How to Pull Off a Stunning Winter Flower Arrangement, According to a Design Pro

Our art director shares two showstopping holiday arrangements.

December  6, 2019

We've partnered with FIJI Water to share our go-to tips for elevating any hosted occasion, from a fall feast to a holiday get-together.

During peak holiday season (aka now), we tend to focus on what's on your plate—be it a perfect roast chicken over colorful root vegetables or a big pot of lentil and sausage stew next to creamy polenta.

But these cozy, wintry dishes won't be the only thing to grace your table when friends and family come over to celebrate. You'll probably want a few decorative touches to spruce up the scene, too. The easiest way to bring a bit of flair, according to Senior Editor Arati Menon: make your centerpiece a showstopping flower arrangement.

Not sure how to get started? That's where Alexis Anthony, Food52's art director and bona fide flower-arranging artiste, comes in. She's got the formula for two distinct centerpiece-worthy arrangements—one vibrant and colorful, the other modern and neutral—all using seasonal stems you can find at the market.

Check out the video above to follow along as Alexis and Arati put together each arrangement, and read on to get some of Alexis's best party-ready design tips and tricks.

A Lush & Colorful Flower Arrangement

Photo by Rocky Luten

If you want to set a table that's classic and bright this holiday season, go for fresh flowers in "jewel tones," says Alexis. Think: reds, purples, and deep greens—basically, the colors you typically see this time of year. A shiny gold vase, like the one Alexis used in the video, makes a sparkling complement to those deep, bold colors.

The vase Alexis used in the video is a bit wide, which can make it difficult to give body and structure to your arrangement. "To remedy that," she explains, "one of my tricks is to use something called a frog." Flower frogs come in many different shapes and materials, but all are weighted vessels with holes or prongs where you can stick flower stems to keep them in place; her personal favorite is a glass option that looks nice on the shelf when it isn't being used.

So, you've added the frog to your vase and filled it with water—now what? To get started, "I would pick what I call the hero flower," Alexis says. She likes to work with odd numbers, and here, three stems should do the trick. When it comes to cutting the stems, she adds, start at roughly "two times the height of the vase initially, because you can't un-cut it, and it gives you a little wiggle room."

"Next, I would go for something I call a filler," Alexis says. "That's something kind of leafy, without a bloom, that you can use to fill in some of the spaces you made." A pro tip for this stage: strip the stem of any flowers or leaves that go beneath the height of the vase so they don't rot or get moldy in the water.

Last up: Add some texture. "In this case, I chose some berries that also have some leaves so they can help to fill in any gaps," she explains. While you're adding those finishing touches, she adds, "It's important to step back and take a look at your shape and see where you might need to adjust or add." A few extra woody stems with mini pine cones on the end lend just the right holiday touch, plus a bit more depth.

All that's left to do after that is set the table with place settings (metallic silverware with neutral dishes would make a nice complement) and serve up your favorite holiday dishes. For a bright table like this one, Alexis likes to serve foods with pops of color and texture, like tangy blood orange salad, seedy spelt rolls, and a hearty porchetta. What? You don't pick your menu to match your tablescape?

A Modern & Sculptural Dried Flower Arrangement

Photo by Rocky Luten

"For this one, we're gonna take a different approach and do a modern, deconstructed flower arrangement using dried flowers," says Alexis. Why dried flowers? Simply put: "Because they don't die." Using dried flowers that don't run the risk of wilting or withering helps take a little bit of stress out of planning a holiday dinner.

For this arrangement, Alexis decided to choose multiple vases in a monochromatic color theme, which matches the warm whites and beiges of the flowers she chose.

To start, "Go with the same basic idea of choosing a hero flower," she says—in this case, a fan-shaped sun palm with "a lot of big personality." Then, it's as simple as pairing it up with the vase you think will hold it best. From there, you more or less repeat the process by picking three more flower-and-vase combos that complement the hero.

"This arrangement is all about the lines and the shapes, so you're not fussing too much trying to match flowers together, you're just really celebrating each one for what they are," she explains.

Once each stem has found a vase, you can arrange them in clusters so that they can play off each other. "You could also leave a small grouping together and extend the arrangement by moving one to the side, creating a little bit of tension between the two," Alexis adds. One practical tip: Be careful about where you're placing things so that you're not blocking sight lines across the dinner table.

As for the food, it can be just as simple and elegant as the table. Oysters with champagne mignonette, raw turnips or radishes with salted butter, and creamy, tangy labneh with baguette slices for spreading.

How will you be decorating your dinner table this holiday season? Tell us in the comments below!

We're partnering with FIJI Water, premium natural artesian water bottled at the source in the Fiji Islands, to share our go-to entertaining tips for all types of fall and winter occasions. FIJI Water is also giving back this season: Their parent company recently pledged $750 million to Caltech toward research combatting climate change and studying decomposable plastics. By 2025, all FIJI Water bottles will be made of 100% recycled plastic.

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Erin Alexander is the Brand Partnerships Editor at Food52, covering pop culture, travel, foods of the internet, and all things #sponsored. Formerly at Men’s Journal, Men’s Fitness, Us Weekly, and Hearst, she currently lives in New York City.