20 Clever (and Easy!) Ideas to Create Your Perfect Holiday Tablescape

published Nov 6, 2023
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Angled view of a set colorful holiday tablescape with flowers and candles.
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Margaret Ward

You can make your holiday party guests feel like VIPs with a thoughtfully designed tablescape that’s equal parts festive and functional. While it might seem like a tall order to assemble a photo-worthy display with table decor, it’s easier once you know a few insider ideas. 

To upgrade your next Thanksgiving dinner or winter holiday celebration, we tapped seven designers and entertaining experts for their top table decor tips. From napkin garnishes to handwritten place cards, check out their go-to moves to , and get ready to create so many showstopping spreads this season! 

1. Layer your tabletop.

“Adding layers to your decor and serving ware creates an elevated level of warmth and enhances the overall visual aesthetic,” says Caroline Dedeker, procurement manager of Cedar & Oak Homes. Achieve this essential tablescape element by incorporating an array of practical and decorative items, including a tablecloth and/or table runner, florals, candles, placemats, plates, and napkins, Dedeker explains. For a cohesive — not chaotic — final product, she advises sticking with a neutral color palette across the board or selecting one accent color that will pop. 

2. Stack various types of plates.

You’ll want more than a dinner plate to achieve a styled look at each setting. “You can create depth and visual interest by stacking different sizes and shapes of plates,” says Kalina Todorova, visual merchandising manager at BoConcept. First, set down your large dinner plate, then place a salad or dessert plate on top. “You can even layer a linen napkin between the plates to add more dimension and detail,” she says. 

3. Embrace a mismatched tabletop.

Reframe your mindset about coordinating dinnerware. “Don’t let your guest list be limited by the number of matching china place settings you have,” says Dana Lewis, founder of Proper Table. “Mix and match your china with inexpensive white plates or borrow from a friend!” If you don’t have china, you can set the table with what you have — the less matchy-matchy, the better! 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Margaret Ward

4. Select colors to set the mood.

The colors you incorporate on your tabletop are entirely up to you and the vibe you’re going for. “Use rich, organic, and warm colors together to create a visual feeling of warmth and intimacy,” Todorova says. “Implement pieces created from shiny metals to cool things off and create balance throughout your tablescape,” she adds. Of course, classic neutrals are always a great option.

5. Bring in loads of texture.

Textural accents are crucial to a visually exciting tabletop. “Introduce textured decor like woven bread bowls, rattan pumpkins, and bamboo cutlery to add warmth, depth, and natural elements,” says Stephanie Perez, founder of Stephanie Perez Studio.

6. Experiment with napkin placement and style.

Think outside the box when laying down the napkins for each setting. Lewis suggests having a little fun with it. “Some of our favorite [placements] are a loosely tied knot, jauntily placed atop or aside the plate, or a neat rectangle fold with a place card atop, centered on the plate,” she says.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Margaret Ward

7. Don’t forget about napkin “garnishes.” 

There are many clever ways to add festive flair to each place setting. “Always tuck in a sprig, foliage, or an herb,” Lewis recommends. “Rosemary smells wonderful and feels seasonal during the holidays,” she says. Lewis also likes dehydrated citrus rounds, which she suggests dehydrating in early fall. “Store in an airtight container, and the slices will last all season to garnish tablescapes and cocktails,” she says. 

Another option: “Instantly dress up your dinner napkins by tying them with a velvet bow,” says Katie Armour Taylor, co-founder of Trudie. “Use a thinner ribbon for a more dainty approach or a wider ribbon to make a lavish statement. Taylor adds that the velvet is perfect for the holidays, as it brings “a pop of color and luxe texture.”

8. Embrace candlelight.

A well-styled tablescape isn’t complete without some lit candles. “The flicker keeps things cozy, and your guests will appreciate the flattering glow,” Taylor says. “Vary the heights of your candles (tall tapers mixed among low tea lights) for the prettiest glow.” 

9. Match your candles to your dinnerware.

To make even more of an impact, coordinate your candles with your place settings. The options are endless, says Joanna Buchanan, founder of the eponymous home brand: “Do blue and white tapers to match blue and white china, striped candles to match striped plates, floral shaped candles to match any floral patterns [and so on],” she says. 

