The Christmas Dinner Party Tick List — 8 Table Decor Ideas Design Experts Think Are 'Non-Negotiables'

Looking to hone your hosting skills this festive season? People who have perfected Christmas dining have these 8 things on their tables

A Christmas table curated by Broste
(Image credit: Broste Copenhagen)

If there is any time to up the ante with your dining table decor, it's Christmas. Going the extra mile with your tablescaping is a surefire way to foster a party atmosphere and is guaranteed to get your guests into the festive spirit.

There are endless ways to dress your holiday table, from a minimalist approach that feels calming and pared back, to the more eclectic vision for your dining room table that embraces a traditional green and red color palette. Regardless of the style you opt for in your dining room this Christmas, there are certain essentials that the tablescape experts agree are non-negotiable. To help you with your dinner party tick list, we've narrowed them down to 8.

1. Personalize your tablescape with place names

A Christmas tablescape with place names

(Image credit: west elm)

‘Create artfully created place cards and thoughtfully arrange them for a most interesting evening,’ says luxury tablescaping expert and linens designer, Liz Barbatelli. Place names might seem simple, and even unnecessary if you're hosting a small selection of friends, but it's a detail goes a long way.

Place names are a wonderful example of a tablescape addition that reduces the decisions your guests have to make, helping to create an easygoing and relaxed atmosphere. ‘They're strategic,’ say Nikki Reed and Staci Inspektor from Atelier Saucier. ’A premeditated seating arrangement can be the key to curating great conversation and minimal drama at the table.’

If you have the time, sites like Etsy are a good go-to resource for a personalized place name, but Christmas is also a time to embrace your inner creativity, so try your hand at calligraphy with handwritten place cards, accessorized with a sprig of holly.

If you're homemade placenames have unlocked a creative bone in your body and you're keen to give something else a go, I also love the dining table trend for handwritten menus. Even if you're at home and sat around the same old dinner table, a menu gives a sense of occasion that goes a long way to make guests feel special.

2. Think about the centerpiece

A Christmas centerpiece

(Image credit: Broste Copenhagen)

If you have the space, a Christmas table centerpiece provides an elegant focal point. While centerpieces aren't ideal for long, narrow tables, a centerpiece works wonders for round tables, providing a natural focal point.

Centerpieces are all about height, and the way to give your centerpiece the most focus is to elevate it. A large candelabra could be a great option, or perhaps a collection of candles in the center. If you have time, wrapping a few brown boxes in wrapping paper and stacking them in a pyramid shape might be a cute addition.

If you lack the space, think outside the box and try a centerpiece cascading down from a light fixture. If you are sitting below a pendant light, consider dangling ornaments from the fixture or wrapping the lighting fixture in your foraged foliage for an enchanting wintry wonderland look.

3. Layer your linens

A Christmas tablescape with layered linens

(Image credit: fermLIVING)

Your tablecloth and linens are key to any good tablescape. Ahead of time, think about the linens you'll be using and make sure the materials go together. Think beautiful velvets layered with soft cottons or linen upon linen. 'Beautiful table linens that complement the surrounding décor and dinnerware are so important,' says Liz. 'Whether a luxurious, hand-embroidered tablecloth or a set of distinctive placemats and linen napkins, this is what truly makes a holiday dining table sing.'

Think about your dining room colors too and pick tones that don't overwhelm the tablescape. If your Christmas decor is jewel-toned and indulgent, think deep plums, and forest greens, and pair with gold taper candlesticks for a glamorous setting. For a more minimalist look, think layered neutrals with sprigs of holly, ivy, and evergreens laid over a table runner.

Don't forget your napkin too - go fabric for that extra plush look and thread them through a napkin ring to be set on your guest's dinner plate. This might be another opportunity to get crafty too, and learning how to fold your napkin into a Christmas tree could be the party piece for your dining table.

4. Add height with taper candles

A colorful tablescape with taper candles

(Image credit: Lisa Corti)

Lighting is essential for any good dinner party. ‘Part of hosting is creating a memorable experience for your guests,’ says Chelsea Thowe, lead designer at Forge & Bow. ‘The food and drinks are usually a staple at events, however adding soft, layered dining room lighting like lamps, string lights, and candlelight adds a comforting glow.’

Contributing to a warming and cozy atmosphere with their flickering flames, candles are the ultimate addition and are as practical as they are aesthetically beautiful. A mismatch of candlestick holders and candle colors makes your tablescape feel bold and colorful, and a great choice if you don't have enough matching holders, while metallic holders contribute to bouncing light around the table.

