You’re hosting a Thanksgiving gathering for the extended family. You want to set a table that’s refined and elegant but not too fussy. A table that makes loved ones feel merry and comfortable. “Go for maximum impact with minimum effort, keep shapes and forms simple,” says Susan Spungen, author of “What’s a Hostess to Do?” and culinary consultant for films such as “Julie & Julia” and “It’s Complicated.”
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Sculptural and versatile carafes, vases and platters can all serve as centerpieces. (Even better — they’ll last through Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s.) Then add natural elements to create an authentic mood. “When it comes to Thanksgiving, I use all sorts of fruits and gourds to decorate, because that’s the way it used to be,” says Camille Saum, an interior designer in Bethesda. Using well-made, long-lasting pieces with natural elements is also a way to honor an American tradition four centuries after the first Thanksgiving.
So set your table, and then say thanks.
“My number one thing to tell people to get as a gift is the Oval Oak Wide Carafe ($38, www.tabletopdc.com) for wine,” says Daphne Olive, co-owner of Tabletop DC in Dupont Circle. “It’s so modern and so classic at the same time. There’s not a house that this wouldn’t go in.”
To create a centerpiece on short notice, “pile up some beautiful seasonal produce on pedestals,” says Susan Spungen, author of “What’s a Hostess to Do?” (Artisan, 2013). Spungen recommends Round or Square Pedestal Trays from Serena & Lily ($78-$198, www.serenaandlily.com). “These pedestals make instant centerpieces easy — just pile them with beautiful seasonal fruits or vegetables.”
For a cocktail that impresses guests, Spungen recommends in her book a champagne cocktail, made by putting a sugar cube in the bottom of a champagne glass, soaking it with two dashes of Angostura bitters, and then pouring chilled champagne. For a classy vial, Spungen likes the Camden Champagne Flute ($14, www.canvashomestore.com).
“Gold can look really fantastic as a charger under a plate or a napkin ring,” Spungen says. “Festive notes add a little bit of formality to a holiday.” Try the Paramount Dinnerware Charger (set of four, $79.80, www.zgallerie.com) under a patterned or rustic-style plate for a polished, on-trend look.
“Glass containers are wonderful,” Olive says. “You can put grasses and flowers in them — shells, rocks or leaves. You can put candles in them on a different day. You can even fill them with Christmas decorations.” Crate & Barrel’s Baird Covered Server ($59.95, www.crateand barrel.com) will also keep cake, fruit and cheese fresh for cocktail hour or a buffet meal.
In Spungen’s book on entertaining, she writes, “If you’re entertaining a crowd or serving drinks outside, stemless glasses are great because they’re not as delicate as stemmed glasses and you can fit a lot of them in the dishwasher at the end of the party without fear of breaking them.” Try the Color-Drop Stemless Wine Glass ($14, www.anthrop ologie.com); the subtle touch of gold in the bottom is warm enough for a fall meal and festive enough for a glitzy holiday gathering.
“The best way to set a table is to have really fun pieces to put in the center,” says Olive, who confesses that vases are her personal obsession. When not being used for its original purpose, Billy Cotton’s white stoneware pitcher ($39, www. billycotton.com) can serve as a centerpiece and vase.
For a fresh take on Thanksgiving, skip the turkey — at least in your table accessories. Williams-Sonoma’s Pewter Pheasant Place Card Holders ($99.95 for a set of four, www.williams-sonoma.com) might be more authentic: Historians say the Pilgrims had fowl at that first Thanksgiving in the 1600s, but it’s unclear whether turkey was on the menu.
Couleur Nature’s Natural Bleu D’Chine Tablecloth ($72-$100, www.couleur nature.com) brings a subtle autumnal feel to the table with its yellow-and-wheat colored pattern. If you are using uneven card tables or rough plywood for extra dining space, Spungen recommends putting down a layer of foam or table pads first. “It makes a softer surface for putting your glasses down,” she says.
For a table that you’d prefer to show off, use place mats or runners. Sferra’s Dusty Hemstitch Table Runner is available in 10 muted shades ($47, www.horchow.com) to match any style. Spungen likes to take a few runners and place them in rows down the table for a striped look.
Sur la Table’s Baroque Oval Serving Platter ($39.95-$49.95, www.surlatable.com) can dress up more than turkey. It would make a perfect canvas for Spungen’s favorite centerpieces: seasonal finds from the farmers market. She turns to unexpected vegetable heroes such as Romanesco cauliflower and broccoli for texture and a crisp chartreuse green color.
Olive advises hosts and hostesses with small spaces (and little room for elaborate centerpieces) to find beauty in the functional. Even practical pieces such as an ornate carving set — try Ricci Silversmiths’ Two-Piece Japanese Bird Carving Set ($85, www.horchow.com) — add to the ambiance.
Saam likes silver and pewter trays for their versatility, including Juliska’s Pewter Stoneware Turkey Platter ($248, www.bloomingdales.com). “This can be used for a party, even at Christmastime, and really be a multi-use item,” she says. “I always get extra greens with my trees and just make sure they’re washed and use them at Christmastime to decorate my platters.”
“It’s nice to have little hints of metallics,” Spungen says, though she warns not to overdo it. “Gold flatware can look really fantastic. Or a charger under a plate or a napkin ring.” Chilewich’s Small Napkin Rings in various colors ($9, www.chilewich.com) offer both the shine of stainless steel and the texture of vinyl in a basketweave pattern.
Roberts is a freelance writer. She can be found at www.lindseymroberts.com.