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6 Tips for Designing a Holiday Table: Decoration Ideas

thanksgiving table.jpg

I just hosted Thanksgiving for the first time in our newly renovated home. I have not always been in a position to have 10-14 people around the table, let alone in my kitchen and family room. I needed to come up with some table decoration ideas! For me it’s a huge blessing to have a lovely open space to host my family now that we have renovated. That being said, we’re not done. We need time to live here and another bit of time to save for the finishing touches like drapery and artwork. I decided that we were going to host anyway. If I wait for everything to be “done” it will never happen. Beautiful table means there will be less focus on the unfinished parts, right?

My Mom is an amazing hostess. Each year for my entire life she has taken on the task of making holidays great— I have lot to live up to. This is my first real dinner party. Thank goodness the guests were family, because it was a good trial run. Far from perfect.

Here are my top six tips:

1. PLAN FIRST

Being the organization freak that I am, I’ll admit that 4 weeks before Thanksgiving I wrote out every single thing I could imagine having to do and put it in an Asana project board, including my shopping lists. I made a column for each day and then lined up the tasks with a few falling on each day. This made the entire process so much less stressful. I could see when I skipped something, I could see what would carry over to the next day and I could also see what I small things I could get ahead on.

This next part of the planning process seems a bit high-minded, but I’m telling you, it keeps you in check and makes table decor so much easier. Pick a color palette. Yup. A color palette for your table/ dining room. I kept in mind that my colors are silver, soft white and soft blue. These aren’t the traditional Thanksgiving/ Harvest colors, and I wanted to give a nod to the season. Here’s how I combined them.

2. SHARE YOUR PLAN

If you have anyone helping you (for me it was my Mom and my husband) share your plan and your color palette with them. I pulled out all of the leaves for my table and realized early that I didn’t have a tablecloth that came close to fitting. My Mom offered to order one for me since she LOVES table linens and has good go-to sources. It was easy for me to tell her what I wanted because I knew exactly what my colors were.

My Table Inspiration Board

I will say that the best-laid plans often go awry. I shared my plan and my colors with the florist. If anyone should be a stickler for color and design, he should, right? Well, it turns out he essentially turned his business over to a woman who decides what she likes and then every single customer gets the same thing. I know because my sister-in-law and another friend suffered the same fate. Note: time to find a new florist and save the money. The flowers on the table ended up being from a last-minute run to Whole Foods where Clint braved the aggressive crowd and brought home “everything you can find that’s soft, white, and generally cool in color”. He saved me. All I had to do was arrange them. The rest of the flowers ended up in vases throughout- roses on the fireplace mantel, a small bunch on the entry hall table, and a mini vase in the bathroom.

3. TRY A PLACE SETTING

Given my color palette and the fact that it was Thanksgiving, I knew I wanted to use my Farmstead Chargers from Blackberry Farm. They were a gift that reminds me of the lovely times I’ve had there. This was my starting point. Chargers make a table, and they don’t have to be expensive. I have the whole gamut. Metal chargers, plastic chargers, and a beautiful floral set from my first set of dishes. Combined with your table linens, these will set the tone.

Think about your menu. What are you serving? What pieces will you need? Mine included asparagus soup as a starter. I realized that my nice china set doesn’t have soup bowls. I had a few really lovely ones that were handed down to me, but only about 5, and I had 11 people coming. I thought about buying something but then decided that the cups and saucers were generous enough for soup. You just make do when you need to. If you let on and show your concern, your guests will feel that energy. You want them to just enjoy. I simply offered seconds to everyone since it wasn’t an ideal serving size. That being said, Thanksgiving dinner is always too much, so it worked out fine.

In addition to trying out my place setting, I also put out my serving dishes early and made sure I had an idea of what would go in each dish and what I would use to serve it. I had to polish a few large spoons and forks, but not a big deal because I was able to do it well beforehand.

4. MAKE A MENU

Thanksgiving Menu Jenny Bova Design.jpg

I love getting a menu at a party. While there are no ordering choices, when you have a variety of people it’s nice for everyone to know what they are eating without having to ask. Since this is Thanksgiving and my family has traditional dishes we serve every year, I kept it brief with minimal description. I designed my own menu to go with my table and color palette. Being a designer has its perks. If I couldn’t design my own I would have purchased one online and put it through my printer to add my custom text. I’m thinking about adding menu cards to my shop in the future. What do you think?

4. USE PLACE CARDS

I honestly don’t care where people sit. I just wanted another element on the table, and since it’s Thanksgiving I felt it should be personal. If I won’t paint for this crew, who would I do it for? I found the acrylic frames first and then I painted each person a 4-inch round mini painting. (I would love to add some of these to the shop too, although round might be cost-prohibitive.) I arranged my place cards so that the cousins could sit near one another and both of my kids rearranged them on me multiple times before Thanksgiving arrived. We had a last-minute addition with one of my niece’s friends. His family were all working that day, so he joined us. Sadly, I was unable to make one of my custom place cards for him (my brother called me 2 hours before they arrived) but I just made a spot next to my niece and made sure to add all of the other treats each place setting had.

5. DO A LITTLE EXTRA

Chocolate Turkeys from The Candy Manor in Chatham

Chocolate Turkeys from The Candy Manor in Chatham

There is a candy shop on Cape Cod that we have gone to since we were kids. I checked their website and found that they had chocolate turkeys in cello bags with bows. Perfect for a little favor at each place. I got extras to begin with, and then my younger brother and his family jetted off to Costa Rica last minute, so I still have some left even after the last-minute additions. With the printed menu, the framed place cards, and the chocolate turkeys each place felt welcoming and festive. Think in groups of 3.

6. DO A LOT OF EXTRA

If you’re going to add more than a few special touches, then you better go big. Go all out. I’ll do another post on “all out” tables in the future. My friend, Lyn, loves a party and finds every excuse to go all out. This year she had a birthday party for herself on the Day of the Dead (which tells you everything about her in one sentence: she's fun!). She had candles and skulls and all things Day of the Dead layered on the table. Dry ice, beads, punch in a giant clear skull bowl…. It was spectacular, sophisticated, and such a fun luncheon. If you want to change up your table, make it fun, over the top, and memorable. Next week is her Christmas dinner. I’ll bring my camera.

A NOTE ON STYLE:

My table this year happens to be formal. I have wedding china and silver that does not get used nearly enough, so this is what I decided on this year. Formal is an option, but you can use all of the tips above no matter what style or theme you are going for. This works just as easily for a casual setup. Having a color palette and keeping your elements carefully edited makes for a beautiful feast.

 handwritten jenny sign-off

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