Holiday Entertaining

How to Build a Holiday Tablescape

December  8, 2015

We get it. You're slaving over the turkey, your pies. Your printer is out of ink, your car is out of gas. You can barely wrap your head around planning your holiday feasts, and everything else—the flowers, the music, even the alcohol—feels like a burden.

But what if we told you that making your holiday tablescape—which will be the first thing your guests see when they sit down to dinner—could be, well, fun? What if we told you it could be relaxing, therapeutic?

Tablescape from Food52

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We spoke to Roberta Bendavid, the woman behind the famous flowers of New York's Gramercy Tavern, about the best way to style your table this season—so that you stay sane and creative and happy, and your food gets the spotlight.

Pour yourself a glass of wine, and read on. You got this.

Pine cones from Food52

Getting Organized

Pick your containers. Scour your house for the containers you already have—the vases, the bowls, the jars, the trays—that look good together. (Chances are, they already do!) You'll use the things you already own as the base of your tablescape; that way, it will feel like your own.

Pick your color. Roberta suggests choosing one color—orange, red, or green work great in this season—and then picking your flowers and produce in different shades. That way, you're not overwhelmed at the market—and you can focus on finding the prettiest shapes and sizes. One of her favorite tablescapes she's ever done was in shades of green: cabbage, artichokes, grapes, and pears. "Sometimes," she says, "you're working on a centerpiece, and it's like—this is it! There is nothing better!"

Pick your produce. Go to your greenmarket and look for the produce that's in season. Or, if you're lucky enough to have a garden, head straight to your backyard! For the fall and winter, Roberta loves pumpkins, squash, pomegranates, chestnuts, persimmons, and apples.

Pears from Food52

Pick your flowers. We're going simple here; no grand bouquets will be on this table. Instead, head to the greenmarket or your corner store, and pick up some bittersweet vines, mums, rose hips, or hydrangeas.

Pick your props. "I have a bit of a sickness for pine cones," says Roberta. So head out and get some! Tea lights, wooden boxes, terra cotta pots, branches, even rocks and moss are all fair game, too. Nearby parks are a great place to start—and so's your backyard. 

Table scape from Food52

Start Arranging!

Here are Roberta's steps to a foolproof—and beautiful—tablescape. Feel free to start working on this up to a week before your party, gradually adding and adjusting as the days go on. You can add the delicate flowers, if you're using them, at the last minute.

1. Remember those containers and vessels you grabbed from around your house? Start arranging them on your table, grouping them into little clusters.

2. If your dinner will be family-style, place your serving dishes on the table. That way, you'll build your tablescape around them—and your food will be the focal point.

3. Place bittersweet vines, crab apple branches, or rose hips down in the center of your table. This will create the shape of your tablescape. Adjust your vessels as needed. 

4. Cluster your fruits and vegetables with your vases, creating little vignettes down the length of your table. Put some flowers, produce, or pine cones inside some of your vessels, and lay some straight on the table.

5. Add candles along the length of your table. Play with it; sometimes, a tea light looks great on top of moss-covered rock. You never know until you try.

6. Have fun with it! Play with it! Let your table be your happy place—as much as the kitchen is.

Table scape from Food52

What are your tips for arranging your holiday tables? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by Mark Weinberg

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Brette Warshaw

Written by: Brette Warshaw

I'm a reader, eater, culinary thrill-seeker, and food nerd.