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The Secret to Creating a Glamorous, Memorable Holiday Tablescape

There’s no more important sign of the magic of the season than a fully dressed table to greet, entertain, and wow your family and friends. After all, you’ll be gathering to enjoy many meals together around your dining table and this “heart of the home” sets the mood for the gathering.

You want to delight your guests; to elicit a kind of adult cry of joy not unlike those toy-filled, wonder holidays you conjure from childhood. Long into January, you want them to carry this special memory of sparkling conversation; the luxury of good food and drink — all ignited by a very personal table decor that is a reflection of you.

The secret to creating that glorious, glamorous table design they’ll be sharing with their friends and social media followers is to tell a story. Your story. Will it be sophisticated? A fantasy? Elegant? Whimsical? Traditional? Political? (maybe not that last one!)

One of the best things about creating tablescapes is they change with every holiday. With every season. With your state of being… It’s a contextual art form. And it’s a fun, expressive, thoughtful way to entertain because every tablescape you make is unique.

You’ll want to tell your holiday story in a themed way. Avoid mixing genres. I find it can be subtly jarring – an avoidable dissonance. Ultimately, you’re creating a stage or setting for the pleasure of dining, drinking, and talk.

Winter Holiday tablescapes — Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa — work best when they convey the season’s iconic charms or images. And let’s not overlook Mother Nature. Even in warm or tropical zones, the landscape has its own seasonal splendor. Use what is local or native and natural to augment the artifice of the created tablescape.

That said, there is no doubt there is a Christmas-y “look.”

Think sleigh bells (despite or in spite of climate chaos we cling to these iconic holiday themes…), metals of silver and gold – oh those Three Kings or Wise Men – and lighting — especially twinkling ones; glitter (can’t ever have too much glitter, now can we?) – and color.

This year, because I was so very engaged with a work project — the European Union supported EVOO Consortium (more on this later – plus the olive branch tablescape adornment creations that social media found so Instagram swoon-worthy!) ) that I wanted – er, needed – a tablescape that would transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas and further – straight through New Year’s without a lot of time and work as I was schedule-challenged to complete the project work and the report. (with a cracker-jack team of course!)

Here, I hope that my design(s) will inspire you to create your special tablescapes. (If that’s an aspiration but not a doable – contact me and I’ll do it for you!)

Another “secret” to creating memorable tablescapes is to “build” the look. What does that mean?
Don’t attempt to create a look all at once by dropping it in, so to speak. Add elements and then evaluate. Step back and ask yourself – “How does that work? What would augment that element’s addition?” See, each item balances another. Remember – it’s contextual art. t’s also an a zen art form. You need to determine when the composition you have designed is “enough.” Or when to take away something.

Indispensable to most every tablescape design story – especially for the holidays – is lighting – faux candles of various shapes and sizes, strings of lights to run around and through the table tableau, is a secret ingredient to swoon-worthy tablescapes.

Maybe it was all the talk of the Mandarin Duck in Central Park or that more banal turkey talk of Thanksgiving – but birds seemed to be on my brain. (Hey, no bird brain jokes allowed!)

So for whatever reasons – Feathers figured into my design as the key or central theme.

Pheasant feathers; blackbird feathers, grey fluffy feathers (to better match our new, eight shades of grey fireplace look ) All in, I purchased maybe four different kinds of feathers (from a local Michaels craft store). I already had the peacock feathers (naturally – because I adore all things peacock and flamingo) and I added those later for the Christmas tablescape design in the hallway.

Silver was the theme color for Thanksgiving. Color is a “secret” design consideration. Do you want your tablescape to excite? To soothe? Look at a color wheel if you can’t focus on a color theme — and always going with red and green is not de rigueur. Like a good garden design – you will see how opposites on a color wheel can complement the look. Or stay within a color spectrum.

Grey is a superior color that I used to feel was sad or glum but now I see as nuanced and elegant and varied. My use of grey might surely be enhanced because of the magic of living near the water…

For me, the silver not only enhanced the new grey painted stone fireplace but allowed me to use our classic Royal Doulton wedding china. (And imagine our delight when viewing Mary Poppins Returns at the cinema this week, to discover that Royal Doulton has a starring role! We liked the movie – did you? It was frothy – just wished for a bit more of the “spoonful of sugar” or a “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” or two. I adore all the actors: Emily Blunt, Lin-Manual Miranda, Meryl Streep, and the surprise cameos of Dick Van Dyke and Angela Lansbury.

Back to the tablescape. Our Royal Doulton ‘Sarabande’ has the classic white, black, and silver pattern. Perfect for a grey color-scape.

I got a few “silver” candle holders to add to my real silver candle holders. Overall, I find it works great to mix or blend the real or quality with an inexpensive but good-looking faux. This is true in fashion looks (Gap with Armani) and in tablescape looks – classic crystal – ours is ‘ Vesta’ by
SPIEGELAU and some Waterford; and in addition to the The Royal Doulton, Lenox, with additional sets from Williams Sonoma and some Etsy artisans.

One of my favorite, go-to design strategies is to use items I re-purpose — meaning they were originally used for something else but in the end, add so much allure to a tablescape. For example, small, ceramic banks – from fish to elephants to monkeys – they add an inexpensive themed statuary to a table design; vases filled with betta fighting fish, snow globes personalized with a guest’s photo, adds a super personalized touch. Then there’s

jewelry ring holders, and flea market, “Game of Throne” mini chalices that work as decor and after dinner drinks – and complement the silver crown music boxes.

egg timers,

and music boxes that work as design elements and as servers for the amuse-bouche.

