A well-dressed table setting is the focal point for festive celebrations – and our curated Christmas table ideas list is the place to start if you need inspiration.
We have called upon some of the world's greatest designers, interiors experts and industry leaders to give us their tablescaping tips, so that however large – or small – your Christmas celebration this year, it is bound to be special.
1. You can never have too many decorations
‘My favourite tablescape look is “More is more”,’ says Alex Head, founder and owner of Social Pantry. 'I really go all out at Christmas. It doesn’t mean spending lots of money but I like the table to look abundant and overflowing. I like to forage for things as much as possible, or re-use elements such as old wooden chopping boards to give height to candles or votives in the centre of the table. Fruit such as clementines with their stalks or pears look stunning and seasonal. Then I like to add a pop of colour with tall gold candlesticks bearing hot pink candles, from Amazon or Trouva.’
- See more Christmas dining room ideas to make your space beautiful
2. Display your best glassware
Glassware too takes a starring role. ‘This Christmas I’m seeing a growing trend for bottle green glassware,’ advises Alex. ‘It looks absolutely gorgeous on the table. I love mixing it with some gold-rimmed glasses for a really eye-catching look. But if you don’t want to splash out on a new set, I think mixing up any coloured glassware works really well on the Christmas table – you can buy them from Habitat and, increasingly, some supermarkets.’
3. Pay attention to tiny details
‘Whether the setting is casual or formal, minimal or maximalist, monochromatic or colourful – it's the smallest of details, the tablecloths and napkins, crockery and glassware as well as the candles and flowers that have the ability to make the day truly wonderful and memorable for guests,' adds Tricia Guild, OBE, founder & creative director, Designers Guild.
4. Personalize place settings
This year personalized place settings are big news. ‘Small cellophane bags filled with some home-made fudge, a salted caramel macaroon or a mulled wine marshmallow and tied with a gorgeous ribbon with their name tag attached makes for such an attractive sight,’ says Alex. ‘Guests find it lovely to take home a treat and it’s fun to pull in those Christmas flavors. But if really stretched for time, I’ve been known to just write place names out using a silver pen on some leaves taken from the garden.’
Thoughtful additions can really bring the whole Christmas dining table together, so do make that special effort. ‘Finishing your table with a little present that doubles up as a place setting – it’s thoughtful and just gives such character,' says Sue Jones, co-Founder & creative director, OKA.
Whether it’s a personalized place setting or placing a small present for each guest on their plates. Don’t worry about going overboard here: inside needn’t be more than something sweet to enjoy after lunch, wrapped up in a paper box - think of it as an alternative to a Christmas cracker (whose contents often get lost in the post-lunch clear up and their noise be alarming for small people and dogs).
Layer up the plates: it both looks attractive and has a practical element in that it leaves space free on the rest of the table for further decorations. Be inspired by what’s in the garden – a ring of moss around the table mat or sprigs of herbs clipped to name card looks fresh, natural and inviting. Finally, ask whoever has the prettiest handwriting in the family to write out the name cards using an old-fashioned ink pen.
5. Clean and green is endlessly elegant
Anyone looking for an antidote to the excess of bold and bright at this time of year might consider a more pared-back style with a calming colour palette and rustic elements – the result will still be beautiful and uplifting.
Instead of a visual onslaught, use green as a neutral and heighten the senses with aromas. A vast fresh indoor wreath will set the scene perfectly or, alternatively, think about buying one with natural base decorated with fine-quality faux flora and fauna that can be interspersed with fresh berries, ivy and greenery each year to update the look each year.
Position it pride of place over the table and then follow the aesthetic with a vase filled with more greenery. To keep things in balance, a white linen table cloth set with simple white china and plain linen napkins will add lightness to the mix which could be then decorated with plain glass vases of white and green flowers filled with a mixture of tulips, hyacinths and eucalyptus.
6. The Midas touch makes for a glamorous setting
Invest in a few key pieces at Christmas and they can contribute all the wow factor you need each year. Buy a fine candelabra or a statement centrepiece, then in-fill with a classic combination of pine cones, dried orange slices, red candles and berries to make it feel like Christmas. You don’t have to go overboard with the rest: the china, glassware and cutlery could easily be used year-round.
