It’s that time of year again – the tree is up, the Christmas cake is made and the family has all been invited. But, while the house looks and smells wonderful and every effort has been made to embrace the season, many people will have overlooked the most important venue of all – the dining table.
This is where everyone will gather to enjoy the festive feast and linger longer than normal – so just getting out the “good napkins” and scattering some Christmas crackers around isn’t quite giving it the attention it deserves.
With small children, Sinéad Gunnigle, owner of Waterford interiors store Nest (lovenest.ie), tries to keep her table fun come Christmas day, with candy canes and disco balls to keep them involved – and some flowers for her.
“I dot some small bud bases and stoneware filled with a mix of flowers more traditional and some pinks and purples to keep me satisfied – flowers make me so happy!”
To bring a touch of glamour to her everyday kitchen table, Gunnigle adds some bows from Nest to the chairs “to make it feel a bit more special”, as well as a variety of “fabulous” robin napkin rings and bows from The Designed Table (designedtable.ie), a brand she also stocks in her shop.
“I have two rechargeable lamps on the table too, I love them mixed with candles, as it gives enough light to keep the main lights off and still see what you’re eating! I’ve used our lovely Moroccan glasses on the table too, I use them for water and wine they come in a few different sizes. I even put some foliage around the light fitting and on the shutters – nowhere is safe! I mix artificial (foliage/flowers) and bits from the garden and hedgerows and all you need then is florist wire and you’re laughing!”
Celine Gill, of Style At No.5 Interiors in Limerick, says there are a few things to be considered before you start setting your Christmas table.
“Think about the look that you want to achieve and what the rest of your house looks like. For example, do you go sparkly, homely, cosy or dramatic with your Christmas decorating?” she asks. “Then think about the logistics of the day itself. Can the table be set the night before or do you need it for breakfast? If so, maybe you have a sideboard where you can lay things out and transfer it on to the table when it is free. Then it comes down to the practicalities of the meal itself – and how many people will be seated, how much food goes on the table and how much space there is to decorate.”
Once you have answered these questions, the stylist says that the trend she is seeing this year is one of simplicity.
“This isn’t the year for ostentatious displays of grandeur – but it can still have impact and look beautiful,” she says. “So look around your house to see what can be used on the table – candlesticks, neutral table linens, your best tableware and a wooden cake stand or chopping board to be used for display.
“Then think of how you can tantalise the senses – using cinnamon sticks, rosemary, ivy, branches from your Christmas tree, fragrant eucalyptus and dried orange slices in your decor – as these can really evoke the smells of Christmas. And natural textures like linen (napkins and tablecloth), wood (napkin rings or vases) and rattan (place mats) feel good to the touch. Then add simple white candles and crystal glasses for visual impact.
“Also think of the lighting in your dining space. This might be the time to get some battery-operated twinkly lights which you can string up near the table or add table lamps. Think cosy and inviting and your guests will have a great Christmas with you.”
Adare Manor is renowned for its grandeur and decor, and as florist and designer for the award-winning hotel, Bronagh Wilkinson at Distinctive Floral Design has some expert advice on how to achieve a stunning seasonal look.
“Something as simple as a large serving plate or platter or even your treasured crockery dish can be used to arrange freshly cut flowers such as anemones, ranunculi and hellebores, which are all in season at Christmas time,” she says. “Or simply plant your winter pansies, cyclamen or Christmas rose into a dish which will hold into the new year when it can then be transferred into the garden. Another tip is to use the leftover cuts off the Christmas tree along with pine cones, dehydrated orange slices and cinnamon to decorate the table. These, clustered in the centre with candles, is also a lovely and inexpensive way to decorate your table.
“Alternatively, seasonal flowers in small bud vases, which can now be found easily in many of the high-street stores, are a great way of creating a lighter look and can be easily moved around to allow for space for dinner plates and trimmings.
“And while Christmas dinner is always the day to use your cherished crockery, your regular crockery can also look great by adding a simple touch with some linen napkins, which can be complemented with a tablecloth or runner a few tones lighter than the fabric of your napkins.”
