The year was 1994. I was in college, working in Chelsea as a nanny and also an assistant designer on Seventh Avenue. It was a grind, but I had no choice: in order to pay for design school, I had to burn the candle at both ends. Sometimes, though, being part of so many different, active things going on at once had its perks … I got to tag along on the good stuff! That year the design company I was working for had an End of Fashion Week dinner party in a private dining room at the famed MoMA (Museum of Modern Art). My eyes popped when I walked into the event: the tables were impeccably decorated with the most exquisite flower arrangements, candles, china, crystal, and silver. I had never seen a table so gorgeous. The way the candle light glistened off the crystal was enchanting!
As I sat there feeling out of place – a struggling artist-student scraping together change on most days just to get the cheapest deli coffee – I was overwhelmed with the beauty and the privilege of dining in that room. I remember watching the flickering candlelight pinging off the glasses in front of me, and saying a prayer in my head: “Oh Lord, I would love to have beautiful glasses and candles … but will I ever even have a place of my own?” Sometimes it’s hard to see that far ahead when you’re going through the tunnel.
Fast forward ten years from that starving artist. I had a great career as a designer and had bought my own country house, a small cabin on the back of a working apple orchard in the Hudson Valley. Then the Lord brought an awesome guy into my life and we married. It was still another four or so years until I was decorating and having the fun of serving my own fancy dinners, but it was headed in the right direction.
My mom always had beautiful arrangements in the center of the dining room table. When my turn at it came, I was as focused as ever by my work ethos: if you are going to do something, you should do it well. If you have been following my blog, you know I never feel like the task at hand is exactly right (hence the term “underperforming perfectionist”). Tablescaping, however, does come quite naturally to me: the ideas and the work are just a natural extension of who I am. That being said, I am also pretty certain of this: for those who worry about it or find it intimidating, it is easier than it looks. And I’ll share some ideas here on how to simplify so you can get a great holiday table together.
The passing of the years has sharpened my aesthetic eye, but it also has increased the amount of “stuff” I own for tablescaping. Over this past year I have been trying to streamline and clean out … that includes the discipline of not buying more stuff. As I started to think about this year’s Thanksgiving table and began opening storage box after storage box of past tablescapes, I had a major realization: I was ready for new colors. I am just not loving my traditional red, orange, gold and brown of Thanksgivings past. I had to figure something out because my commitment to simplicity and less consumption meant denying myself the path of least resistance: buying all new items in colors that jazzed me. That left me no choice: carefully repurposing my inventory meant I was going to head over to the spray paint section. But first things first, I had to decide on my color scheme. Which is a great time to jump into my how-to tips:
1) Deciding on a color scheme can seem overwhelming to many people: it’s the writer’s block of decorating. The antidote to the paralysis is to stare it down and make confident, simple choices and then go with them – follow them all the way through. Whatever scheme you choose, one of the most important elements of pulling it off is to have the coordinating items go along with it. Set your scheme and then be particular about thinking through the detail items that are going to bring not only individualism and beauty, but also continuity.
I am very into metallics (silver, gold, rose gold) these days, and I am enjoying combining them. So that’s where Thanksgiving 2017 is going. A little hint: rose gold is very much in style right now. If you take the leap into rose gold while it’s the new thing on the scene, you’ll probably have a good five years or so with it before it looks tired.
2) Pick your linens. I like to have a good supply of basic linens in basic colors that I can use to span most occasions. This year meant some investment on that front, as my previous brown, orange and gold linens did not fit in my cooler color scheme. I found a great classic linen color with a cross hatch of silver metallic and napkins to match. And purchasing them at Home Goods meant they didn’t break the bank, either.
3) Choose your china and charger plates. Usually for special occasions, I use our wedding china, which is a classic white with a platinum edge. But I have inherited a few other options. This year because of my metallic theme I chose to go with cut glass plates with a gold rim. Silver chargers with a mother of pearl edge from Pottery Barn are interesting attention grabbers. I did spring for some new gold/silver leaf placemats from Pier 1 imports. Layering gives a table a very luxurious look, and when I layered those three things I see a sunflower. And that brings me to my happy place.
4) Now the difficult task of changing the color of my decorations. For all those hours of NYC schooling, Parsons did not deem the fine art of spray painting a worthy element of professional design education. So this took a little trial and error and layering of colors to get the look I wanted. Oh, and lots and lots of glitter. I am not usually a huge glitter fan, but the way it shimmers in the candle light brings me back to that table at the MoMA. Michaels has a great selection of glitter paint. My kids also wanted to help with this task.
My daughter was not really sure she agreed with my breaking tradition with a new color scheme. Especially when I took the spray paint to our cornucopia and table chickens. We’ll see how she feels about it in the end.
5) Start your scape with the largest items first, and then fill in holes you notice with the smaller items as you go. I used a box under my cornucopia to elevate it in the center of the table and covered the box with a matching cloth napkin. I was off and running.
6) Some tables look great with a very linear look, multiples of the same item lined up straight across. I chose to go with groupings. My chickens are a similar height to the cornucopia, so I placed them on either side. I placed the candle holders and the little trees evenly across and filled in with leaves, flowers, and gourds.
7) I love hiding small votives among the decorations for that added glow of candle light. Take extra caution to make sure nothing flammable is in burning proximity. This happened one year: we were ending our dinner and suddenly a branch that slightly hung over a votive caught fire! Thankfully we noticed it before disaster struck.
8) I tried a little something new this year: firefly lights. They are little string lights that are battery powered, also from Michaels. You can feed them in and around your arrangements for even more glow.
9) Napkin rings add a huge touch of beauty to your table and really tie in your scape, giving it all a cohesive look. I used ribbon and flowers on my rings to match my center arrangement; they were easily assembled with hot glue.
10) Name tags: you can kill two birds with one stone and put a cute little tag on your party favor. This year each guest gets a pumpkin shaped chocolate truffle. It’s not much, but fun nonetheless.
My table is now 90% of the way there. On Thanksgiving morning I will place the silverware and the glasses. Pinning this down now adds up to a less-stressed day of cooking when the big day itself arrives. In the meantime, friends and family that visit between now and Thanksgiving can enjoy the festive table. It’s a lot of fun to look at and discuss!
Thanks so much for reading my blog. I am excited to answer your questions and comments! Please subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Next post (coming soon): this one is not easy and very close to my heart, but hopefully will be very helpful for many people. How to grieve and memorialize your lost loved ones during the Holiday season.