Setting a Festive Table

Designers from throughout the region share their inspirations.

In 2014, Beatrice’s Birthday by Cynthia Clark of Cynthia Clark Interiors in Hampton combined elegant design with organic materials, and featured pieces from Clark’s personal collection of American and Italian majolica pottery.

One area of the home deserves special attention, as it’s the one spot where friends and family are most likely to gather: your dining table. Whether set for two or twelve, your table offers unlimited possibilities for creative celebrations. Best of all, inspiration is all around, including at October’s Tablescapes event in Portsmouth.

“It’s a special event when friends and family visit,” says wedding planner and designer Leander Matos of The I Do Scene and one of this year’s Tablescapes designers. “Let that fuel your inspiration.”

Whether you are hosting a family get-together for the first time, or are a seasoned host or hostess, here are suggestions for making your table stand out.

Dinner at the Camp by Anne Cowenhoven of Accent & Design, Inc. in York, Maine, was all about rustic elegance in 2014; bold fish-patterned fabric plays off fish accessories, including lures and rods. Table and chairs were from American Traditions in Hampton Falls.

Start with the basics

Regardless of your personal style, start with the basics: layer your table and pay attention to details such as place settings, centerpieces, lighting, color and accents.

Dana Markos of Dana Markos Events in Ipswich and Boston, Massachusetts, believes proper place settings—forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right, two distinct wine glasses (depending upon the food being served) and individual water glasses—are important. “A well-designed table makes guests feel comfortable and gives a good first impression,” says Markos, who is writing a book on the subject. “It tells your guests they’re welcome in your house.”

The size and shape of your table also lends itself to conviviality. Round tables allow for easy conversation; rectangular tables represent a family-style gathering.

Pick a theme

Decide on the look and feel you want to achieve. Choosing a theme for your table will jump-start your creativity and guest conversations. A theme pulls everything together, sets a tone and lets guests know what to expect. Markos created a Nordic-inspired holiday table for a 2014 Tablescapes event, incorporating accents such as reindeer antlers, wooden bowls, birch votives, even a wool rug as a table runner. “Anything today really goes,” he says. “Have fun with your table. You can build a theme around your food by researching its cultural origins, and using them to inspire your colors or decorations.”

Into the Woodlands by Valerie Jorgensen of V. Jorgensen Design of Wells, Maine, brought nature to the table. This 2014 Best in Show winner combined organic touches, such as moss, branches and plants with hand-crafted, fused-glass dinnerware by Hope Murphy of Fuzing Glass in South Berwick, Maine.

Once you pick a theme, create a list of what you need. Event planner Astrid Ortiz of Kidz Wishing Well in Salem, starts out with a plan (including colors), then creates a guest list so she can incorporate special details, such as festive favors for children. She will even sketch her table in advance, “just so I know where to put things.”

Ortiz also likes music to create ambiance. “I ask my guests to send me three to four songs they like, and I create a customized play list,” she says.

Use what you have, indoors and out

Bringing creativity to the table can be as simple as walking through your house or around your yard. From mixing and matching candleholders to cutting grasses or gathering evergreen boughs, use what you already have to accent your table.

“Walk around your yard and look for what’s beautiful,” Matos suggests. “Pine tree boughs can make a beautiful table garland for the holiday season. For the fall, I love incorporating white pumpkins and interesting gourds you can find at local farmers’ markets.”

Ortiz collects branches and other items from nature for her centerpieces. She also peruses flea markets and yard sales. “I spray-paint pieces to get the look I want,” she says. “I’ll also wrap items in burlap or woven material for a unique look.”

Make a statement

Go for the unexpected. Group seasonal objects, such as nutcrackers of different sizes, for a centerpiece; decorate a chandelier with greenery and ornaments; or mix and match candlesticks of different heights. Michael Englehardt of Ethan Allan in Portsmouth once created a natural table runner out of magnolia leaves and pomegranates.

He also creates different textures and colors in his tablescapes. “I like to mix metallics; fabrics such as silk; and ornaments for more dimension,” Englehardt says. “I’ve also used gingerbread men as place cards with guests’ names on each.”

Centerpieces don’t need to be florals. Englehardt spray-paints tree branches, places them in a heavy vase and hangs small ornaments on them, creating a unique focal point on the table.

China and crystal—always in style

The holidays are the perfect time to showcase good dishes and glassware. Using your mother’s fine china or your grandmother’s crystal is one a way to share family traditions and make your guests feel special. Markos believes that there’s increased interest in formal place settings and entertaining due to the popular public-television series Downton Abbey. “I think it really brought back the era of fine entertaining,” he says. “There were certain features at the table that were important to the time period and people now are fascinated. It really creates an experience for your guests.”

You can also add color by using chargers, placemats or something unexpected underneath your dishes.

Despite the hustle-bustle during this time of year, it’s important to relax and have fun. “Put your heart into your entertaining,” Matos says. “Your friends and family are going to remember the connection you created around the table. Let that inspire you.”

Dana Markos of Dana Markos Events of Ipswichand Boston, Massachusetts, was inspired by trips to Iceland and Scandinavian culture to design A Nordic Winter, his tablescape that contrasts icy winter tones with warm furs, candlelight and natural wood.

People’s Choice winner, The Captain’s Table, was created by Susan Riffert of the Atlantic Grill in Rye and Kim Cady of Ambrosia Gardens in Portsmouth. Scattered shells, place settings in soft blues and greens, and sparkling accents capture the romance of dining by the sea.

Inspired Tabletops with International Flair

Tablescapes 2014 designers included, from left to right, front row, Valerie Jorgensen, Betsy Scott, Rebecca Burke, Jayne Ballard, Astrid Ortiz and Jeffrey Hart. Middle row: Cynthia Clark, Elizabeth Abernathy, Susan Riffert, Leander Matos, Jeanne Hayes, Aimee Maher, Anna Hardy, Ellen Foord and Amy Dutton. Back row: Susan Labrie, Olivia Korpi, Erin Gardner, Chad Callihan, Bill Humphreys, Anne Cowenhoven, Michael Englehardt and Laura Malloy.

October 7-9

Tablescapes Around the World

From a romantic Parisian bistro to a serene Japanese teahouse, tabletop artistry is on display at this fundraiser for Arts in Reach, a Portsmouth-based nonprofit that provides mentoring and arts programs for at-risk teen girls. New Hampshire Home is one of the sponsors of this year’s event, which features more than ten designers creating tablescapes with international themes. Activities throughout the weekend include workshops on food, design and entertaining. An opening party on Saturday, October 8, features international cuisine, beverages, a multicultural live entertainment and a live auction.

Tickets are $60. A complete schedule of events and times is available online.

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Categories: Architecture and Interiors, Artwork and Design