As today marks the official beginning of the holiday season, families will more frequently gather around their tables with an abundance of loved ones to to share food, conversation and fellowship.
While each family has its own traditions and customs, most of us agree that adding extra touches to our dining table decor can make these holiday gatherings feel more festive. However, the notion of creating a holiday tablescape can seem daunting, especially when browsing through all of the gorgeous, designer photos in magazines and Pinterest boards.
Anyone can create a designer look without a lot of expense or fuss. In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, today's post focuses on creating a tablescape reflecting Autumn's hues and elements. Keep in mind that the same principles can be applied to a more Winter-y, Christmas-y theme as well. In the coming weeks, I will share some pictures of a Winter tablescape using the same guidelines.
I teamed up with my very talented and creative pals, Jennifer Suchter, Owner of _Blushing Blooms Floral Design, and Jessica Helwig, Owner of Jessica Helwig Photography to create and photograph this Autumn tablescape. Consider the 10 principles outlined below to give your next holiday table a beautiful, designer look.
1. USE YOUR BEST DISHES, SILVER AND GLASSWARE
As tempting as it might be to use disposable plates, plasticware and cups, the best way to make your guests feel special is by showing them that they are worth the good dishes!
Using your finest tableware is a very simple, yet powerful way to communicate to your loved ones that they are deserving of the extra effort. While I completely understand that the last thing anyone wants to do after a meal is to spend time in the kitchen washing dishes, it doesn't have to be such a chore if approached strategically (I'll post a special feature later about how you can strategize the clean-up for a dinner party.) And, if we're being honest with ourselves, we can admit that we often resort to the disposable stuff because we just don't want the bother. That's fine (and, I feel like that sometimes, too), but keep in mind that your guests will pick up on that same not-so-subtle message and, while that's completely fine for an everyday casual gathering, if you are trying to host a special celebration, you can't skimp on the place settings.
If you don't have fancy china, silver and crystal, that's perfectly fine! Use your everyday dishes - just be sure whatever you're using is the best you have if you want to convey to your guests that they are worth the best you have.
2. DECIDE ON THE OVERALL CONCEPT OF YOUR GATHERING
What is your focus for the event? Whether it is rustic, modern, traditional or retro, be sure that you choose elements consistent with the overall concept. Sticking to one concept allows you to mix and match various objects while still keeping the overall design cohesive.
My approach for this dinner party was a relaxed and vintage style inspired by nature.
3. PICK A THREE-COLOR SCHEME
One of the most common tendencies is to use only two colors in a decorating scheme - a main color and an accent color. While that's not necessarily "wrong", it is what separates the novice from the professional. Using three colors permits the eye to be "entertained" to the point that it remains interested. A two-color scheme is very basic and, frankly, doesn't take very long for the brain to essentially "figure out". This, in essence, can result in what might feel plain or "missing something."
When using the three-color scheme, follow these guidelines: color #1 is the "anchor" color that holds everything together. It's the foundation color that grounds the entire look so that everything appears to belong together. Colors #2 and #3 are used as accents. To exude a more sophisticated look, color #2 should be used more generously than color #3, but less than color #1. If that concept seems confusing, imagine a triangle divided into three sections: the widest section at the bottom represents color #1 (there is more of that color), the middle section represents color #2, and the top section represents color #3 (the color that is used the least).
Colors can be used in a variety of multi-textured ways. For a more polished look, make sure each color you choose appears in more than just one element. For example, don't only use color #3 for the fabric napkins alone. If you decide to introduce that accent color in the napkins, be sure that it appears somewhere else on the table (still minimally though since that color is the "top of the triangle".)
Keep in mind that white IS a color! If you prefer a monochromatic look, the three-color rule still applies. A single color has many different hues. For example, if you want to create a white tablescape, you could use bright white, antique white and french vanilla.
For our Autumn tablescape, I chose to reference nature and the beautiful, crisp Autumn days found in my native state of Maryland. I chose as my three-color scheme: cream (color #1); turquoise (color #2); and copper/orange (color #3). The turquoise and cream reminds me of the bright autumn sky and the copper/orange shade alludes to the pumpkins and mums that abound in my area.
You'll notice that I didn't just stick to those three colors alone - I plugged in a few more colors very minimally with my florals and other organic elements. You can choose to either do the same or adhere to the three colors when creating your own tablescape. Since my concept was relaxed and nature-inspired, I wanted to draw upon some of the other tones found outdoors. However, my main elements draw from those three colors mentioned above.
Cream was my foundation color and is the principle color in the fabric napkins, the china and the crocheted table runner. Turquoise was my main accent color and appears in the serving bowl, glass dessert cups, the candles, the napkins and in a small bud vase. Copper/orange was my secondary accent color. I chose this color because it hints at the traditional fall pumpkin without predictably using a pumpkin as decor. Copper is on trend and gives the table a stylish, current look. It appears in the serving tray at the center of the table, as well as in the mule mug used as a small vase.
4. USE METALLICS TO MAKE YOUR TABLE SPARKLE
While I used copper as one of the colors in my three-color scheme, I also decided it would be fun to incorporate a mixed-metal look (also on trend right now) to add some extra sparkle. Notice that the chargers have a distressed metallic finish and that same look was carried over onto the candlesticks. (The candlesticks were a DIY project completed by Jennifer - we'll share details on how you can create your own out of basic glass candlesticks from the dollar store in a future post!) We also used a brass bowl, layered on top of the copper tray. The china has a gold border and the silverware is, of course, silver! All of these metals combine nicely to give the table a lovely shimmer. The chairs are finished in a metallic paint, continuing the mixed-metal look.
