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Best-Ever Thanksgiving Table Settings

A Step-by-Step Guide For Holiday Hosts

For many, planning the Thanksgiving menu usually involves a healthy dose of family tradition, a long checklist, multiple trips to the grocery store and farmers market in search of the ‘perfect’ turkey and ingredients for must-have side dishes, and for dessert, pumpkin and pecan pies with mounds of whipped cream. We may plan every last detail of the meal – often many days in advance – but give little thought or time to the table where family and friends will gather to enjoy our carefully orchestrated feast.

Do you wish – just once – that your holiday dining table looked like the ones you see in magazines? Well, I’m here to help! I’ve deconstructed a gorgeous Thanksgiving table setting I created in our 1890’s Colorado cabin and divided it into four easy steps any host can follow.

Any room can be welcoming and beautiful. Our cabin presented a completely blank slate – unadorned, rustic log walls, a plywood floor painted a neutral tone with a band of dark green near the edges, and a brushed metal chandelier with no electrical power currently available. But, the room is cozy, the substantial wood table and chairs beg to be surrounded by family and friends, and the casual bookcase along the back wall provides added interest. With the help of decorative accessories I’ve had for years, casual ironstone dinnerware in seasonal colors, and luscious, but inexpensive fabrics and linens, I transformed this very rustic setting into a beautiful dining room to celebrate Thanksgiving. So, let’s do the same with your table!

Start With The Centerpiece

When I complete a table setting with a simple floral centerpiece, the flower arrangement is the last item I place on the table, but when I create a lush table setting featuring a variety of textures, levels and accessories, I’ve found it’s much easier to start with the centerpiece. That way, I can build layer upon layer in the center of the table without worrying about knocking over glassware or dropping bits and pieces of decorative material onto the place settings, particularly when working with natural items or those that shed glitter. The centerpiece pictured here begins with three squares of dark brown felt to protect the wood and anchor the decorative materials so they don’t slide on the table. Two 9-foot silk leaf garlands rest on top of the felt, providing a foundation and color scheme for everything that follows.

Add Decorative Layers

Once the autumn garlands are in place, add depth, color, and texture by incorporating pumpkins of various sizes, fruit, pinecones, additional leaves, large pillar candles in tall glass hurricanes, and seasonal placemats. Tiny pumpkins, readily found in supermarkets, rest on small glass coasters to prevent damage to the table’s wood surface.

Mix and Match Dinnerware

Tablescapes that most often elicit an appreciative gasp of surprise rarely feature matched china and crystal. Instead, blend dinner and glassware based on complementary colors, patterns, themes, shapes, sizes, and seasonality. For this Thanksgiving table, copper-colored chargers provide a rich background for heavy, rustic yellow ironstone dinner plates, paired with white porcelain soup bowls featuring a brown floral border and turkey pattern in the center. The copper chargers complement the placemats’ copper and yellow twist border and reflect the centerpiece’s coppery leaves. Ironstone plates ensure the table isn’t too formal or fussy, and the turkey bowls leave no mistake it’s Thanksgiving. Leaf-patterned napkins, secured with bronzy, metal oakleaf napkin rings, and heavy cut-crystal water glasses paired with delicate etched wine glasses edged in gold, add finishing touches to delight the eye.

Extend The Theme Throughout The Room

A buffet, china cabinet, or bookcase provide exciting opportunities to extend the decorative theme beyond the dining table, so take advantage of these surfaces if you have them. In the cabin, the large, square mirror above the glass buffet reflects light from the tall candlesticks – an important asset when there’s no electrical power! Several garlands of silk leaves are layered across the back edge of the buffet next to the wall, setting the stage for a luxurious sense of bounty. A wooden tray echoes the rustic cabin theme and provides an attractive gathering spot for turkey, pumpkin, and spicy candle decorative accents. Dessert plates with a woodsy theme await decadent slices of pumpkin pie, pumpkin swirl cheesecake, and pecan pie – the perfect ending to a memorable Thanksgiving celebration in the cabin.

Happy Thanksgiving!