Libby Langdon knows the secret to making a beautiful, personal, and wholly original holiday centerpiece: “Don’t buy it.”
Rather, Langdon, an interior designer by trade and an expert commentator on HGTV’s Small Space, Big Style, suggests taking elements from nature, your Christmas decorations, and the china closet, and rethinking the trimmings.
Making merry with candles and ornaments
“Rifle through your cabinets and pull out your silver and crystal pieces,” she says. “Don’t wait for a special occasion to use them, but enjoy them the entire month of December.”
By putting a fresh spin on what you already have, you can create a tablescape that communicates your holiday theme, reflects your holiday spirit, and complements your décor.
Langdon sees a trend toward sleeker settings that are also comfortable and inviting, a look that can be achieved with a mix of vases and hurricanes, in all shapes and sizes, and filled with glass ornaments.
“You fill one bowl with green ornaments, one with silver, one with red, and you set the bowls down the center of the table and mix in a bunch of pillar candles,” she says. “It makes a great reflective glow and it’s so easy to do—not to mention very cheery.”
You can create a variation on this theme with bowls and vases filled with fruits and vegetables, the more colorful the better—but again, limiting each bowl to one type: bright orange clementines, small baby artichokes, pears, glossy red apples. Again, mix pillar candles in and around the containers.
Invite Mother Nature
Another tablescape trick is to mix natural elements with pillar candles in a variety of sizes: short, tall, fat, squat.
Langdon says, “When you mix the candles together, it creates such beautiful ambiance. You can do pillars or candles in different types of candlesticks: silver, glass, crystal, pewter, and different metals.”
Again, consistency of color is the rule of thumb to keep the look pulled together: all white candles, all green, all red.
“You just can’t have enough pillar candles or Christmas balls,” says Langdon.
The designer also likes the element of surprise in her tablescapes and encourages a judicious mixing in of the unexpected. For instance, she might mix red cardinal ornaments with magnolia leaves and pine cones. Or cut twigs off a tree and stick them in a glass vase, piling silver balls in the vase and hanging the “boughs” of the twigs with tiny silver ornaments.
“Just look in your back yard and in your boxes of decorations.”
Barbara Napier of Snug Hollow Farm Bed & Breakfast in Irvine loves to create tablescapes compliments of Mother Nature. A favorite: moss-covered “presents” tied with shiny ribbon and perched on handmade wooden trays in a tablescape she calls Natural Notions.
“We use plants and flowers we grow on the farm,” says Napier, who confesses to a love of making seasonal live arrangements, including fall bundles of leaves, twigs, plumes, and flowers gathered outside her back door. “I don’t use anything plastic.”
The Natural Notions tablescape includes tiny pine cones, ground cedar, deer antlers, and a tiny Christmas tree Napier planted in an antique tea cup with yellow roses, red berries, and holly.
“I do a variation of this tablescape in the spring, using wildflowers—roots and all—and a basket covered with moss. Later, I’ll transplant the flowers and have a very nice collection of wildflowers around the yard.”
Napier typically looks at made-in-Kentucky venues for “hardscape” elements like Bybee and Tater Knob Pottery candleholders, stained glass, and the wooden trays, spoons, and bowls called Timberware that a sculptor friend carves. Beneath the tablescape she spreads an antique-lace table runner pulled from her linen closet.
Pomegranates stand alone
If Mother Nature isn’t quite as cooperative in your neck of the woods, head to the local grocery and pick up the one fruit that revels in the color perhaps most connected with Christmas: pomegranates.
Shakespeare, Homer—even Aesop—sang the praises of this brilliant red fruit whose name comes from Middle French, pome garnet, meaning “seeded apple”—a fruit that, according to Greek mythology, was the favorite food of the gods.
“Pomegranates are beautiful on their own in a simple glass bowl,” says Pam Holmgren, manager of corporate communications for Los Angeles-based POM Wonderful.
