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Photo by Robin Rudd/ Fischer Evans Jewelers' Thanksgiving tablescape, featuring traditional fine china, crystal and silver.

Many of us remember our mothers starting a week in advance of Thanksgiving, polishing sterling stemware until it gleamed, setting the table three days in advance with the good china, then cooking family recipes in massive amounts so no one left the table hungry.

"My mother always used the best china and crystal that she had for all family dinners, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas," says Signal Mountain resident Mike Lees, 70. "Paper plates were not in her vocabulary. It was from her that I acquired my appreciation for formal dining."

Lees thinks of her as he continues those traditions today.

"On Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, I want my guests to feel that I went that extra mile to make them feel special and how grateful I am for their love and friendship."

But could formal table-setting be coming a thing of the past?

According to Zola.com, an online wedding registry, only one-third of couples today are registering for fine china. "I'll never use it" or "No place to store it" are common reasons why. TheKnot.com wedding site reports that just 26% of couples include china in their wedding registries — half as many as those that register for casual dinnerware.

"The trend we are seeing is that girls are mixing the old with new," says Laura Hartman, a sales associate with Fischer Evans Jewelers. "They are mixing inherited patterns passed down through their families with pieces of their choosing to put their own spin, or a more contemporary style on the patterns to suit their tastes."

Whether you're hosting your first or your 40th holiday dinner this season, here is a guide to tablescaping, sure to inspire some traditions of your own.

 

The anatomy of fine dining

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Contributed photo by Robin Rudd / This formal tablescape by Fischer Evans Jewelers features a combination of Gien china patterns, including Sologne and Filets dinnerware on a Saro charger. Completing the elegant looks is Lyrique stainless flatware, Kiss That Frog barware and Arthur Court serving pieces.

Sitting down to a formal table setting can be intimidating with as many as eight utensils and three to four goblets in front of you. Here are some tips to help you navigate.

> Work from the outside in when selecting forks and spoons. They are placed in the order of their use. For example, the smaller fork on the outside left is the salad fork, used before the larger dinner fork.

> The knife is laid on the table with the cutting edge pointing toward the plate. Once picked up and used, it should not be placed on the table again but balanced across the plate edge.

> If the water or wine goblets are arranged in a triangle, the dessert glass is placed on the highest point of the triangle. The water goblet is to the lower left and the glasses for red and white wines are at the lower right.

> The large plate holding the first course is the service plate, more commonly called a charger. When the first course is cleared the charger remains in place until the entree is served. Traditionally, the charger is removed when the entree is served. But modern hosts have begun leaving the charger on the table until the dinner plate is cleared since the charger keeps drips or spills from staining the tablecloth.

 

How to elevate an informal setting

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Contributed photo by Susan Pierce / Using pleated strips of paper, lemons, limes and votive candles, Garrett Henson-Hinck adds texture and color to his formal setting.

Fine china may be losing its place at the table as more and more hosts choose to mix everyday dishes with paper products for easier cleanup. But Garrett Henson-Hinck of Henson-Hinck Designs says you can "set a table and elevate it even with paper plates and pizza" if you remember to include five design elements outside of the place setting: centerpiece; runners/placemats/chargers; natural elements; something unexpected; and a token of appreciation.

Henson-Hinck recently demonstrated these principles in a design workshop hosted by Bud Floral & Home on Dayton Boulevard using paper products by Hester & Cook that are sold at the boutique.

> He began the first layer of tablescaping by angling two large squares of fabric on each end of the table to create a "tablecloth." He juxtaposed these casual, raw-edged materials with stemmed wine glasses, automatically elevating the look.

> Next, he ran a Hester & Cook black-striped paper runner the length of the table. "Play with the paper," he advised workshop participants, demonstrating this by cutting two 3-foot lengths of gold-striped table runner and pleating each back and forth like a child's fan. The designer partially unfolded the pleated lengths and placed one on either end of the table.

> Next he added die-cut Hester & Cook placemats at each place before scattering lemons and limes along the pleats of the folded fans to add color, interest and texture. The addition of two fern-filled vases injected more color.

> "Always have something unexpected on the table," he said. In this case, it was a white ceramic silverware tray in which a piece of moss-like greenery had been cut to fit. Small votive candles finished the inviting look.

 

Centerpieces: Think outside the vase

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Contributed photo by John Bamber / Appropriate for Thanksgiving or Christmas, this centerpiece of magnolia branches cut from the yard to fill a large urn is accented with mini urns of magnolia leaves at each place setting.

There are three buzzwords in centerpiece design this holiday season: personalization, texture and layering.

