Holiday meals will be especially memorable when guests sit down to a table that's been designed with care and an eye for the season.
First, choose a style — perhaps traditional, contemporary, whimsical or organic — then forage around the house and yard for elements that support the theme.
Green, red, gold, plaid and white are natural choices for a traditional centerpiece. Start with an artful arrangement of pine, cedar or fir boughs laid down the center of the table.
"If you wanted to bring in some color, choose a runner to put down underneath," suggests Sabrina Carroll, owner of B Cazwell's Floral Dezines in Medford. "Then bring in other objects to set in the boughs — ribbon, candles and flowers."
A good tablescape features different heights and textures. To create height, cut 4- to 8-inch-diameter wood logs to size or turn a bowl upside down to use as a base for a candleholder or vase. If vases aren't plentiful, use water glasses or pitchers; a runner can be anything from a family heirloom to brown paper.
Create a tableau with rich, ruby-hued pomegranates, festive oranges and whole nuts; more visual interest comes from ornaments or something that furthers a theme — think sleds, sleighs and skis for an outdoor effect.
"You can also use collections of favorite things you have around the house like figurines or hand-me-down dishes," says Carroll. "Then go to your local florist and pick up a few stems based on your color theme."
White alstromeria is long-lasting and, when combined with a textural accent like seeded eucalyptus or even bare branches from the yard, lends elegance to the table.
"To get some more red, put some fresh cranberries down in the vases before adding water," suggests Carroll.
Contemporary sophistication is created with "clean lines in glass, metal or ceramic objects," says interior decorator Cheryl von Tress, who owns Cheryl von Tress Design in Jacksonville. Group cylindrical or square vases as a centerpiece or place them in a straight line down the middle of the table.
"Simplicity is key to this look," explains von Tress. "The addition of a single sprig of holly, pepper berries, rose hips or a flower blossom in each vase creates instant impact. Chunky glass votive or tea-light holders in square or round shapes can be interspersed to warm the look without overwhelming it."
Shimmer will make every holiday table sit up. Get some by adding gold, silver, crystal or clear objects to the mix — when combined with candlelight, the effect will be dazzling. Metallic ribbon, linens shot through with metallic threads and tableware rimmed with silver or gold are more sources for sparkle.
When whimsy is wanted, look to personal collections and think outside the traditional holiday box.
"Use Grandma's lace hankies stuffed into vintage juice glasses as a party favor," suggests von Tress. For smile-producing place cards, attach guests' names to small toys. Extend the sentimentality to the chandelier by stringing collected handmade ornaments with holiday ribbon. "This mobile centerpiece adds a real touch of whimsy and family memories."
For fun family bonding, write a holiday joke or seasonal greeting inside tent cards and set one on each plate. "Having each person read theirs lightens the mood and helps guests reconnect as they laugh together," says von Tress.
Find a shiny or tarnished metal tub — or paint one red — as the base for a centerpiece that plays up nature's bounties. "A walk in the woods or a visit to your local crafts store will net dried elements, branches, rocks and pine cones," says von Tress. Birds' nests and moss can be woven into the branches for an extra organic touch.
Set a pine cone on end at each place setting — in its natural glory or glinted with paint or faux snow. To create a simple favor, hot-glue a holiday greeting or name card to the cones. Or treat each guest to a prettily framed family photo.
Once your table is dressed for the holidays, light the candles and invite guests to gather around — and watch as the sparkle warms everyone's hearts.