The Unexpected Detail Experts Say Will Take Your Holiday Tablescape To The Next Level

It’s sure to wow.

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For a lot of people, going the basic route in terms of holiday decor for dinner parties is totally fine. Nice plates on the table, some cloth napkins, and a few glasses of wine, and you’re set for your guests. But for those who want to go all out, things can get a little more complicated. You probably know this if you’ve ever studied a pro-level holiday tablescape closely — the detail is impeccable, and often very thought out. Regardless of how difficult it may be, though, it’s still tempting to try to recreate a setup worthy of experts at home. If that’s your goal this year, it’s probably not the best plan to go it alone. Rather, rely on some authorities on the topic to ensure you will truly wow your guests.

According to the professionals TZR spoke with about holiday tablescapes, it’s actually not quite as hard as it may seem to create a scene that will impress. In fact, there are just a few basic tips you can follow in this process — and they don’t require any decorating superpowers at all.

Before diving in, though, it’s important to take note of a couple of no-no’s to remember. Sophie and Kiki Weill, co-founders of Piano Piano, say that they always avoid tall florals and arrangements that don’t allow you to see or speak to the people sitting around you. “We also find that overcrowding the table with an excess amount of decorations and food doesn’t allow for guests to have the space to move around comfortably.” Additionally, Debra Zinn of Debra Zinn Styling shares that she would not include scented candles at a dinner party. (Their fragrances can interfere or clash with the smell of the food.)

Photo by Anna Routh Barzin / Courtesy of Debra Zinn Styling
Photo by Anna Routh Barzin / Courtesy of Debra Zinn Styling

Yet while there are many styling suggestions before and ahead, when it comes down to it, you should do you. “In the end, you have to be true to yourself and your own style, so if you love something and want to include it, so be it!” says Zinn.

Now — with a few rules and your *true* decorating personality in hand, you’re officially ready to create your best holiday tablescape ever. Continue on to find all the expert advice you’ll need.

Nail Your Basics

There are endless possibilities when it comes to the decor of your tablescape. But first, you need to make sure you have the basics to set things up for success.

Zinn says she always tries to add a beautiful tablecloth and napkins because “it sets the tone for the table's color, mood, and design.” The Weills, agree, sharing a suggestion. “We find that a textured tablecloth adds a nice level of dimension and a white or cream one is a classic.” Both experts also say they always include some sort of flower or greenery in every design.

If you want to get even more specific, HomeGoods Style Expert Jenny Reimold breaks things down further, offering her easy-to-follow guidelines. “I always follow a seven-step place setting when [creating] a tablescape, which serves as my foundation for tables throughout the year,” she tells TZR. Her setup is as follows:

1. One to two textured chargers

2. A classic, large hobnail plate for a foundation

3. A seasonal melamine or ceramic plate for color and style

4. A napkin placed between two plates

5. A coordinating salad plate

6. A small dish, bowl, or bread plate on top

7. A personalized topper as a final touch

Get Seasonal

To make your holiday tablescape look worthy of a pro, it’s important to add in seasonal touches. The Weills say, “This is the time of year to add classic holiday colors to the table, whether that be colorful plates, serveware, tablecloths, napkins and/or florals.” And Zinn says this is a great moment for non-traditional centerpieces that feel relevant to the season. “I have used giant sugared fruit bowls or a towering caramelized croquembouche in the middle of the table,” she recalls. “ I also love incorporating old-fashioned treats on the table, like bowls of chestnuts, persimmons, ribbon candy, and oranges with whole cloves pressed into them.”

Add Thoughtful (& Unexpected) Touches

Once you’ve got your foundation set and your holiday theme infused, it’s time to take your tablescape to that *next* level. According to the pros, this will come in the form of some truly thoughtful, and sometimes unexpected, touches.

For Zinn, this means adding pieces made by hand from artisans. “I love using beautiful vases or objects for the table that are a little quirky and not so perfect like a mass-made object would be,” she says. Margaret Schwartz, founder of Modern Antiquarian, suggests adding antique decor that goes beyond the holiday season. “Adorn the table with a collection of antique teapots or French apothecary jars,” she says — or, even “use outdoor table pieces, such as animal garden ornaments, urns, or planters, as table decorations.”

Make It Personal

Don’t forget — your tablescape is for your guests, so make sure to add in details that show you created it with them in mind. To do this, Zinn says she likes to “include candy or a special treat in a pretty box that doubles as a gift.” Reimold suggests creating DIY place holders for each person — for Thanksgiving, for example, she says you could write each guest’s name on a mini faux pumpkin in calligraphy for a personal touch. And Schwartz offers similar advice, providing a Christmas-themed example. “Go on the hunt for various vintage ornaments that fit the theme of your table design, get some gorgeous double-faced satin ribbon, and attach the name card to the ornament,” she says. “Then your guests will have a beautiful vintage ornament to add to their holiday decorations.”

Try A Trend

Though the word “trend” may sound intimidating in a tablescape setting, it can actually be a great way to show you know what you’re doing — since, you know, you’re clearly aware of ~what’s hot.~ Fortunately, there are a few fun ones right now that are easy to pull off.

Zinn notes that since so many people love craft drinks these days, try serving a house drink in a beautiful vintage cocktail glass. “They sparkle like jewelry on the table!” she says. Speaking of sparkling, Reimold shares that metallics are in right now, and something she likes to use because they work for any style. For something even simpler, the Weills say they love the trend of utilizing fruits and vegetables as decorative pieces. “For example, artichokes, squash, and pumpkins really give festive vibes. “

Decorate Around The Table

Finally, remember that a tablescape isn’t just about the table itself. To really create an atmosphere, you need to take the rest of the room into account, too. Reimold says to “consider swapping out the rug within the room for a fresh seasonal look that sets your celebration foundation.” Schwartz advises paying attention to your buffet or server as well. “This is a fun place to [use] any vintage silver, like a champagne bucket or mint julep cups,” she says. “Bring in your holiday party color scheme by tying some bows to the handles of a wine bucket or serving trays.”