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Countdown to Thanksgiving, Day 12: Is Your Table Set?

Tips for creating an enchanting tablescape that’s also comfortable.

To catch up on Megan Swoyer's first 11 steps of the “turkey day” planning process, read the full series

There are dozens of torn-out magazine pages in my recipe files that don’t have recipes on them.

Instead, the worn sheets showcase beautiful images and tips for the second (food is No. 1) most important key to a good meal: dining table ambiance.

I come from the land of linger. My family sits at the table long after dessert is served, for coffee, after-dinner drinks, chitchat and big laughs. So the table décor, seating, etc. need to be as inviting as if we were sitting in front of the fireplace in the living room (which usually follows the table talk, before card games begin).

I’ve been hosting Thanksgiving pretty regularly for the past 18 years, and I continue to believe, as I did growing up, that the dining table is second only to the kitchen as heart of the home.

For the Thanksgiving table, I’ll typically haul out all of my collected fall tabletop décor, candles, linens and more. Meanwhile, I’ve combed the outdoors for pinecones, seeds, sticks, etc. Before the decorating begins, I’ll place it all together on a table and stare at it for a few minutes.

Table Decor Inspiration

I’ll think about what my mood is this year. What do I feel like looking at? Am I in a glitzy mood or more of a natural frame of mind?

How much time do I have to decorate? (note: this is best done a day or two before the big day so that you have time to let your creativity flow and to run out to or any craft store for, say, new ribbon, table glitter, candles, etc.)  

Also, who will be here? The seniors need space to get around and too many items on the table can visually disorient them. Will there be a baby? Better not put out the tall, thin champagne flutes – they’re so easy to knock over.

It's time to start editing, once I’ve arrived at some decisions. I'll select various elements and begin the process of setting the table. This year, I’m mixing rustic with my grandmother’s silverware, silver candlestick wedding gifts and silver bud vases, along with our Wedgwood china that we registered for when we got married.

Mother Nature is also invited. My oldest sister and I picked up some odd pods with spikes that fell from a tree on one of our walks through the neighborhood in September. I saved them for the table. And as I adore pinecones, they’ll defnitely play a starring role.

Considering a cover-up. The one thing that I hope won’t be at the table: the card-table chairs for extra seating that I wrote about a couple times these past two weeks. I'm in search of chair covers as you read this. Fingers crossed.

Ideas for decking your table

Simple is always special: Camille Chisholm of Huntington Woods is passionate about her Ruska dishware. Deep brown in color, the dishes were designed by Ulla Procope from 1948 to 1968. “We bought our set in the 1960s in a store in downtown Detroit,” recalled Chisholm, a professional artist. “The pieces are not all identical but have various shades of brown. They're really special to me and Thanksgiving is the only time I use it. Along with a tablecloth, I think our table with the beautiful sparkling, shiny wine and drinking glasses, are enough. I'm happy and I don't add more decor.”  

Bring the outdoors in: Beth Hazen, a member of and recent exhibitor at the annual Cranbrook Holiday Tables event, likes to mix pottery she made with entwined grapevine that circles each place setting. Her inspiration for her grapevine themed tableware is from childhood memories of growing up on an orchard in Indiana.

Give new life to old pieces: My sister-in-law Donna gave us a giant cut-glass pedestal bowl for fruit several years ago. I’ve never used it for its purpose and instead bring it out for the holidays, filling it with shiny ornaments for Christmas, and, this year, a tall candle surrounded by pinecones. I tied a ribbon and a bunch of faux fruit to the pedestal. (That "pedestal adornment" graced a box of fancy chocolates last year that another sister-in-law Anne Marie gave me as a hostess gift for Thanksgiving.) The fruit bowl-turned-festive-adornment will be this year’s centerpiece.

Linens and napkin designs add pizzazz: “I press my special plum-colored tablecloth and press and fold the napkins using a fun napkin-folding instruction book,” said Chisholm. You can see all kinds of napkin-sculpture ideas at MarthaStewart.com. 

Create pretty place cards: “I purchase silk fall leaves at a crafts store and write people’s names on them with a pretty ink,” said Kathy Andrews of West Bloomfield-based Artful Chameleon, a special-events design firm. Or get family and guests in the Christmas spirit and purchase simple tree ornaments where there’s a spot for a person’s name and write the name on them. “The guests can then take them home for their tree,” added Andrews.

Provide elbow room: When entertaining, allow at least 24 inches of elbowroom for each guest if possible and 12 to 15 inches depth from the edge of the table, say the stylists who created the book Southern Living Style (Oxmoor House).

Get out the ribbon: My friend Kathleen Sheridan of Troy is a professional food stylist for various brochures, websites and more. She helped me set a pretty tables years ago when my son was making his first communion. His favorite color was orange and Sheridan suggested we run an orange, wide ribbon (I purchased mine at Michael’s) right down the center of the table over a crisp, white tablecloth. It was stunning and memorable, setting the stage for other orange accents. 

Whatever your color theme, a ribbon is an easy way to add punch to the table. Incidentally, I now use that same orange ribbon to hot-glue Thanksgiving greeting cards on from over the years. I hang the card banner near the table so guests can view various artists’ takes on Thanksgiving.

It's been fun sharing ideas from the turkey trenches these past 12 days. I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving!

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