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Styling Christmas: How to make your family Christmas dinner table look unique & lovely

“Fetch pinecones”, said Amy, laptop open, pulling images faster than her conversation. So obediently I did. It was a most enjoyable Sunday drive to get them, the only difficulty being finding the right logging track (memories grow dim).

Neither of us knew precisely how our project would evolve, but now we had our central elements, a giant haul of pinecones, an eye for beauty and instinctive creativity.

Next we had a choice to make – to leave them natural or to gild them. White was too snowy for our hot climate and we wanted the theme to be decadent. Gold spray paint was purchased, and I set to work transforming the cones, while ‘the Catering Monkeys’ planned the menu.

There is a simple joy in letting a tablescape evolve, and while working on this painting project I plucked some olive tree foliage and tossed the leaves over the cones, still in their cardboard painting booth. The effect was glorious and I texted it to Amy. The excitement (and our tablescape) began to build.

We recommend claiming the table you wish to decorate early. And when I say early, why not Christmas Eve or the day before your party? Make the preceding meal of simple fare; a TV dinner, or cereal eaten in the garden sounds good to us! This way setting up can be enjoyed without the pressure of family meals, and creativity can flow uninterrupted.

Choose your menu. Then choose platters, crockery & cutlery next to suit your menu. Count out the amount you need for the number of people you will be serving & stack these off the table in a handy to grab place. We chose muted designs for the plates, and highly polished our silver cutlery to create sense of occasion – the colour scheme for the plates was kept simple so as not to compete with the table decoration. Amy’s vision was for a central runner of richness and texture, with raisers in place to showcase each Christmas dish. These were to be served on our range of rustic vintage and antique platters. Then place the chairs you need for the number of people attending & cover the table in a table cloth.

The best part of setup day was watching the design take form. (Nature can never be contrived.) It is best to start by working out where your many platters or dishes will placed on your table. Then mark those places with a ‘riser’, we used upside down Chinese containers as they are clear & not visually obtrusive. You can really use any dish upside down that has the right height. We also recommend that you set a single place setting, this will show you how much ‘depth’ the ‘table runner’ can have and act as a model for all the other setting. This is handy if you have people helping you set the table as they can copy it!
Then start layering with texture along the area you would like (our olive leaves where a long rectangle in the middle of the table like a table runner, placed around the risers) and then build height with the larger showcase items (the pine cones). We plucked and snipped and strew, starting at opposite ends of the long table, and meeting in the middle. Finally Amy added her own red Christmassy accents of Pomegranates and pillar candles. Amy is Head Monkey, after all.

No table by Elegant Vintage Hire is complete without the beautiful and unusual. We used our silver novelty salt and pepper shakers for this Christmas forest vibe.

Once this is done, it is the moment when you can then lay your place settings – your plates, knives, forks, napkins and anything else that you think will be needed. Place all of these in front of each person’s chair. You lay this AFTER your table runner so that you can easily clean up any stray leaves or glitter that fall off when building your table runner.
Then all you need to do on Christmas Day is place your food filled platters on each of your risers & add wine!

Our family has a longstanding tradition of setting the table for Christmas dinner. Being large (there are nine siblings and one daughter-in-law so far) we have an abundance of cooks. However the artier members will get together and secretly work a “theme” for the table, which is always a surprise, and often in a quirky location.

And just like our family Christmases, this set-up was a joy to build and photograph, and a pleasure to bring to you.

We wish you, your very own joy-filled Christmas this year!
Helen (aka The Elegant Monkey)

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