Making it Work: Mix-and-Match Tabletop

Garden Party

Regina's recent post about a mix-and-match Thanksgiving got me thinking about how to really make this work for holiday dinners. If your style tends toward the minimalist, the idea might seem unappealing. But really, how many of us own enough coordinated table decor to host a big dinner without employing the mix-and-match look?

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Today's Thanksgivings are often inherently mix-and-match affairs; family mingles with co-workers, friends, and stranded travelers. Such gatherings tend to grow unexpectedly large, and mix-and-match tabletop may be the most affordable option, outside of (gasp!) disposables. Dishes, glasses, and servingware are likely to be borrowed from various sources or patched together from thrift store and garage sale finds. So what are some ways to bring all of these disparate elements together to create a beautiful table? A few thoughts:

Metallic accents. Choosing one dramatic accent that ties together all of your tabletop elements is a great way to make a mix-and-match table look harmonious. If some of your dishes or glasses, for example, have gold-leaf trim, why not run with it and add some festive shiny gold accents to the rest of the table? Use snippets of gold ribbon for napkin "rings." Paint little pumpkins gold as place cards (as on the Martha Stewart table at the top of the post), or spray-paint pine cones and add them here and there to your centerpieces. It would be easy to go overboard with this, of course, but when paired with rustic textures and soft colors, gold can be gorgeously warm and inviting.

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Unify with botanicals. Choose botanical elements for your centerpieces that somehow link them to your other tabletop choices. If a neighbor has lent you some dishes, for example, with flowers painted around the rim, choose one of those types of flowers to introduce subtly into your centerpieces. I love the baby artichokes marking each place setting on Sweet Paul's table (above); by using artichokes elsewhere in the decor (say in an arrangement that sits on the buffet, some distance from the table itself), you can create a unified feeling even if your dishes and glasses don't match.

Candles, candles, candles. For an evening party, good lighting can make almost any tabletop work. Create an intimate, softly lit atmosphere with tons of candles, and the differences among the different mix-and-match bits of your servingware will come off as charming and cozy.

Make your own linens. Linens are one place where it's easy and affordable to go matching, even if you have to borrow or cobble together the rest of your tabletop. If you're borrowing lots of different dishes, glasses, and flatware, consider using matching linens to pull it all together by simply making your own. Visit a discount fabric store and choose something simple and elegant, enough for a few tablecloths and some napkins; if you sew, you're in luck, but if not, having simple table linens made by a dry cleaner or seamstress is an inexpensive piece of cake.

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Embrace the chaos. Above all, the key to making mix-and-match decor work at a dinner party is to make it seem one hundred percent intentional. Don't apologize for not having a full set of heirloom silver or crystal stemware. Design the details of the rest of the party to match the breezy style of a mix-and-match table: consider keeping dishes on a buffet instead of setting them out beforehand; serve a do-it-yourself bar; offer dessert in the living room instead of at the tables.

Please share your own ideas for a mix-and-match holiday dinner below!

(Images: Martha Stewart (1 and 2); Sweet Paul (3 and 4))