How to Set a Memorable Holiday Table
Setting by Fig & Dove. Photography by Sara Essex Bradley.
For many, a highlight of the holiday season is gathering around a beautiful and festive table with family and friends. And whether the coming weeks hold a return to hosting larger get-togethers or more intimate affairs, these events present an opportunity to approach table-setting with creativity, thought, and flair. For advice on how to set a spectacular holiday table, we reached out to five experts across the country for their tried and true tips, favorite trends, and inspired ideas that are sure to make guests feel celebrated. Find a design expert, event designer, home store, florist, and more in your area in The Scout Guide Directory.
Add shine with silver. According to Colleen Waguespack, owner and creative director of Colleen Waguespack Interiors and Fig & Dove in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the versatility of silver makes it a key element in terms of taking your table to the next level. While adding water goblets and candlesticks will bring wonderful shine into the mix, she often goes a step further by repurposing a sterling silver champagne bucket as a vase for her centerpiece and placing votives in vintage sterling Champagne flutes arranged down the center of the table for extra sparkle.
Get creative with color. While traditional green and red is lovely, there’s no rule that says your holiday table needs to include those hues. Waguespack gravitates toward a slightly unexpected shade of green when setting hers. “Chartreuse is my go-to neutral that pairs well with ivory and evergreen,” she says. Katie Williams, owner and creative director of Katie Williams Events in Greenville, South Carolina, favors purple for its luxe, royal feel, and the way it can balance out green and red. Meanwhile, Rita Saliaj, owner and lead designer at Prema Designs in Columbus, Ohio, is currently into deep gold mustard shades, especially in velvet. When paired with red or magenta, the combination adds verve to any table.
Hanukkah table and floral design by Katie Williams Events. Photography by Christa Rene Photography. China, flatware, linens, and glassware by Professional Party Rentals. Food styling by Ginny Cooks! Greenville. Paper goods, favors, and candles by Paisley & Paper.
Make the meal the star. An intentionally curated menu will be the cherry on top to your beautiful table décor, says Williams, who encourages getting creative with garnishes, sauces, and sides as a way to add a unique flair to traditional holiday fare. Aromatic herbs and spices like rosemary, mint, cinnamon, and nutmeg can help bring out the flavor in your dishes, as well as complete the overall atmosphere, she notes. Finally, adding a signature drink is another way to bring out the holiday spirit. “A fun name, a beautiful glass to serve them in, and colorful garnish will have your guests totally in awe of the host that you are!” she says.
Personalize each place setting. Customizing a place setting for each guest will make them feel extra-welcome. Waguespack says this can be easily done with place cards. “I like a place card with a sentiment about the person, a nickname, or a question on the inside,” she says. Mary Margaret Pizzitola, marketing manager at Bering’s Hardware in Houston, Texas, recommends adding a topper for each plate that’s a takeaway gift, such as an Herend figurine, a fresh floral tied to a napkin, or an ornament. Williams suggests placing guests’ favorite sweet treat at their setting, so they have a little something to enjoy as they head out into the winter night.
Christmas table and floral design by Katie Williams Events. Photography by Christa Rene Photography. China, flatware, linens, and glassware by Professional Party Rentals. Food styling by Ginny Cooks! Greenville. Paper goods, favors, and candles by Paisley & Paper.
Keep your table well designed but accessible. A thoughtfully composed table is a mix of functional pieces and “fluff,” Williams explains. If you’re keeping things minimal, a creative napkin fold and charger always add a pop to any place setting. For a plated meal, she suggests placing a menu for your guest at their place setting. “It’s the perfect way for them to get excited about what’s to come,” she says. Complete the look with flowers—she recommends seasonal arrangements with amaryllis, parrot tulips, anemones, and camelias—and candlelight.
Incorporate candles. Speaking of candlelight, “When it comes to elevating a holiday table, candles are an absolute must,” Bartus Taylor, creative director and founder of Buzz Event Planning and Design in Fayetteville, Arkansas, says. He likes to incorporate as many as his table can safely hold, bringing in different sizes and heights to create layers of light. Saliaj likes to utilize hurricane lanterns, which are beautiful and limit wax splatter, while Williams notes that candles present an opportunity to add color and even pattern into the tablescape.
Mix and match your china. Trends come and go, but the appeal of heirloom china is truly timeless. Pizzitola encourages her customers to include their great-grandmother’s pieces with more current iterations on the market today, which will add a sense of personalization, continuity, and warmth to the table as well as visual interest.
Thanksgiving table and floral design by Katie Williams Events. Photography by Christa Rene Photography. China, flatware, linens, glassware, and chairs by Professional Party Rentals. Food styling by Ginny Cooks! Greenville. Paper goods, favors, and candles by Paisley & Paper.
Embrace natural elements. Using items found in nature in addition to—or instead of—flowers can create a wonderfully layered look. Saliaj loves to add fresh fruit to her tablescapes, which can be long-lasting as well as lovely. “Persimmons, plums, and pears are all great choices,” she says, noting, “You can add a less traditional pop of red with Bartlett pears or figs.” To this she likes to weave in magnolia leaves, eucalyptus, and fresh herbs, and even moss.
TSG Tip 408 from Colleen Waguespack, owner and creative director of Colleen Waguespack Interiors and Fig & Dove in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Katie Williams, owner and creative director of Katie Williams Events in Greenville, South Carolina; Rita Saliaj, owner and lead designer at Prema Designs in Columbus, Ohio; Mary Margaret Pizzitola, marketing manager at Bering’s Hardware in Houston, Texas; and Bartus Taylor, creative director and founder of Buzz Event Planning and Design in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Colleen Waguespack Interiors and Fig & Dove appear in The Scout Guide Baton Rouge. Katie Williams Events appears in The Scout Guide Greenville. Prema Designs appears in The Scout Guide Columbus. Bering’s Hardware appears in The Scout Guide Houston. Buzz Event Planning and Design appears in The Scout Guide Northwest Arkansas.