Thanksgiving Table Decor, Step by Step: How To Build a Centerpiece

Apartment Therapy Tutorial

A gorgeous centerpiece can be the crown jewel on your holiday table... but it can also be one of the most challenging floral arrangements to create. You'll want it to be low so as not to obstruct the view of your charming guests, and you'll want it to be as generous an arrangement as you are a host/ess. There are many approaches to creating low, lush centerpieces, but here's how I made this one, with plenty of step-by-step photos and instructions. Pick a bowl (or vase, I suppose) and let's get going!

Here we go...

1. Support your local flower shop! If it weren't for the lovely, local Cypress House (where I bought these mums, goldenrod, Rover mums, and hypericum, and mystery greens), I would have been limited to the half-dead, fully-tacky selection at my town's grocery store and Walmart. These are much better. Keep an eye out for blossoms that take up a lot of horizontal space when shopping for a low centerpiece: spider mums, peonies, dahlias, and hydrangeas all work well.

2. Head outdoors. I gathered all of these in our backyard, but if you don't have access to a yard or garden, don't despair. When I lived in San Francisco, I often found tree trimmings and cool garden scraps on the curb. Ask land-owning friends and business if you can cut a few branches, or see what you find on the ground in the park. I snipped dry hydrangea leaves and blossoms, rose foliage, viburnum branches, wild allium, prairie dropseed, little blue stem, and more (if there's one you're particularly interested in, I'll get the exact name for you). I didn't end up using all of these, but it's better to have plenty of options to play with. You have enough when your fingers are too cold to cut more.

3. Start building. Pick one stem, lay another across it at an angle, and add another, rotating them slightly.

4. Keep building. Add more leaves, paying attention to how the various elements fit together...

5. And building. Be sure to keep your hand relaxed and the arrangement loose. You're not making a streamlined, vertical arrangement, you're creating a low, wide, voluptuous one.

6. Yes, even more. Keep some of the larger blooms by themselves, surrounded by leaves and pods.

7. Don't stop. But group some of the blossoms together- here, two Rover mums clustered with one regular mum.

8. Keep building, I don't care if your hand is tired. Continue adding stems, rotating the arrangements a few degrees after each new addition. Discard whatever elements displease you — you'll notice the black pods and the allium seed heads are now conspicuously absent.

9. Save your most shapely branches for last. Once you've used up all of your flowers, continue adding greenery around the base of the arrangement. I almost always prefer to add a dramatic swoop of branches, grass, and greenery to one side of the arrangement, with a few more on the opposite side as a counterpoint.

10. Did I forget to tell you to put rubber bands around your wrist? Wrap the arrangement using the rubber bands around your wrist- you'll want to use at least two sturdy bands, as shorter, more horizontal arrangements exert a lot of force. At this point you might decide you'd prefer to keep your flowers tall — if so, go for it!

11. But if not.. Scoot the bands up as far as you possibly can, then chop the stems as short as you need. Sharp shears will really come in handy when dealing with so many branch-type stems, but you can totally hack them with scissors if your proper shears are still stupidly packed away.

12. Do you like it? Take a moment to spin your creation in your hand, admiring/judging it from all angles. Fluff as needed. All done!

13. Not so fast. Wide bowls and vases are well-known tricksters, and you may find that your wonderfully wide arrangement is not nearly wide enough to fill the bowl in question. Don't despair. Either choose a smaller bowl or...

14. Head back outside. Ideally, you'd have plenty of usable scraps left over, but if not, go cut a few more. Wide leaves are great, as are any bits of foliage with a nice spread to them.

15. Fake it 'till you make it. Now, you can supplement your arrangement in two ways: either plop the banded flowers in the center of the bowl and add stems around the edges...

16. Or, you can create a support structure for your main arrangement by laying stems in the bowl, effectively creating a sturdy nest.

17. For real this time. ..Add water, and gently place your main arrangement so it's gently resting on all of the supplemental material.

18. No one's the wiser. Your arrangement will now appear as one seamless unit, ready to grace your table.

Have fun playing with flowers, and please send any questions my way!

(Image credits: Tess Wilson)