Events organiser Kate Deegan agrees and says adding a little splash of colour, and some carefully placed lighting can make all the difference to your festive table.
“Add a little colour, whether it is the traditional reds, greens, gold or plaid which are always a winner, or some of the more modern shades of blue and green if you want something a little different,” she says. “Silver and blue is popular this year as are different shades of green. Also, a lot of people love a simple white plate so introducing new colours (to the table) can work really well with this, or even a navy, red or green napkin.
“Candles and fairy lights always add sparkle and no matter what time of day you are eating, candles and battery-operated fairy lights always look great and help to create atmosphere. And touches of fresh Noble fir, holly or eucalyptus not only look great but also smell so nice. It is also lovely to add little touches that are not usually on your everyday table such as place cards which can be popped on to a wine cork (make a slit to insert) or a pine cone and add a ribbon to your napkin to give that pop of colour.”
When it comes to laying the table, Deegan, who runs events management company, Co-ordination Made Easy, says it’s important to make sure that there is space for everything on the table and that it’s not too crowded.
“With Christmas dinner comes a lot of extra sides and condiments so make sure you have space for everything,” she says. “If you have a long table, a simple garland of greenery will work very well and on round tables, a lovely (centre) arrangement will inject that festive feeling with a gorgeous scent from the foliage. If it’s not possible to add much to the table, then perhaps a (festively decorated) sideboard can add the Christmas touch.
“When it comes to deciding what crockery and glassware to use, it can depend on the size of your table and the number of people you are catering for. It is a special day so you want it to look its best and that it why you go that extra mile to make it special for everyone – but what is good for one table may not work for another so you have to be practical. Setting the table the night before is something I advise so you get ahead for the next day and any last minutes things can be added. It is only when you have everything laid out you can see what is missing.”
It’s not just the adults who enjoy a beautifully decorated table at Christmas – so the party planner says that it’s important to also go that extra mile for the youngest members of the family.
“This is where you can have more fun with colour, candy canes, sugar plum fairies and nutcrackers,” she says. “And the memories that can be made are for life and it is where the tradition continues from generation to generation. Christmas is about family and kids so it’s important to make it special for everyone.”
It doesn’t have to take much to enhance your table this Christmas.
“Lay out some greenery such as fir branches or eucalyptus, down the middle of your table, leaving space for the food to fit,” says Gill. “Add white candles in various heights and sizes and dot some pine cones along the greenery with cinnamon sticks and some dried orange slices laid on top.
“Then wrap rosemary around your napkins and if you are thinking of adding a Christmas favour, maybe chose a locally made Christmas decoration that your guests can take home.”
Wilkinson also has some decorating ideas:
“If you have a long diningroom table, it is nice to use a luxurious piece of velvet fabric as a runner down the centre in burgundy or maybe forest green,” she says. “A gathered look gives a lovely opulent feel so ensure you account for a much longer length than your actual table and if you’re not stuck for space on your Christmas table, let it drape to the floor on both ends.
“I definitely recommend lots of candlesticks with tapered candles (I love the Brookfield Farm tapered beeswax candles). Tea lights are also ideal to create both light and ambience and there is no better time to pull out your grandmother’s brass candlesticks. An eclectic mix of varying heights and styles of the tapered candles gives a relaxed feel – but don’t be too rigid in your arrangement of them.”
Three tables for festive fun
Create a grown-up frosted tablescape for the adults with Hedgeroe’s hand-painted blue plates and white rattan under plates to protect your table from heat.
“Mix and match different candle holders to create volume and interest. The lovely thing about nearly all the elements in this tablescape is that they transition well for spring and summer, choosing items which are not too seasonal means you get longevity,” says Rebecca Roe, creative director with Hedgeroe Home.
Go for gold
“Don’t be afraid to mix silvers and golds on a tablescape, done right it can create a warm and lux feel,” advises Roe, adding that the trick is to include pieces which have both tones in them. “This works better than simply mixing solid tonal silver or gold pieces, which can look too colour-blocked,” she says.
Create a fun and colourful tablescape for the little ones with melamine plates and wipeable linen placemats. “You don’t need to worry about spills & breakages!” says Roe.