‘Tis the season for Pinterest to beckon with the candle-lit glow of exquisite holiday tables and Rockwellian visions of family gatherings.
But with a cupboard full of mismatched china from Grandma and mundane everyday dishes, we felt ill prepared for entertaining, so we brought in some professional help.
With little more than glitter twine and some strewn leaves, mastermind food and prop stylist Johanna Lowe uses a simple place setting as the basis for four stunning (and totally Pin-able) tablescapes.
Here’s how she did it, beautifully illustrated by photographer Paul Strabbing:
Your Base Place Setting
You don’t need a suite of dishes for every season, because a basic wardrobe of simple pieces can be dolled up to suit any occasion. We started with a clean palette: a wood table, white dinner plates, silver flatware and clear glasses make for a versatile foundation, upon which Lowe built up lush layers of accessories, vintage pieces, candles and botanicals for a complete transformation four times over.
Autumn is bursting with resplendent color, making the Thanksgiving table the perfect opportunity to bring the outdoors in. Branches of orange winterberry, slabs of paper birch, tiny gourds and pumpkins, and a smattering of rainbow-hued fall foliage form a breathtaking backdrop for the main event: food!
An elegant Hanukkah table feels magical with twinkling candlelight, glittering silver accents and a traditional palette of blue and white. Scattered crystal Stars of David add dimension without visual clutter. Lowe deconstructed the Menorah; silver candles in vintage cordial glasses run the length of the table, acting as a meaningful centerpiece while leaving plenty of space for dreidel spinning.
Break out of the red-and-green rut! A festive Christmas table can be a sophisticated affair. Lowe devised a rustic, wintery fantasy with a warm, but subdued palette and loads of texture. Birch bark and conical centerpieces suggest an enchanted forest. Twinkle lights impart a soft glow amid the white peacock feathers, which look spectacular and are a subtle nod to traditional Christian symbolism.
Sparkly New Year’s Eve
The new year calls for getting glitzy and (a little) tipsy. Ditching the centerpiece keeps the champagne close at hand and encourages intimate conversation. A languidly draped runner in sumptuous fabric is luxurious but nonchalant. Lowe opted for subtle shimmer and vibrant color—creating a sparkling, convivial atmosphere—perfect for ringing in the New Year with old friends (and luscious oysters).
Johanna Lowe’s Tabletop Tips:
1. Strike a balance between food and decoration. “Don’t crowd out the table with too much décor,” she says.
2. Consider sightlines—keep centerpieces low so they don’t impede conversation.
3. Group decorative items in odd numbers and vary heights, and remember to make sure your décor runs the length of the table so no one is left out.
4. Coordinate scents with your menu using botanicals and potted herbs. Lowe suggests rosemary in the winter.
5. Mix in different china patterns and vintage pieces. It encourages conversation and personalizes each place setting. Remember to keep everything cohesive by using similar scale, colors and patterns.
6. Invest in good basics; white or cream dishes and beautiful flatware are great for everyday, and can be easily transformed for special occasions.
7. Venture outside the box for inspiration. Along with Pinterest and European magazines, Lowe looks to thrift and antique stores because they “take your mind to a resourceful place.”
8. Look around you! Lowe used simple findings like ribbon, dried leaves and flowers and Christmas tree ornaments. There’s a wealth of material right in your own backyard.
9. Finally, “Plan, plan, plan. Research research. Make lists, and shop on a full stomach and a glass (just one) of wine!” Lowe says.