How To Style Your Holiday Table

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The holidays begin and end at the table. That's why we decided to bring in a true expert to walk us through the essentials of how to style your table, just in time for Thanksgiving. Tricia Foley is more than just the principal of New York's Tricia Foley Design, but the talented designer behind the gorgeous new book, Life|Style: Elegant Simplicity at Home. Packed with beautiful photographs and inspired by the 18th century Long Island farmhouse Tricia recently restored, the book is a lesson in the power of simple rustic furnishings, clean lines, and natural materials. 

We sat down with Tricia to learn more about creating an artful holiday tablescape. Read on for her own personal tips and tricks, enjoy a few of the captivating visuals from her book, and find out how you can take home an autographed copy for even more design inspiration.

How would you describe your tablescape style? Do you have a favorite look? 

I love using natural materials and also keep a “wardrobe” of tabletop pieces on hand. Sometimes, it’s one large white buffet plate, sometimes lots of small plates and bowls for a modular meal. I don’t follow the typical 5-piece place setting style! I think the tablescape should be an extension of one’s personal style, so I always have a mix of new pottery, handblown glass and wood boards, mixed with antique linens and something from nature.

Let's start with the centerpiece. What do you recommend this holiday season? 

Candlelight at this time of year is important to me, and this is when I bring out lots of crystal and silver for sparkle. I also plant wood trays and glass cylinders of bulbs with moss, and enjoy them for weeks, not just a few days as with cut flowers. It’s fun to see paperwhites and amaryllis growing and blossoming throughout the season.

Can you share any easy centerpiece ideas that don't involve fresh flowers? 

I always have something seasonal on the table, from shells in summer to bulbs in spring, white pumpkins in fall, branches or flowering bulbs for the holidays… I’m lucky to be living out in the country now, and can just go outside to snip a few boxwood leaves or black privet berries, or even holly for tying up napkins or tucking into vases. I love bringing a bit of the outdoors in. If fresh herbs are available, small bouquets tied with string or in a bud vase add a touch of green, and can be snipped or torn to flavor the food. I also like to arrange vases, bowls, and bottles in a still-life. And candles are really important for setting the mood. I have a lot of recycled clear wine bottles that I use for water and to put candles in to run down the table. Glass cylinders of all sizes are used for everything from breadsticks to flowers to candles or sea salt.

And for those who want to go the floral route, what are your favorite stems? 

White tulips, amaryllis and paperwhites always say Christmas to me - especially with greens and branches with berries. What are some of the other key components of a well-styled table? I use soft linen or cotton napkins that don’t slide off your lap or leave lint. They are easy to use, and easy to wash. I also collect small bowls and dishes to use for salts and peppers, herbs, lemon wedges and olive oils. They look great and it’s nice for guests to season their food beyond the typical salt and pepper shaker set.

In your opinion, what's the single most important element of any holiday table? 

Good company and a relaxed setting. I like to welcome people with a drink and then tell them to make themselves at home and help themselves.

Do you have any rules when it comes to styling a holiday table? 

I really enjoy setting the table, and always like to have some element of surprise or whimsy…and it is usually family-style, so everyone gets to pass things around and help. Once the menu is established, it falls into place in terms of the things needed for the meal to make sense: easy to serve, easy for people to reach what they need. I never use scented candles at the table, although it’s nice to use them in the living room and powder room.

I usually have people gather in the kitchen with hors d’oeuvres or an antipasto platter and drinks so that people can mingle and get in the mood, then move on to the dining table, which is candlelit and gives the evening a sense of occasion.

At your house, what comes first: the holiday menu or the tablescape decor theme? 

I think they come together. The serving pieces needed for different foods tend to dictate the way it will all mesh.I love themes, and tend to do simple natural foods like stacks of quesadillas, salsas and salads, or grilled pizzas, pastas or a roasted chicken. Stacks of old wood breadboards and baskets for breads, pottery bowls for sauces are all mixed in and work together.

How are you planning to style your holiday table this year? 

I have a casual family supper on Christmas Eve and use a lot of vintage red and white checked cloths for the table, napkins, and basket liners. I use jugs of red berries with greenery, and carafes of wine and water. I will also have a holiday lunch for friends which will be all white and crystal with natural wood and white flowers.

If you could share one piece of advice with folks preparing to host their family and friends for the holidays this year, what would it be? 

Create a plan for entertaining, make a list of what needs polishing and ironing, groceries to stock up on…and work on things a week or more in advance. Shop along the way for wine and waters, crackers, olives and cheeses, etc. Set the table a day in advance and stage what you can, then say yes when anyone offers their help. Having some things done in advance makes it less stressful and more enjoyable when it’s showtime!

See Tricia's design sensibility in action by picking up a copy of Life|Style, available through Rizzoli New York.

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