Turn the Tables

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Dressing up your dining table for Christmas is both fun and easy, and you can make it sparkle by incorporating a few simple yet elegant ideas.

Story by Ann Butenas    |    Photography by Matt Kocourek

If you are gearing up for a fun and festive holiday season with family and friends and have the food menu down pat but aren’t quite sure how to dress up the Christmas table for the big day, we have some wonderful tips to inspire and delight. 

We spoke with Katie Laughridge, Proprietress with Nell Hill’s in Kansas City, and she offered some exciting ideas you can incorporate into your holiday table décor to create an unforgettable setting. Whether you dress to impress or prefer to keep it simple, there are ways to elevate your tabletop and showcase Christmas elements throughout its presentation.

KCH&S:  What are some tips for setting up the Christmas table?

NELL HILLS:  If you want to dress up a custom live edge table before the big day, consider creating vignettes in the center of the table. You can ground these with simple runners. Then, you can vertically layer on linens, a plate stack, drinkware, and flatware, in addition to your centerpiece. And to dress up the chairs, add mini wreaths with ribbon or special slip covers for a little something extra. 

KCH&S:  How do you decorate a Christmas table on a budget?

NELL HILLS:  You don’t need to buy a whole new set of items for a fresh, elegant Christmas tabletop. If you’re looking to refresh, consider a new tablecloth or runner or fresh napkins. Patterns found in these items can instantly give your tabletop a whole new look. Layer your everyday plates on chargers (basic silver, gold and wicker or rattan can be used year-round) and top with sweet napkin rings, new or old. Don’t want to invest in new rings? Tie your napkins with bows made from ribbon (I love velvet this time of year, or grosgrain for a more casual event) and tuck in a fresh sprig of rosemary for a delicious smell and visual interest. Need to top off your look with a great centerpiece? I love the magic a grouping of candles adds to a room, or the earthy yet elegant look of blooming bulbs – paperwhites are my personal favorite!

KCH&S:  How do you dress a table for Christmas dinner itself?

NELL HILLS:  First think of your audience. For instance, you may not want to get out the family heirloom china if you have little ones dining with you. Next, consider the flow of people and food: will you be serving buffet style, family style, or plated? Each presents opportunities and challenges and can give you a starting point for a centerpiece. From there, have fun with linens, plates, and accessories. It’s fun to mix textures, patterns, and finishes for a collected, layered look. 

KCH&S:  What are the best types of centerpieces?

NELL HILLS:  Low centerpieces or spaciously grouped items that allow for uninterrupted lines of sight and easy flow of conversation are best for gatherings if you want to enjoy your guests during your meal. If you want a more impactful centerpiece as your guests arrive, consider elements that can be easily removed and arranged into a different vignette just prior to the start of the meal. Make a statement with one large piece packed with stems (think: reindeer with sleigh overflowing with garlands and ornaments), run a fresh or faux garland down the center of your table and tuck in votives and candlesticks for a happy glow, or arrange a collection of like items at varying sizes, like whimsical mini trees, for some movement and visual interest. 

KCH&S:  What are some mistakes people make when decorating the Christmas table?

NELL HILLS:  I love an overflowing tabletop, but pretty things shouldn’t get in the way of comfortable guests. Be aware of flammable elements if you plan to use candles. You don’t want food or decor burning during a special meal.

KCH&S:  Is the approach for decorating a table for Christmas different depending on the size of the table? If so, how?

NELL HILLS:  Yes and no. I wouldn’t say the approach is all that different, but the options available and decisions to make can change with table size or shape. If you have a large table and only a few guests, bring in additional elements to add volume to each place setting and cozy up your space. A large table might call for a more prominent centerpiece, but don’t forget to consider how your guests will converse. A smaller table with a meal served family-style may require very little at all in the center of your table.

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