Available in the fresh produce section of the grocery from mid-October through January, pomegranates are an especially ideal table decoration for last-minute dinners.
Says Holmgren, “Put garland down as a runner on your dining room table. Place poms here and there, along with ornaments tied with ribbons.”
Pomegranates can be shined up with cooking oil and a light buffing. They can be sprayed with glitter, added to clay or ornamental pots, and parked outside the front door or within and skewered into floral foam to create a wreath. They look gorgeous on their own and combined with evergreen.
“The particular charm or appeal of poms, especially in a tablescape, is that they’re somewhat unexpected,” says Holmgren. “Decorating with fruit during the holidays is very popular, but poms are still a surprise—and they are very striking.”
They are also long lasting. Pomegranates will have a fresh look for about a month. As they dry, their outsides turn leathery, but they remain interesting.
Dining in a winter wonderland
Last year, innkeeper Pam Matthews, who owns with husband Mike the 10-room Montgomery Inn in Versailles, brought a picture postcard to life by turning their blue and white dining room into a winter wonderland. The Matthews family has the perfect setting. The dining room in their circa 1911 Victorian bed and breakfast is glassed in on two sides, allowing sweeping views of the grounds, particularly scenic when covered with a blanket of snow.
The Matthewses placed white tablecloths sprinkled with white opalescent flake glitter beneath the glass tabletops. They filled hurricane globes with sleigh bells and silver, white, and blue glass balls with silver garland, layered like a trifle or parfait, and sat these and white and silver opalescent candle holders on oval and round silver trays.
“We also used the silver trays as charger plates on the smaller tables, and used large satiny silver charger plates on our larger tables.”
Crisp white napkins were rolled and tucked into crystal stemware at each place setting, which also included gold-tipped flatware. The overall look: a postcard-pretty setting that is both simple and utterly elegant—and one the innkeepers plan to repeat this year.
Plate it up
As Matthews demonstrated, one way to create an instant tablescape is with tableware. Georgia-based Feed on the Word combined Scripture and dinnerware to create a product called Scripture on Dinnerware. The inspirational dinnerware, available at a number of Kentucky specialty stores, including Sonshine Christian Stores in Corbin and My Sister’s Attic in Providence, offers five-piece place settings in 12 collections with each dishwasher-safe porcelain piece displaying its own verse.
The collection themes, including Love, Family and Children, and Health and Healing, lend themselves particularly well to a tablescape message of good will toward all.
“This dinnerware is simple and classic and it mixes very nicely with other china because it is so simple,” says Alison Meyer, owner of Two Chicks and Company Jewelry & Gifts and owner of a complete set of the dinnerware. Two Chicks stocks the elegant black-rimmed dinnerware at the Lexington location, and at another store in Louisville.
And if you don’t have a collection of tableware on hand such as this, you can create a stunning tablescape using fairly inexpensive white dinnerware edged in silver or gold.
“The thing I encourage people to do,” reminds Langdon, “is to pull out their tableware and set up their tablescape for more than just one night. Some tablescapes are a bit more involved than others, and you should sit down to dinner, light those candles, and enjoy your hard work for more than just one night.
“You’ll get more joy out of the holidays if you enjoy these things every day instead of waiting for that one big night.”
HOW TO MAKE THE NATURAL NOTIONS TABLESCAPE
To make the moss-covered gifts for her tablescape, innkeeper Barbara Napier covers Styrofoam blocks with moss gathered from the woods surrounding the inn, choosing moss that covers rocks “since it will slip off very easily.” (Or you can also buy green sheet moss at a craft or floral store.)
Simply wrap the moss around the Styrofoam and, using floral pins, pin where needed. Tie a ribbon around each box.
To create the tablescape, drape a cloth or runner over the table. Place the moss gifts on trays, if desired, and place down the center of the table. Scatter pinecones and other natural items—holly berries, cedar sprays, pine needles—around and between the boxes. Add candles for a cheery glow.
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: SMALL TIPS FOR BIG STYLE
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