It’s that time of year when if you aren’t usually a person who does it big, you might just want to make the effort to set a beautiful and lavish table.
I’m more of a casual host and prefer to arrange nibbles on stations throughout my loft rather than have a big sit down table setting.
Partly, because it’s the lay of the land here. I have a very open floor plan with my kitchen and breakfast bar that is part of our living space. Oh yes, and I have a glass scalene triangle-shaped dining table hich is beautiful to look at but can get awkward for setting with more than 6 guests.
But I wanted to think BIG and lavish this season.
Brad is also one of the featured Bonus Experts in my C’est Chic Crash Course where you can join us discussing living in chic style as one of the 40+ videos in my premiere 8-week style mentoring program that teaches you all you need to know to look pulled together and chic. —S.H.
The Decisive Guide On How To Set A Beautiful Table: Holiday Style tips for very Chic Dinner that won’t break the bank for the Holidays Or Any Day!
I’m often asked what makes a great dinner party. I always answer that any great dinner party takes planning, from the seating arrangements, to the table decor, to the menu. I have traveled the world for many years on various, different, and wonderful jobs, and I’m very blessed to have collected beautiful objects and glorious china patterns.
I first think of a theme that would fit the evening and layout the table decor.
My dining room seats fourteen. How did I arrive at that number? I think that’s the perfect number to still have intimate conversations. Setting the table for fourteen begins with mixing and matching different China patterns. Never be afraid to get playful with patterns! Once the chargers are set and the menu is planned, I know which plates (in order of the courses) to use.
All of the flatware is laid also according to the menu.
The stemware I mix and match according to how many courses and what wines are being severed. Then comes the flowers. My table is a long rectangle so I always do two arrangements to balance the table. Keep the arrangements loose and romantic, never tight and stuffy. You can also think outside the box, forgoing flowers and using green apples and cranberries floating in low cylindrical clear vases.
Next comes objects and treasures that I use to inspire the evening’s theme, whether I’m doing Moroccan or French or American. I always use a whimsical twist, from decorative monkeys, to blanc de chine Chinese figures inter-mixed with flowers and candles. It doesn’t have to be a kitschy holiday theme. In fact, I say avoid that cliche! Always make sure your arrangements are low enough not to block those across the table.
Candles need to be either very high or very low. Medium height candles will block the conversation!
Music is very important and sets the mood for the evening. Make sure you have preselected the evening’s music. There is nothing worse then a host getting up between a course to change the music and never play above a whisper. You don’t want your guest shouting across the table. Classical music works best for conversation.
A dinner should be like a finely choreographed dance, looking effortless!
When the table and theme is in place, you can plan the evenings events and menu. You always want to start with guests arriving to a warm inviting home. Appetizers can be plated or passed depending on how formal or casual your evening. Drinks should be offered. I have always found that this gives your guests a chance to meet and get to know each other before being seated for dinner. If possible, use only fresh juices for mixed drinks. A fun way to display them is in antique crystal decanters with small clear bowls for sliced lemons and limes placed on the bar.
The host or hostess should announce that dinner is served.
To avoid any confusion, I always do name cards placed at the head of each charger. This way, your guests will know exactly where you want them! If you are a couple hosting the dinner, always make sure you place yourselves at opposite ends of the the table. If you don’t have servers, decided which host should be seated closest to the kitchen for seamless serving of the courses.
During the holidays, I find that five courses work best.
It doesn’t have to be a classic turkey dinner with all the trimmings. In fact, it’s more fun to mix it up. One year I did a pizza theme with all different toppings. This year, I will start with a small appetizer, such as plated orange duck served with a glass of chilled white dry wine, and move on to a pumpkin soup, served with a light rose wine. The soup could be served inside actual small pumpkins – cutting the tops to use as a lid, with the stem as the handle for your guest to remove.
The main course can be a seared salmon or a tender beef filet, with brussel sprouts and a balsamic reduction. If beef is decided, I’d serve a full bodied red wine. Note: always make sure you have a vegetarian dish as a starter or main course. This is followed by the course of a delicate salad of baby arugula, pine-nuts, tangerine slices, pomegranate seeds with crumbed goat cheese, drizzled with a lemon, Dijon, and olive oil dressing. A lovely pear wine goes nicely with the salad. The final course, desert, is a warm apple tart served with champagne and mint tea.
Does this sound like a lot of work…not really!
Again, plan everything in advance. The soup can be prepared the day before, as well as the apple tart and the cold orange duck appetizer, leaving only the main course and the salad to be plated the night of your dinner.
Your wines and spirits should be preselected and chilled, and lined up in the order in which they are served. With all that delights the senses, your dinner should be a huge success, as long as you have planned your seating with the guest on the left and right being a good match for conversation.
Never seat spouses next to each other (it’s OK to seat them across from each other).
The final key is to be creative, with a beautiful table and atmosphere that your guests will remember. Make sure all the lights are on dimmers and that candles are on as many surfaces as possible. If you have a fireplace make sure you are well stocked with firewood to keep the embers burning throughout the evening. A three-hour dinner requires adding logs every half hour!
After desert allow your guests to get up from the table and mingle a bit with a night cap of a sweet liqueur.
During the holidays I always make up gift bags of a scented candle and a chocolate treat. Place the bags tied with beautiful Grosgrain ribbons on the entrance hall table for each guest to take as they leave. It is always a proper to makes sure your guests get home safely. If they are driving and have had a bit to much to drink, have a number of the local taxi services handy and help them into the car with directions being given to the driver. I always like to call to make sure all my guests are home and safe.
One last tip: to be truly chic, send out invitations by mail. The effort goes a long way and sets the tone for a very special evening. Entertaining doesn’t have to cost a fortune. If it’s well planned and using a little creativity with the objects already in your home, relax and have fun with it. Your guests will be at ease and so will you. After all, the holidays are about friends and family and lots of cheer. Let your spirits soar, and remember to be kind to others, not just during the holidays, but all year long!.
Happy Holidays from your Editor at Large,
If you want more holiday style tips, check out my free Holiday Style Guide.
Don’t forget to join me with Brad as one of the featured Bonus Experts in my C’est Chic Crash Course where you can join us discussing living in chic style as one of the 40+ videos in my premiere 8-week style mentoring program that teaches you all you need to know to look pulled together and chic.