You’re hosting a Thanksgiving gathering for the extended family. You want to set a table that’s refined and elegant but not too fussy. A table that makes loved ones feel merry and comfortable.
“Go for maximum impact with minimum effort, keep shapes and forms simple,” says Susan Spungen, author of “What’s a Hostess To Do?” and culinary consultant for films such as “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated.”
Sculptural and versatile carafes, vases and platters can all serve as centerpieces. (Even better – they'll last through Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s.) Then add natural elements to create an authentic mood.
“When it comes to Thanksgiving, I use all sorts of fruits and gourds to decorate, because that’s the way it used to be,” says Camille Saum, an interior designer in Bethesda Md. Using well-made, long-lasting pieces with natural elements is also a way to honor an American tradition four centuries after the first Thanksgiving. So set your table, and then say thanks.
Ideas for dressing up your dining room:
• To create a centerpiece on short notice, “pile up some beautiful seasonal produce on pedestals,” says Susan Spungen, author of “What’s a Hostess to Do?” (Artisan, 2013).
• For a cocktail that impresses guests, Spungen recommends in her book a champagne cocktail, made by putting a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne glass, soaking it with two dashes of Angostura bitters, and then pouring chilled champagne.
• “Gold can look really fantastic as a charger under a plate or a napkin ring,” Spungen says. “Festive notes add a little bit of formality to a holiday.”
• “Glass containers are wonderful,” says Daphne Olive, co-owner of Tabletop DC in Washington. “You can put grasses and flowers in them – shells, rocks or leaves. You can put candles in them on a different day. You can even fill them with Christmas decorations.”
• In Spungen’s book on entertaining, she writes, “If you’re entertaining a crowd or serving drinks outside, stemless glasses are great because they’re not as delicate as stemmed glasses and you can fit a lot of them in the dishwasher at the end of the party without fear of breaking them.”
• “The best way to set a table is to have really fun pieces to put in the center,” says Olive, who confesses that vases are her personal obsession. Pieces such as a substantial pitcher can also serve as a centerpiece and vase.
• If you are using uneven card tables or rough plywood for extra dining space, Spungen recommends putting down a layer of foam or table pads under the tablecloths. “It makes a softer surface for putting your glasses down,” she says.
• An oval serving platter makes a perfect canvas for Spungen’s favorite centerpieces: seasonal vegetables such as Romanesco cauliflower and broccoli for texture and a crisp chartreuse green color.
• Olive advises hosts and hostesses with small spaces (and little room for elaborate centerpieces) to find beauty in the functional. Even practical pieces such as an ornate carving set – add to the ambiance.
• Saum likes silver and pewter trays for their versatility. “I always get extra greens with my trees and just make sure they’re washed and use them at Christmastime to decorate my platters.”
• “It’s nice to have little hints of metallics,” Spungen says, though she warns not to overdo it. “Gold flatware can look really fantastic. Or a charger under a plate or a napkin ring.”