‘It’s Christmas, so you can go a bit over the top with the decorations. Use as many candles as you can, there’s nothing better than candlelight for creating atmosphere,’ believes Sue Jones, co-founder & creative director of OKA. ‘Don’t feel you have to stick to the usual colour scheme; here the foliage adds a festive twist, but the tortoiseshell glassware makes the table much more interesting.’
7. Pick berry brights for a warm welcome
Red is, of course, a classic Christmas colour. Cheery, bright and warm, it speaks of winter berries, Rudolph’s nose and robins’ breasts. When setting a table, it’s hard to go wrong using splashes of rose red with a profusion of candles, crackers and a generous bowl of pomegranates – either real or fake – as a centrepiece.
Layer up tableware to give more of a sense of abundance. It doesn’t have to match, you can mix fine porcelain with chunky everyday plates or bowls. Make an extra personalised effort with the place settings – a colourful macaroon, some shortbread or, as in this case, a twist on the classic gingerbread in the form of a candy cane. In a less formal setting which dispenses with tablecloths to make things looser and more laid back.
8. Get ready for cocktail hour
If Christmas is the only time of year that the best crystal comes out of the glassware cupboard (or even if it’s regularly in use) then why not make an effort to show it off with a specially-decorated cocktail table at the ready to host a sophisticated soirée. Throw a table cloth over a console table to set the background and form a display of glasses, candlesticks, bowls and plates – anything which will help to add a bit of glamour and bounce light around the space.
Crystallised fruit, alongside quinces, walnuts and lemons add colour and contrast, while bowls of chocolates and truffles add to the feeling of abundance and decadence. Stringing a garland above helps to frame the scene and draw the eyes and a final flourish of some fairy lights adds a magical twinkle to the overall effect.
9. Set the scene with furnishings
On Christmas Eve, why not go the extra mile and delight any house guests, large and small, by spending a few moments putting together a white wintry table scene (regardless of what the weather is doing outside) to greet everyone at breakfast time. Ideally suited to a kitchen or dining room that is already channelling a Scandinavian aesthetic of white, grey and scrubbed wood furniture, assembling a wintry montage needs little more than a few table-top decorations, a short string of pin-dot fairy lights and the liberal use of a can of fake snow.
Add another layer of twinkle to the scene by twisting a further string of fairy lines around the ceiling pendant, then sit back and enjoy the results. When it comes to Christmas Day, ‘my advice is to lay the table the night before,’ says Lesley Youel, stylist at John Lewis. ‘It’s so important that we remember to enjoy ourselves, especially when we’re hosting family and friends; there can be a lot of pressure for everything to be perfect.’
10. Remember the sweet treats
An alternative to having to wrap up placement presents, and yet still steering clear of the more traditional route of crackers, is to place a sweet treat in a bowl tied with a pretty ribbon. While still conveying a message of thoughtfulness, and a welcoming sight when sitting down at the table, it can be put aside during the meal and then enjoyed right at the end with coffee.
Using colors that don’t immediately shout Christmas, such as mustard yellow, black and silver, will lend the table a more sophisticated edge while the addition of single stems in vases keeps things fresh and light.
11. Put table gifts under wraps
For someone keener to underdress the table rather than go all out, choose one detail and put all your efforts into getting that element right. When searching for innovative place setting ideas, be sure to take inspiration from wherever you go – there’s no reason why you can make something spotted at a wedding, for example, make the transgression to the Christmas table.
Using a glass cloche over a small present and tied with a ribbon holding the name card is an unusual and eye-catching approach. The bell shape is synonymous with this time of year and can form part of the take home element, alongside an attractively-wrapped box of chocolates, fudge or nougat.
12. Christmas table ideas can be monochrome
By focussing on pale hues, plenty of natural textures and bolder accents, a monochrome tablescape brings a bit of Nordic chic to Christmas table. Glitz and gaudiness have no place in this sort of scheme, instead pare back everything to simple shapes, raw wood and distressed metal. Be sure to bring some of the outside into the mix such as dried tree branches in glass vases decorated with oversized stars.