‘Candlesticks are another way to add height to the table without taking up too much space,’ adds Lily Barfield of Lily’s Vintage Finds. ‘Lighting the tapered candles brings the full look together to get that magical holiday glow.’

Make sure your candles are unscented to avoid any floral aromas wafting over your food and be sure to keep an eye on the dripping wax. If you do get wax on your lovely linens, ironing it off onto grease-proof paper is the best way to remove stains.

Also, watch out for any flammable table decor or garden branches that could create a bit of a fire hazard - particularly towards the end of the evening when you're a few sherries in.

5. Weave natural greenery and flora along your table

A festive garland on a Christmas table

(Image credit: Matti Gresham. Design: Urbanology Designs)

Fresh garlands made up of greenery you've foraged from your backyard make for brilliant Christmas table decor. Lay out your table runner and weave a few evergreen branches or fir along your table, winding its way up candlesticks or creating a bed in the center for the Turkey centerpiece to sit on. However you use greenery on the table, it's bound to look beautiful and is something I rely on year after year. A great tip is to make sure you've stocked up on garden wire so you can affix pieces to each other and keep them firmly in place.

‘A few gorgeous stems scattered around the table in bud vases can go a long way too,’ add Nikki and Staci. ‘Try to keep most of your floral arrangements in smaller bud vases so guests can see one another and converse with ease across the table,' they advise.

6. Remember to carefully curate dinnerware

A Christmas table with festive crockery

(Image credit: west elm)

Dinnerware is an important part of the table decor too. While it is practical, it is all part of the finished aesthetic. We suggest going above and beyond with china or dinner sets. 'To get the most out of your space during the holidays, bring out your best dinnerware sets and most stylish accessories and serving pieces that you aren’t using every day,' says Amy Youngblood, owner and principal designer, of Amy Youngblood Interiors.

Large decorative serving platters for pre-serving in the kitchen can be a great space-saving technique for the dining room table too, not to mention the fact that they look great. Go for a uniform approach or mix and match with crockery that is deliberately clashing for a bit more festive joy. 'For my china, I like to alternate two different sets to break up settings and make it feel more interesting,' says Alexandra Killion of Alexandra Killion Interiors.

7. Set the table with well-placed cutlery

A set dinner table with cutlery laid out in a traditional fashion

(Image credit: Lisa Corti)

Cutlery is another more practical item that still serves a decorative purpose. Consider the basic table setting rules when putting your table together - well-laid cutlery can add an extra level of formality to your tablescape. If you can, pick cutlery that matches (mix-and-match cutlery doesn't have the same charm to it as mix-and-match plates).

Traditionally, cutlery should be ordered starting from the outside and working inwards. So your starter cutlery should be placed outside of your main course knife and fork. Keep your knives on the right, and forks on the left. The dessert spoon should be placed above the plate, and pay close attention to the way the bowl of your spoon faces and the blades of your knives, which should all face toward the center of the plate. Before your guests arrive, take care to straighten all cutlery for a neat, finished look.

8. Remember the finishing touches

A Christmas table with bowls of ornaments

(Image credit: Lily's Vintage Finds)

Finally, the best Christmas tables are all about the finishing touches. Aside from your greenery weaved down the table, those small ornaments or homemade embellishments make all the difference and bring the space to life.

It could be as small as tied bows on your Christmas candles or small ornaments peppered along your table. 'This year I added oranges with cloves on our table too,' says Alexandra. 'This warm color complemented all the greenery, and the cloves and orange mix creates a fabulous festive scent.'

Ornaments are a good go-to if you're lacking last-minute inspiration, so steal a few of your Christmas tree and place them carefully around the table. Lily of Lily's Vintage Finds collects vintage sterling compotes and uses them to display collections for holiday tablescapes. 'At Christmas time, I love filling these bowls up with ornaments. It adds a festive touch while keeping the decor lifted off the actual table. That way, there is more room for crystal glassware, florals and food.'

3 Buys For the Dream Christmas Tablescape

Oonagh Turner
Livingetc content editor and design expert

Oonagh is a content editor at and an expert at spotting the interior trends that are making waves in the design world. Writing a mix of everything and everything from home tours to news, long-form features to design idea pieces on the website, as well as frequently featured in the monthly print magazine, she's the go-to for design advice in the home. Previously, she worked on a London property title, producing long-read interiors features, style pages and conducting interviews with a range of famous faces from the UK interiors scene, from Kit Kemp to Robert Kime. In doing so, she has developed a keen interest in London's historical architecture and the city's distinct tastemakers paving the way in the world of interiors.