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Put Guests in Their Place

Thursday, December 9, 2004; Page C02

The place card is the fruitcake of holiday decorations. People approach them with skepticism and a whole lot of groaning.

"If you're going to use them -- unless you're serving for heads of state -- you sort of need to have a sense of humor about it," says Anne Slowey, fashion news director at Elle magazine. So, create silly nicknames, scrawl monikers on rocks, lay initials on seat cushions and attach titles to ornaments. Use a touch of "playful formality," she says.

Colored mirrored balls ($42 per dozen) and metallic place cards ($12 per dozen) from plumparty.com. (Photos Julia Ewan -- The Washington Post)

If it's a small table, place cards serve to create ambiance rather than to force mingling. If the table is larger, they take on a pragmatic function -- a practical but sprightly way to decorate. (And unlike, say, pine cones, they don't get in the way of supper.)

The right place card "makes me feel very comfortable and sentimental in a good way -- not a maudlin way," says Slowey.

-- Janelle Erlichman Diamond

© 2004 The Washington Post Company