10. Think about guests when displaying florals and candles.

“Hosts often forget to consider what will be at their guests’ eye levels,” Dedeker says. A good host always prioritizes their guests’ comfort, and that should include ensuring everyone can easily interact with and see one another while sitting at the table. “When adding florals to your table, ensure they are either low-hanging or thin,” Dedeker says. She enjoys cutting a variety of florals for shorter arrangements, including poppies, ranunculus, peonies, and tulips. Her favorite thin florals include budding branches, berry branches, or willow branches.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Margaret Ward

11. Hand-write your place cards.

Add instant appeal to any tabletop with this sentimental touch. “This is a no-brainer if you’re a talented calligrapher,” Taylor says. “It’s , and guests will find the gesture thoughtful and charming.”

12. Let your decor pull double duty.

Allow your decorations to play a functional role on the table. “For autumn get-togethers, use a paint pen to write guests’ names on small white gourds, and when the weather turns wintery, use a found pinecone to prop a handwritten place card or personalize inexpensive Christmas decorations at each place,” Lewis offers.

13. Be mindful of left-handed guests.

Place guests you know are left-handed at a left-hand corner or the end of the table so they can cut their food comfortably. No one wants to be rubbing elbows mid-dinner! 

14. Add pops of sparkle.

“During the holidays, you need tons of sparkle because it makes everything that much more celebratory,” Buchanan says. She suggests purchasing jeweled napkin rings and place card holders to add a bit of bling to the tabletop. 

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Margaret Ward

15. Shop your own home or yard.

“Some of our favorite tablescapes incorporate general household items or things that hosts pull from their pantry,” Dedeker says. “Fresh fruit from the fridge, pinecones from the backyard, and artichokes in a bowl are just a few of the beautifully understated table decor choices we’ve seen recently,” she shares. 

Kat Jamieson, author of the lifestyle book Blended, uses seasonal fruits or vegetables. “Whether it be scattered in between each vase or used as a place card holder, it adds dimension to the table,” she says, noting that she likes to incorporate pomegranates, white pumpkins, or colorful gourds.

Ami McKay, president and principal interior designer at PURE Design, loves bringing the outdoors in for the design. “I find foliage, berries, branches, florals, and leaves or whatever is seasonal at the time outside and start with these items as inspiration,” she says. She suggests incorporating them into your tablescape by laying branches on the table or displaying them in vases. 

16. Stock up on potted plants to display. 

Opt for something green that will last all season long, no matter how many parties you’ll be hosting; Lewis is partial to topiaries, in particular. “When you’re expecting guests, it’s easy to complement your potted plants with small bud vases of seasonal blooms or branches,” she says.

17. Take it outside (if you can).

If you live in a warm-weather locale and will be hosting your holiday celebrations outdoors, consider choosing restaurant-style rechargeable table lamps instead of candles to allow for an even better-lit tabletop. There are many stylish picks on the market that you’ll be excited to incorporate into your table design.

Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe ; Prop Stylist: Margaret Ward

18. Avoid excess glassware.

Rather than presenting guests with multiple drinking vessels, take beverage orders first and return with the appropriate glassware (e.g., a Champagne flute, red wine glass, or a coupe for a signature cocktail). This prep work ensures the tabletop isn’t cluttered and prevents accidental glass breakage! Alternatively, select one style of glass that can easily accommodate all types of drinks. 

19. Keep salt and pepper accessible.

Place jars of salt and pepper on the table so guests can season with these spices throughout the evening. If you wish, break out some seasonal shakers — we’ve come across cute sets shaped like pumpkins, mushrooms, squirrels, and more. 

20. Add a finishing touch to keep guests cozy.

With your creative juices flowing, complete your tablescape with something memorable for your guests. Let the outdoor temps shape your approach, Perez suggests. “In the winter, drape throws on the backs of chairs to let guests know that you’re keeping their comfort top of mind,” she says. Soft sheepskin is an excellent pick!

Make holiday entertaining less frantic and more fun with our guide to the best hosting hacks and tips. This content was presented by a sponsor; it was created independently by our editorial team.