Camille Styles is the founder and creative director of lifestyle and entertaining blog CamilleStyles.com, as well as the author of Camille Styles Entertaining, a book that inspires readers through the seasons with ideas for life's big celebrations. Here, the Austin, Texas-based lifestyle expert shares her top tips for throwing a fabulous first Thanksgiving dinner.
My husband and I have been hosting Thanksgiving for both sides of our family since the first year we got married. Though we've had our share of hiccups (from faulty plumbing to a fried turkey that burnt to a crisp), each year gets a little more seamless, and yes, delicious. If you'll be taking on hosting duties this year, never fear: I've made all the mistakes first, so that you don't have to. Here are my favorite ways to honor tradition, put a fresh twist on the big meal, and avoid any disasters in the process.
1. Create a turkey-day timeline.
There's only one way to ensure a stress-free and seamless Thanksgiving: detailed, down-to-the-minute planning. Create a timeline counting down the 24 hours before mealtime, listing exactly when all menu items should be prepared. Then put that list on the refrigerator door and follow it to the letter.
2. Create "zones" in your space devoted to specific activities.
Before guests arrive, designate a spot for coats and purses, a place for younger kids to play, and a self-serve bar that's separate from the food so that guests flow throughout the room and maximize available space.
3. Rethink your furniture arrangement to create more space.
So your four-person kitchen table won't fit all the friends and family you'd like to seat for the feast? Consider moving the dining table into the living room, and extending it with folding tables that you can line up end-to-end and cover with a pretty autumnal tablecloth.
4. Include a couple of menu items that can be served at room temperature so that you're not scrambling to get every single item out at once.
I'll make an appetizer like a cheese and meat board that can sit out unattended for a a while during cocktail hour. Sides like a brussels sprouts salad and cranberry sauce are delicious at room temperature, so you can put those out first while you slice the turkey and keep the sweet potatoes warm in the oven.
5. Try out an unexpected color palette.
In lieu of the more traditional autumnal oranges and browns, I like using a palette of indigo, earthy wood, organic greens and white. Then, to create a unified design, I'll use table linens, dishes, serving pieces and flowers that fit into that color family. Sticking within a limited palette is the quickest way to make a major visual impact while keeping the details simple!
6. Think beyond the floral centerpiece.
In the fall, I love to forage for beautiful leaves and interesting berries or acorns to incorporate into a centerpiece. Pomegranates, winter squash and pears also make unexpected additions to the table and are a modern spin on the iconic image of an abundant cornucopia.
7. Incorporate tradition in new ways.
Since Thanksgiving is all about tradition, I love to honor the past by incorporating family heirlooms or treasured antiques on the table. I'll add a metallic glint with my mom's vintage brass candlesticks that add a bit of polish to the otherwise natural centerpiece.
5. Serve food buffet-style.
Although I love a family style meal where big platters are passed around the table and shared, Thanksgiving is a day when I usually set up a buffet near the dining table. When a menu calls for more than three items, it's nice to move everything off the table so that things don't feel too crowded.
9. Ask for help.
The holidays are a great time to enlist the help of family and friends and ask everyone to contribute one of their favorite dishes to the meal. I have everyone "sign up" in advance so I can make sure we've got all the bases covered and there's not too much overlap (or you might end up with three pumpkin pies!)
10. Don't strive for perfection.
This is a holiday that's about counting our blessings, so ditch the pressure, stress, and unrealistic expectations, and instead embrace an attitude that puts the focus back on having fun and creating great memories with the people you care about.