5 'Unexpected Yet Festive' Tips Designers Use to Create the Perfect Holiday Tablescape

Worried about hosting? With this expert advice from designers your dining table will have that little extra holiday sparkle in no time

A dining table with modern christmas decor next to a christmas tree
(Image credit: Getty Images / miniseries)

Some might say the food is the most important part of your holiday dinner ... but we here at Livingetc are of a different mind. In our world, the tablescape — i.e. the arrangement and styling of bowls, plates, and serveware — reigns supreme. It's more than just function; your table is a reflection of your style and sense of design. It's where you serve and share and bring together. To forgo personalization and customization is to miss an opportunity to sharpen your design acumen.

That said, a holiday season tablescape might look a bit different than one for the other 11 months of the year; there is more to consider (how many people are you hosting? are you making and serving a turkey? how festive is your family?), meaning you might be in the market for some overarching advice our guidelines to follow. To help you get the festive lowdown, Livingetc spoke to two design and brand experts for more on their best tips and tricks for creating the perfect holiday tablescape. Some of these recommendations are from retailers straight off our list of where to buy Christmas decorations round-up, which you should check out right after this.

1. Use what you already have in your home

Your holiday collection — and backyard — might just be your best friend when it comes to building your festive tablescape. For example, Frankfort Candle Co. founder Melissa Knieriem, whose background is in interior design, recommends decorating your dining table or kitchen counter with rustic items you might already have on hand, like branches, ornaments, and other vintage decor. Said Melissa: "[A] collection of colorful ornaments in a simple glass vase, surrounded by fresh garland or a wreath would be a beautiful and easy way to adorn your dining table."

2. Keep it timeless

Trends come and go, but good design is forever. If you can, lean into simplicity and time-tested pieces when building your holiday tablescape to make things even easier for yourself as a host. "While welcoming friends and family into your home captures the season's essence, the idea of hosting and decorating is understandably a little daunting," said Jennifer Verruto, founder and CEO of Blythe Interiors. "We recommend creating a simple, elegant tablescape that is appropriate and timeless. By subtly reimagining timeless elements, you can infuse a sense of freshness and excitement into your spaces."

That said, you needn't stick with traditional colors like bright reds and greens just because they've stuck around this long. In recent years, many design enthusiasts are instead "embracing a tone-on-tone look that is more neutral, natural and subdued," Jennifer went on. "Don’t get us wrong, we adore the classic symbols and colors that embody the holiday season, but the magic lies in the small, thoughtful tweaks that breathe new life into our cherished traditions!"

For her table, Jennifer will be embracing "blush pinks, shades of soft greens, winter whites, and pops of gold," she said, while Melissa will throw together "vintage pink and green glass trees with metallic branches, all surrounded by fresh evergreen fronds in the center of the table." 

3. Select the right table linens

Tablecloths and linens not only protect your table, but they serve as the backdrop against which your dishware, flatware, and more will lay. You'll want to choose carefully; how, combined with the aforementioned pieces, can you create that clean but festive look?

"We love a cotton or stonewashed linen table linen," said Jennifer, "and gold flatware gives an unexpected yet festive pop of sparkle."

"Tablecloths are wonderful because they not only look nice, but they protect your tables and become a giant dust pan at the end of the night, holding the crumbs and bits that have fallen from plates," added Kate Pauley, founder of Create Dinners, a dinner party venture, and Peerspace Partner. "Funnel those throwaways in the trash and pop the tablecloth right into the wash."

4. Add in light

Candles are an absolute must-have for a festive holiday tablescape, said Melissa. If you'd like to pay homage to loved ones, perhaps you'll opt for candles with a more vintage edge; but if you want a sleeker, more on-trend set-up, taper candles in festive candle holders are the way to go.

5. Look for multi-use pieces

Off the back of Jennifer's suggestion to look for timeless yet reimagined elements to feature in your tablescape, Kate recommends using serveware that can also pass as decor. That way, you're building the table as you serve your food, not destroying a set-up you previously created.

"Try choosing bowls, water pitchers and larger serving vessels that serve multiple purposes or pass as a sculpture," she said. Water pitchers, for example, "make for excellent vases for table centerpieces."

Style Editor

Brigid Kennedy is a Style Editor at Livingetc.com, where she is responsible for obsessively combing the internet for the best and most stylish deals on home decor and more. She was previously a story editor at TheWeek.com, where she covered both U.S. politics and culture. She describes her design style as colorful and clean, and in her free time enjoys reading, watching movies, and curating impossibly niche playlists on Spotify. She lives in New York.