5. "SHOP" YOUR HOME FOR UNEXPECTED DECOR ELEMENTS YOU HAVE ON HAND
Don't worry about sticking to basic, ordinary uses for objects that might add a special touch to your table. For example, instead of opting for a traditional runner for my table, I chose instead to use several of my grandmother's hand-crocheted doilies grouped together to anchor the objects on the center of the table. This brings me to my next tip...
6. INCLUDE THINGS CREATED OR PASSED DOWN BY YOUR LOVED ONES
My grandmother crocheted these doilies when I was a child. I remember her using them in her home. Although she's no longer with us, her memory lives on and her special touches still grace our holiday table. My sons made clay leaves in their elementary art classes. Instead of sitting them on a shelf or china cabinet (or storing them in a box in the attic), I pull out these little reminders of their younger years by including these tiny works of art on our table. The silver was my great-grandmother's and was passed down to me as a wedding present. The cut glassware is my step-mother's and makes a beautiful addition to the table. The table itself is an heirloom from my great-grandmother. Whatever small objects you might have, remember to incorporate some as a way to honor your loved ones.
7. FORAGE OUTSIDE FOR NATURAL ELEMENTS
Twigs, pinecones, nuts, leaves and moss can add seasonal beauty to your table. Your kids, especially the younger ones, will enjoy a nature walk in the brisk fall weather to gather items for your celebration. This is another way to include family members in the preparations.
Taking the focus on nature a step further, don't be afraid to set your table outside if the weather is agreeable! We rarely consider eating al fresco this time of year, but, why not? We won't have many more days left to enjoy dining outside before the colder weather sets in. Take advantage of the opportunity and, even if it's just for dessert, consider moving your celebration outside for more than just the pre-dinner game of touch football.
8. DRESS YOUR TABLE IN LAYERS
Just as one might approach clothing and fashion, think of dressing your table in layers as well. This will help you decide what special touches to include after you have the basics mapped out. I dress my table in the following order.
Fabrics/textiles (napkins, runners, tablecloth, placemats) - whatever fabric you choose, these will be placed first. The only exception to this is if you're doing a fancy napkin fold that will be placed on top of your tablesettings. Be sure you aren't redundant with your use of textiles. For example, you do not need to use placemats and a tablecloth together. Pick one fabric to go underneath your dishes. Using excessive table draping is unnecessary and outdated.
For this Autumn dinner party, I decided against using a tablecloth in order to show off the natural beauty of the table. I put the napkins underneath the charger to better display the pattern and colors used in their design.
Chargers/dishes/glassware/utensils - after your textiles are placed, put your dishes on the table at each place setting. I'm a fan of chargers because it gives me the opportunity to include another metallic finish for sparkle, and, for practicality, a charger protects the table or tablecloth from becoming soiled. Glassware and silverware should be placed next.
Large centerpiece items (trays/bowls/pedestals) - Take a few minutes to play with arranging your large objects. You don't have to have a symmetrical design. Just make sure you achieve a balance so that one side of the table doesn't look too "heavy" or "weighted down". Trust me, you'll quickly figure out what looks best if you just begin placing things, take a step back, and examine the arrangement. Don't get too hung up on making things look perfect - a designer look doesn't look forced or staged - it should look organic and authentic.
Small centerpiece items (candlesticks, vases) - Once you have your large things in place, you can fill in any gaping holes or sparse areas with small objects. It was at this point in the layering process that I included the clay leaves made by my sons.
Florals/fruits/veggies - This is the final layer, and my favorite part! Now that all of your "hardscapes" have been installed, add organic touches by filling in the vases and bowls with whatever natural elements you'd like.
The best part of our Autumn tablescape is that we chose items found in our local grocery store chain, including many of the flowers! We avoided a formal floral arrangement and instead decided upon a few choice blooms for our bud vases and copper mug. Artichokes are a favorite because of their soft green color and interesting texture. The pop of color in the pomegranates echo the beautiful color of the roses. The oranges blend nicely with the copper metallics.
9. PERSONALIZE EACH PLACE SETTING
While you don't need to have a formal name card at each seat, it's easy to incorporate a special touch to show your guests that each one of them is welcome and anticipated at the table. You can do this by using a metallic marker to write each person's name on a fall leaf gathered from outside, or in any other way that your imagination takes you.
I chose to create a simple clove monogram of each guest's first initial on a pear at his/her place setting. The process was very easy and I'll share the steps in a blog post coming soon.
10. HAVE FUN & RELAX!
Sometimes, in our attempt to pull together a dinner party, (often due to countless idea boards on Pinterest), we put pressure on ourselves to create a look that simply can't be pulled off without a lot of preparation and expense. Who has time for that, especially this time of year? How many times have we talked ourselves out of hosting a gathering because we didn't want to contend with the headache?
It's possible to create a lovely gathering without setting aside several days to prepare the decor. With your best dishes, some meaningful family objects, a few colors and natural elements found outside and at your neighborhood grocery store, you can achieve a polished but relaxed look that would rival any magazine or Pinterest board!
Best wishes to you and your family for a very happy and healthy holiday season. I look forward to sharing more ideas with you in the coming weeks. As always, please be in touch if you have tips of your own that you'd like to share!