Joe Jumper, owner of The Clay Pot, which is marking its 30th anniversary this year, reminds hosts that they are not confined to the formal vase of flowers in the center of the table flanked by tapers. In fact, fresh looks in tablescapes feature centerpieces that organically flow the length of the table.

> Personalization

Jumper suggests incorporating items into the tablescape that have sentimental value to the family. As an example, he took a trio of old family books, bound them with orange velvet ribbon and set them on the table. He took two metal baking pans, filled them with dried black beans and nestled multiple taper holders among the beans. He placed orange candles in the holders for more color on the table. The metal pans keep the candles from dripping on the tablecloth.

> Texture

"Shop your yard," says Jumper. Look around your backyard for inspiration. Natural greenery — such as magnolia branches, pine or cedar — can be placed in urns. Jumper filled one large urn with magnolia branches to center a table, then placed small urns of magnolia leaves at each table setting. Small glass or silver bud vases could also be substituted for the mini urns at each place setting.

> Layering

Layering not only applies to table linens but lengthy Della Robia-influenced table runners that feature layers of fruit and greenery repeated down the length of the table.

Instead of just one tablecloth, Jumper suggests layering fabrics that add texture to the table. In one design he tops a tablecloth with a Bohemian-style area rug set on the diagonal. Look around your home to consider how common items might be used differently.

 

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Contributed photo by Mike Lees / Signal Mountain's Mike Lees' formal tablescape features a combination of Queen's Quintessential Game china in stag and pheasant patterns combined with Lenox Tuscany china and Waterford crystal. His fall-themed setting continues in a long, layered centerpiece of leaves, berries, feathers and flowers.

Need more inspo?

> Holiday Tablescape Workshop: Get ideas for table settings and how to flip your table from casual to dressy at this workshop led by Garrett Henson-Hinck of Henson-Hinck Designs at 6 p.m., November 18 at at Bud Floral + Home. The $30 fee includes drinks and light food. Limited spaces available; register online at budfloralandhome.com.

> Online: Do you scroll magazines, Pinterest and websites searching for tablescape inspiration? Find a community of your people on Facebook's Beautiful Table Settings page. BTS boasts an international membership of men and women who love and collect china, who enjoy setting a fine table and sharing their ideas online.

 

How to be a good guest

Want to be invited back next year? Here are 10 tips to follow to be considered a good guest.

1. Don't arrive empty-handed. Pick up a bottle of wine or bouquet to hand your host when you arrive. However, don't insist the bottle be opened immediately; first, it is a gift for your host, and second, that person likely has already chosen what wines they will serve that coordinate with the meal.

2. Know your napkin etiquette. There's more to it than the napkin goes in your lap. Wait until your host has picked up their napkin and placed it in their lap before you pick up yours. Never wear a napkin like a bib. Use the napkin to blot your lips, not wipe across the mouth. If you need to be excused from the table, place the napkin in the seat of your chair or fold it over the arm of your chair. If after-dinner coffee is served at the table, keep the napkin in your lap.

3. Begin eating only after everyone has been served. Keep your elbows within your seat's personal space; i.e., no reaching across the table and no elbows on the table.

4. Never talk with your mouth full! And when you do join the conversation, set your cutlery down. No gesticulating with your knife or fork for emphasis.

5. Tell your host in advance if you have food allergies, are vegan or gluten-free. After your host has gone to the trouble of preparing a delicious meal, it would be rude to say you can't eat it because of a food allergy. You might even offer to make and bring a food item that you can eat if that suits your host.

6. No surprise guests. Never bring a plus-one unless your invitation specifically states you may, or you have asked for your host's approval in advance.

7. Don't bring a cellphone to the table. If you are worried you might miss an emergency message from the babysitter, put it on vibrate in your pocket or purse. Never put your cellphone on the table. If you do receive a call, excuse yourself from the table and take it in another room.

8. Offer to help clean up. If you see that your host could use an extra hand while clearing the table and scraping plates, offer to help. However, some hosts will feel you are a guest and shouldn't have to help clean up. If you offer to help and are refused, don't push your attention on them.

9. Always thank your host before leaving, expressing how much you enjoyed the dinner and your appreciation for their effort. A follow-up note, preferably hand-written and not an email, should be mailed the next day.

10. Don't overstay your welcome. When your host serves after-dinner coffee, that's a polite nudge that the party is winding down. Be prepared to leave soon after. Host, if your guests still haven't gotten the hint the party is over, close down the bar and they will leave.

[Sources: Southern Living, Tasteofhome.com and Vanityfair.com]

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