The uncrowned queen of creating such a table is The White Company’s founder, Chrissie Rucker, OBE. ‘I love to start with a white linen table cloth and napkins, plus always use our best glasses and china. Beaded place mats look fantastic and add a magical glow as do mirrored scapers and lots of layers of candles, tall and small. I like to mix plain candles with a few scented. Then, for flowers, I stick to white and mix in lots of seasonal greenery, with snow berries and herbs such as rosemary.’
13. Choose a traditional update
Green and white, with a touch of gold, is another classic Christmas combination. But have a little fun with this and introduce some less conventional twists by layering with plains, patterns and lots of different textures for a festive and not overly formal result. It can feel risky departing from using the full set of matching dinnerware but keeping to a colour palette will link the scheme together comfortably while adding a bit of character to the table.
Coloured glassware is making a strong comeback this year and is another good opportunity to introduce some light-hearted colour pops. Another retro item rising in popularity is the napkin ring; if ever there’s a time of year to bring out proper linen napkins, it’s at Christmas.
‘Gold as ever is the traditional Christmas colour (think Three Kings!), but so too are gorgeous, vibrant pops of colour. Our smash hits this year include animals in crazy coloured party finery, peacocks and carnival theatrics. Add gold, mix and have fun with them: traditional with a very original twist!’ says Gisela Graham, founder and managing director.
14. Take a theme, make it yours
'I always start with a theme or color palette and try to ensure every element taps into that. This might be seasonal – Easter or Christmas – but in that case I'll try put my own twist on it,' says brand consultant and influencer, Rosanna Falconer.
'Don't be afraid of color – it brings so much joy and personality! Monochrome always works well – think shades of green from eau de nil to jade. If you're feeling more adventurous, warm and cool colors contrast beautifully like a deep magenta with a punchy turquoise. I tend to begin with a white tablecloth – the blank canvas for the creativity on top.'
Burleigh’s Design Development Manager, Alison Howell suggests ensuring you keep your color scheme simple: 'The kitsch Christmas red, gold, and green can look wonderful, but for simplicity, keeping to just one color whether that's gold, or an alternative color, such as black, is just as effective. Using a number of different shades of gold across your accent accessories like cutlery, fabrics and candle holders, for example, is a great idea for a simple yet impactful Christmas table setting.'
15. Put candles in every corner
'Lighting is so important, whether in the garden alfresco as dusk falls or indoors on long winter nights,' continues Rosanna Falconer. 'Avoid artificial lighting and instead turn to the romance of candles. Taper candles look beautiful, particularly down the center of a long banqueting table, just ensure they don’t obscure guests’ views.
'Pillar candles work well outdoors (they withstand even the strongest wind!) and look spectacular clustered together in different heights and colors. Finally, I never go without tea lights in glass votives. They cast a gorgeous light and last eight hours, which should cover even the most raucous evening!'
- See more Christmas wreath ideas in our inspiring feature
16. Pay attention to the centerpiece
'Your centerpiece doesn't have to be flowers, particularly when they're not in season. Try a runner made from wrapping paper, excess wallpaper or off-cut fabric (no need to hem as guests won't see the edges),' says Rosanna Falconer.
'Ribbon runners can be exquisite: first, select your color palette for the ribbon lengths – five to nine ribbons work well (I always like odd numbers) in mixed widths. Place each ribbon down using double-sided tape to fix in place. Keep the white space between each ribbon regular (I keep a 1cm space between each ribbon).'
This beautiful, handmade Thistle and Berry Table Wreath by The Real Flower Company is incredibly scented. Filled with seasonal foliage such as conifer, spruce and aromatic herbs like silver lavender and rosemary, it is finished with festive blue thistles and viburnum.
17. Make sure to include flowers
'I’m not a florist,' concludes Rosanna Falconer. 'So I keep flowers simple and seasonal. In peony or dahlia season, I let their beauty sing with single stems in high-necked vases or an ombre of colorful dahlias in jam jars down the table. My main rule is to keep the flowers low so that they don’t obstruct conversation but do play with heights.'
18. Be eclectic for a character Christmas table
'Ensure that you use lots of different size bowls and serving dishes in different colors, shapes and sizes,' concludes Burleigh's Alison Howell. 'Creating a super eclectic mix draws everyone in and creates a layered landscape across your festively laden table.'