. I’m all over it.”
But mostly, she says, what makes decorating your holiday table special and fun is this: “The inner child comes out. It makes you happy.”