Get inspired for holiday events with décor and tablescape tips from the experts
By Sara Perez Webber
When Labor Day rolls around, pulling the curtain on the lazy days of summer, it’s not just the weather that changes. Pumpkins and scarecrows show up on lawns, and before you know it, twinkling lights and evergreen wreaths emerge to herald the December holiday season.
The visual cues of the fall and winter holidays are traditions just as important as the cuisine and the camaraderie. Want to ensure your holiday events are decked out in memorable festive finery? Heed these décor and tabletop ideas from expert event planners.
Celebrate Cultural Traditions
Help clients share their heritage with guests by incorporating traditional elements from other cultures. For a client who honors her ancestry by celebrating a Ukrainian-style Christmas, Meghan Murray of Parker Grace Events designed a tablescape inspired by a blue and white napkin, which had a similar look to Ukrainian tapestry. “I fell in love with all the stone plates, touches of wood and the idea of leather accents,” she says, adding that the leather pieces were tied to each napkin as place cards. “There was a very earthy, neutral, boho vibe.”
Since stalks of grain symbolize the ancestors of the family for a Ukrainian Christmas, Murray worked with Busy Bees Floral (Instagram.com/busybeesfloral) to incorporate wheat throughout the arrangements. “The Christmas tree was overflowing with gorgeous pampas and wheat, and the most stunning dried and bleached blooms,” says Murray.
Work in Winter Whites
Parker Grace Events’ Murray veers toward calming, neutral colors year-round, utilizing white as a base color during the holidays in her home. “Years ago, I purchased white stockings and a white tree skirt, which has allowed each year of holiday decor to be consistent, but also allows me to add details here or there to make it feel a little different,” she says. For a table inspired by a white winter wonderland, Murray combined cozy velvet linens, lush greenery, garden roses and loads of silk, tulle and velvet ribbon, accented by antique crystal glassware and gingerbread houses made by BR Sweets (Instagram.com/b.r.sweets).
Creating a warm and inviting environment is key for holiday events, says Eddie Zaratsian, owner of Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle & Design. “Whether you’re putting together an intimate dinner or having a holiday get-together, one of my favorite things to do is to evoke all five senses with decor and touchpoints,” he says. “For tablescape, I love the idea of giving guests personalized place settings with a thoughtful handwritten note.” Such messages are especially lovely for Thanksgiving, Zaratsian adds—an ideal time for penning heartwarming notes to guests.
Infusing an event with décor that reflects the client’s personality is also key, says Parker Grace Events’ Meghan Murray. “When I start the design process for any event, I first think about who the guest of honor is—what do they like the most, who will be joining them, and how can I make it special? Implementing those ideas into a tablescape is the fun part.” For a fall picnic Murray designed, for example, she included DIY pumpkins made by client Veronica, creator of the Lombard & Fifth lifestyle blog. “I knew they needed to be a focal point for the table,” she says. Blooms by Morgan added lush flowers, including Mirmy’s Garden organically grown roses cascading down a silk table runner, for an ethereal look enhanced by pops of color.
Mix the Old with the New
Add interest to your holiday tablescapes by incorporating vintage touches—upcycled antique dinnerware and candlesticks, for example. “It’s a common misconception that everything has to match seamlessly,” says Kevin Dennis, owner of Fantasy Sound Event Services and a certified event planner. “In fact, serving cocktails in vintage glassware or mixing metallics with charging plates is perfect for adding dimension!” Creatively mixing and matching tableware can also expand the holiday color palette beyond traditional shades of green and red.
Let It Glow
Lighting is going to be instrumental in setting the tone for your holiday event, especially as you gather (safely!) with your loved ones after a hectic year,” says Fantasy Sound Event Services’ Dennis, and a certified event planner, who recommends swapping overhead light for candlelight. “Bring in a mixture of pillar candles and tapered candlesticks of varying sizes, and pair them with festive chargers or votives. Including battery-operated candles throughout the party not only creates an intimate vibe for guests to mingle, but it also allows you to dim them with the click of a button.”
Adding the glow of candlelight to an event can also help trim an event’s budget, notes Nora Sheils, co-founder of Rock Paper Coin and founder of Bridal Bliss: “Fill your space with candles to cut back on the expense of florals, while also creating a welcoming and festive feel. Holiday or not, candles and muted lighting instantly warm up and transform a room.”
Bring the Outside In
While cold weather may prevent holding a holiday event outdoors, Zaratsian suggests bringing natural elements indoors. “Keep things cozy with a decked-out fireplace and go above and beyond with floral decor and greenery,” he advises. “Opt for the usual holiday botanicals such as garland, fresh poinsettias, fragrant cedar and more. Constructing a hanging installation to float above the table can be a wonderful conversation piece, and you’ll be able to easily decorate the greenery with ornaments and metallic accents for some sparkle.”
Keep It Simple
A beautiful tablescape doesn’t have to be expensive,” advises Bridal Bliss/Rock Paper Coin’s Sheils, noting that greenery gathered from outside can serve as a lush runner, and such commonplace seasonal items as pinecones, gingerbread houses, mistletoe and cookie cutters can help create an interesting, festive tablescape. “Even something as simple as colorful ornaments on a beautiful, lush greenery garland runner will make quite a statement and serve as wonderful conversation starters,” she adds.
Go Beyond Red and Green
Sure, the traditional holiday hues are tried and true, but experimenting with color combinations can add visual interest to an event. “Consider tones of red mixed with burgundies and pinks,” advises Bridal Bliss/Rock Paper Coin’s Sheils. “Although not your traditional holiday aesthetic, it is a beautiful and festive combination. Green mixed with neutrals also can be quite festive, especially when you utilize seasonal foliage. Or you can never go wrong with a classic and sophisticated palette of all white with metallics to elevate any event.”
For More Information
Eddie Zaratsian Lifestyle & Design
Fantasy Sound Event Services
Parker Grace Events
Rock Paper Coin