By Rhoda Parry
Aside from the present giving, the focus of Christmas Day is inevitably on the meal that you and your family share together. So providing a well-dressed table can be almost as important as the meal itself. So if you're still undecided on how to dress your table for the big day, this curated Christmas table ideas is the perfect place to start if you need place setting inspiration.
We've asked a panel of industry experts and designers for their take on tablescaping and their top tips so no matter how large or small your festive celebration may be this year, it will look sublime.
1. Welcome guests with a menu
Thoughtful additions can really bring the whole Christmas dining table together, so do make that special effort.
Providing a menu so that friends and family know what comes next is always a welcome addition, especially at a Christmas meal where most people tend to indulge, it's good to know to pace yourself. It's also useful if your catering for vegans or vegetarians.
Place a menu on each place setting and if possible, double up with a small wrapped gift. ‘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.
2. Keep it casual with a cornucopia of color
Layer up colored decorations and 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.
Add those little extra special touches to the table - colourful macaroon, some shortbread or, as in this case, tall tapered candles in varied shades of green to match the crackers. In a less formal setting, dispense with tablecloths to make things looser and more laid back.
3. Layer up the plates
This 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, too – fresh foliage or delicate honesty seed heads down the centre of the table looks 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.
4. Choose a strong color theme
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 is just as effective.'
'Using a number of different shades across your accent accessories like cutlery, fabrics and candle holders, for example, is a great idea for a simple yet impactful Christmas table setting.'
5. Raid the garden for simple but effective table ideas
This pretty idea from chef Clodagh McKenna can be created in an instant with foliage from the garden and dried fruit. Both look beautiful – and give off a gentle scent that's perfect for the season.
6. Live by the rule: 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
7. Use fruit for a cute place name setting
This is the simplest of ideas, again from chef and cookbook author Clodagh McKenna. Simply cut a slit in a fig and pop a piece of card with your guest's name on it into the cut. Treated well, the figs could even be roasted later...
8. 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.’
9. 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.
10. 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.’
11. Make a sugared fruit table centerpiece
This sugared fruit display by chef Clodagh McKenna is super easy to do: simply brush or lightly coat the fruit with egg whites, then roll in fine sugar, carefully transferring the fruit to a rack to dry before you arrange it on your plate or bowl.
12. 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 color 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, or even tied to the backs of chairs, as above, 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.
13. The Midas touch makes for a glamorous setting
‘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.’
14. 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.
15. Plan ahead for a smooth-sailing day
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.’
Pretty details like glass baubles on each place setting set the scene and can all be prepared the night before without spoiling.
16. 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.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. 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.’
21. 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.
22. 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.'
23. 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
24. Pay attention to the centerpiece
You needn't be traditional with a floral table centerpiece: this one by chef Clodagh McKenna is made with the brightest blooms she could find to create a warm, welcoming feel that matches the table settings around it.
However, '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).'
25. 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.'
26. Embrace the eclectic cottagecore trend
'Each year I tend to work with a certain color combination or a particular theme that I use throughout the house during the festive period. This look was inspired by the 1950s – all out glamour with red, green and gold,' says Instagram influencer Paula Sutton of Hill House Vintage.
'My advice would be to decide on your color scheme first and once you have this the accessories can follow. Napkins, plates, glassware and decorations can all be chosen with your palette of choice in mind; I advise sticking to a three color combination so that it doesn’t feel too overwhelming.'
'Also don’t forget that you don’t have to be too strict; the important thing is to be surrounded by treasures that you love and that bring you joy, after all it’s meant to be the happiest time of the year!'
'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.'
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