Hope you enjoy this little video.  Wait for the music box opening up to the amuse-bouche — I made a kind of caprese “salad” ingredient. I wrapped prosciutto around a cheese cube – so guests can just pop it in their mouth – (and amuse their tongue!).  A fun and tasty way to start an elegant meal. And a real conversation starter…

I purchased some new grey linen napkins from Wlliams-Sonoma – love that crisp-looking detail – and found place-setting name cards with a silver look. You could make these too.

I wasn’t happy with any of the table runners I had to accent the silver look – so rather than purchase a traditional runner – I thought that I might approach this in a different way. I found a gauzy, glitter-inflected scarf in a local pharmacy’s gift section (and for a lot less than a tabletop runner costs).

The billowy scarf allowed me to run two strings of battery-powered lights inside the diaphanous scarf – I mean table runner — so that the glimmer is all the more magical.

Get creative!

I added the silver candle holders for the gold faux candles.

Feathers festooned the runner.

I placed the grey and black feathers inside the Royal Doulton napkin rings hugging the grey linen napkins.

I liberally glittered the table runner and the matching grey linen placemats – thereby creating a kind of exclamation or punctuation mark on the side of the silverware.

Adding to the Silver color theme, were a few accessories. During the year, I keep a few of dinner poultry wishbones and then spray paint them accordingly for a winter look – and guests love making a wish with their partner or seatmate. I also paint inexpensive faux pumpkins – here they are a glitter gold. Vintage linen cocktail napkins with silver embroidery, small round or square mirrors are an ideal base for any number of items – plus they reflect the lights and glitter.

Layer in the glassware or crystal. Strew with faux crystal, cut ice — and it’s good to go!

Oh – and I left the table just as it was after our Thanksgiving dinner and breakfast with dear friends. (cleaned up the dishes and serving pieces, of course). I find a post-dining table tableau very sexy. It’s almost as if you can still hear the clink of glasses and the “sterling” chatter.

For Christmas I figured I only needed to add a few extras. For the December partying, I added in some carefully curated gold items, silver “sleigh bells,” glitter silver sculpture,

Plus, I received these beautiful gold petal votives and gold cherry blossom cocktail napkins from my niece Marissa and her boyfriend Ed. How’d they know?

And on the entry hall table – I merely added the beloved peacock feathers, a “cranberry” runner that I ran white lights through for that romantic glow – and a few glitter votives filled with battery-operated color changing lights. These, along with the year-round, battery operated candles that turn on with a timer (a great, low-cost investment that saves time too) – offers a warm welcome embrace to holiday guests as they enter the front door and we take their coats to hang up.

And a cotton-candy fluff of pink muhly grass cut from the gardens in October sitting atop a floor/standing vase is an ethereal complement to the pink orchid showcased in the speakeasy door. A nice touch.

Despite my crazy schedule I couldn’t resist finding a few moments to create a front porch tableau. Even though I was super crunched for time – I wanted our neighbors and guests to arrive with a seasonal welcome.

What to do? First, wrap the front porch pillars as we did for my clients’ welcome entries.
I filled the two urns with holly and cherry laurel from our landscape. Free! And a good horticultural practice too.

We all love the red berries of the evergreen hollies. Here, in the North East US we’re most fortunate to benefit from the Garden State’s Rutgers’ breeding and cultivation of the extraordinary ilex – from as early as the 1930s – a cross between American and English hollies – (Ilex opaca) with English Holly (I. aquifolium) resulting in such glorious hollies as ‘Jersey Princess’, ‘Jersey Delight’, and ‘Jersey Knight’.

Why hollies at the holiday? (they kinda’ sound alike??) No. According to the UK’s Independent, “The tradition of decorating the home with holly at Christmas has been popular for centuries. Since Roman times, houses have been decorated with lights and greenery to celebrate the New Year, a habit that spread during the Middle Ages to the Christmas festivities. Evergreens were seen as symbols of survival and everlasting life, and holly was often used to deck the halls simply because there was very little else to use.”
Traditions are enduring and are meaningful. Embrace them.

A new “tradition” I launched was to add the bird houses I purchased from a local merchant at near our country house – Fair Mountain Coffee Roasters (we LOVE Barbara and Greg’s dedication to organic growing and their personalize roasting.) You’ve also probably seen me Instagramming their wares and coffees after my weekend yoga.

Well, I was delighted to discover they were offering hand-made bird houses that help encourage sustainable coffee plantations and forests. Plus the bird houses are so pretty I figured I could incorporate them into a home decor design. I first used them at Thanksgiving and they transitioned nicely to Christmas! So here again, I’m using an item meant for something else – using a repurposed item to decorate and create a unique look.

Thanksgiving Urns with Birdhouses
Christmas Urns with Birdhouses 

Who did it best? Ha.

The look transitioned very well. So another “secret” is to create a design that will carry through with just a few trade-outs.

I think you’ll agree the birdhouses add an organic, thoughtful charm to the front welcome urns.

For Christmas I added a battery-operated snowball light I had in a crystal ball along with the glittery, silver balls that light up in different reds and blues and greens – that I used on last year’s Thanksgiving tablescape. See how you can mix and match and more?

Happy Holidays.

Even if you are even slightly schedule challenged – as I suspect we all are — if you follow my guidelines – you too can create elegant, glamorous, whimsical, and memorable tablescapes that you celebrate!

I wish you and your families a happy, healthy, peaceful and glamorous 2019.

Thank you for being a part of my Garden Glamour family. I am most grateful…


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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

Join me to celebrate a romantic, garden-infused, entertaining lifestyle filled with artful design, sparkling dinner parties, peerless martinis, and copious magnums of champagne!





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