For most people, the dining table (especially in the South) is at the center of any holiday celebration. Beginning with Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Year’s Eve, there is ample opportunity for you to host the dinner party of the season. But before you rush out and begin planning your menu, be sure you have the main attraction of your festivity figured out — your tablescape. SB Magazine sought the expertise of Dana Smyth, store manager and lead stylist at Ivy & Stone, in creating stunning tablescapes — whether it’s a formal or informal setting and even for the kids’ table.

“Some of this year’s trends include layering different textures, mixing different elements and personalizing place settings,” Smyth said. “It’s all about creating a look that’s not only unique to your personal style but also functional for your space and guests.”

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Smyth said the main distinction between an informal and formal place setting is the number of pieces, mainly utensils and glasses, on the table. With formal settings or when a multicourse meal is served, the place setting includes utensils for each course and multiple glasses for water, wine or champagne and dessert wine or sherry. In an informal setting, the entire meal is typically served on one dish with only one set of utensils.

“A few key components that I personally keep in my arsenal for a great tablescape, whether formal or informal, includes a great set of china (preferably white), glassware (preferably clear), a nice vase, pitcher or similar piece to hold florals and a pair of candlesticks or lanterns,” she said.

FORMAL

  • The best and most common way to serve food is one course at a time on prearranged plates, making sure to clear the dishes and utensils used before serving the next course.
  • Place cutlery in the order in which it will be used. For example the first utensil (salad fork) should be the furthest from the plate. Do the same with wine glasses if there is more than one glass.
  • A charger (or presentation plate) is a decorative plate that holds the other dinnerware, such as the soup bowl and salad plate.

INFORMAL

  • If the weather is comfortable, an outside tablescape is a great alternative for an informal dinner. Smyth used natural items that can be gathered outdoors to decorate the table. Try: branches of eucalyptus or ivy, pinecones, stems of cotton or even fruit.
  • Play around with mixed patterns and styles but make sure colors are consistent.

CHILDREN’S TABLE

  • Don’t be afraid to set up a tablescape for the children’s table. “What we did here is use a similar lightweight and non-breakable (plastic) version of the china and glassware we used for the adults’ table and kraft paper for the placemats (which can be used for a fun activity once they finish their meal),” Smyth said. Scatter chalk around the table so the kids can draw or color after they finish their meal. Fun idea: Kids can trace their plate with the chalk onto their kraft paper and make a turkey. The best turkey wins a prize.
  • For the centerpiece, be sure to use items that can’t cause harm or injury to anyone.
  • Design a children’s table where kids want to hang out and have fun during a meal. “The pumpkins we used were bright and colorful in comparison to the fall pears we used at the adults’ table.”

TABLESCAPE TIPS

  • Burn a candle or two. Candlelight can make a space feel more cozy, inviting or intimate. “Even though most would tell you that it is not appropriate to have a candle burning during a daytime meal, I feel that the rules have changed,” Smyth said. “And if you have the option of using candlelight during a meal or a party, then do so. Just make sure your candle is unscented.”
  • Use pieces and colors you love and could potentially use in other areas of your home when not being used on your dining table. “We provide complimentary in-store styling and would be happy to help any of your readers create the perfect unique tablescapes for their homes this holiday season.”
  • Let your personality shine. “I was recently helping a client set her dining table for an upcoming formal dinner. While getting to know her throughout this process, I learned that she was an extremely sentimental person and had a variety of old family photographs and heirlooms,” Smyth said. “We decided to use some of these photographs and heirlooms in the centerpiece and place settings.”
  • Transitioning your tablescape from one holiday to the next can be an easy and inexpensive process. “I recommend to always have a few good staple pieces on hand — a non-seasonal runner to help ground individual pieces to complete the centerpiece, non-seasonal placemats, chargers and napkins for the place settings, a piece to hold florals, whether real or artificial, and candlesticks or lanterns.”
  • Transitioning the centerpiece can be as easy as swapping out your stems from cotton or fall colored leaves for Thanksgiving to snowy pine and berry picks for Christmas to sparkly white and champagne colored florals for the New Year. “If you use colored candles or candle rings, simply swap them out to compliment your holiday florals. If you use lanterns, try filling them with pumpkins for Thanksgiving, twigs and snow for Christmas, and sparkly glittered Styrofoam balls for the New Year,” Smyth said.
  • Your place settings can be just as easy to transition through the holidays — from a pumpkin or large fall-colored leaf for Thanksgiving to a sprig of mistletoe for Christmas to a party hat or kazoo for the New Year styled on top of the napkin in the center of the charger.

Special thanks to Dana Smyth and Brandi Smyth Sharkey, owner of Ivy & Stone. Items featured are available at Ivy & Stone, 4320 Benton Road in Bossier City.