8 Unexpected Ways to Set Your Table for the Holidays

Hint: think beyond the pine and the mistletoe

Updated 11/28/18


Now that the holidays are in full swing, it's time to start planning one of the best parts of the season: holiday entertaining. In addition to menu planning, specialty cocktail-crafting, tree trimming and other tried-and-true holiday traditions, the holiday table is the place where everyone is going to gather together. It's where you'll show off your newest cooking skills and catch up with old friends and family who you haven't seen for ages. In a season that's all about food, it's the epicenter.

If you're hosting a group of friends and family (or maybe even your new in-laws) for a special dinner, there are so many ways to approach setting the table so it feels warm and inviting. While we love the old-school red and green palette, sometimes the holiday cheer can get a little overwhelming at this time of year (just step into any department store and you'll know what we're talking about). The overload of Christmas-centric decor can also be somewhat alienating to some people of different faiths and traditions who might celebrate the season in a variety of other ways. And when it comes to greenery and florals, it can be nice to feature elements that are more native to your area (think succulents or citrus for warm-weathered climates).

A wintery palette, soft lighting, and a range of natural materials will make your table feel chic but still totally approachable. Don't be afraid to mix and match your china, try out unusual materials, and play with non-traditional hues like soft grays, deep blues, and rich purples. Add in some pretty linens, modern metallic flatware, and lush centerpieces and you'll be ready for an evening of merriment.

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Use Jewel Tones

David Prince

For a twist on the regular old red and green palette, try instead a mix of deep crimson, purple, or plum. This floral-and-vegetable centerpiece (can you spot the kale and tiny eggplants?) features a rich jewel-toned palette with touches of gold, silver and white. The result? A look that feels both elevated and abundant (just what you want for a special holiday table).

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Feature Woodland Greens in a Runner

Ryan Liebe

Swap out a traditional pine or holly centerpiece for a mix of flowing smilax, fern and other woodland materials. Paired with crisp white plates, flowy linens, and pops of gold, the look is clean and modern (and if fresh greens aren't available, realistic faux versions are a great alternative here).

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Go With a Neutral Palette

David Prince

A combination of soft grays, pale pink, cream and black feels super high end and sophisticated when used in a classic setting. Try using matching taper candles and a mix of translucent glassware in a range of sizes to make the overall look rich and layered.

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Make a Centerpiece out of Potted Plants

Ryan Liebe

For a fresh, sustainable table decor option, try placing a line of plants as a "runner" down your table. Think succulents (perfect if you want something that will stay fresh without a lot of watering) or hardy herbs like rosemary or thyme. Bonus: guests can take a little plant home as a favor at the end of the night!

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Use Soft Lighting

David Prince

Strategic lighting is a key factor in creating a tablescape that feels warm and inviting. Use indirect candlelight in several different places around the table, from tapers or votives nestled in with the centerpiece to a grand, hanging candelabra.

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Incorporate Seasonal Fruits and Scented Leaves

Ryan Liebe

Fresh bay leaves smell amazing and aren't too overpowering when used as a centerpiece on the table. Add in tiny kumquats or other winter citrus fruits for a pop of color.

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Play Up Texture in the Centerpiece

This dense, low arrangement of cyclamen flowers (a classic winter plant, usually seen in bright reds and pinks) feels totally modern and fresh when set within a traditional, monochromatic environment.

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Go With a Dark Background

Ryan Liebe

Add a twist to your tablescape and use a deep blue, smokey grey, or evergreen tone for the base table or linen. White and metallic accents will come alive against the dark hues, and the overall vibe will feel dramatic and wintery.

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