The big day is drawing near and households up and down the country will be welcoming family and friends to share a festive feast on Christmas Day. And, while others may be having an altogether quieter house with just a handful of extra guests to look after, or maybe not even any, everyone still wants to ensure that the meal and its presentation is a little bit special.
Although the decorations and Christmas tree are already sorted, and while some may not feel inclined to spend too much time decorating their dining table, even for one day of the year, it is nice to pull out all the stops.
According to the experts, turning your humble kitchen or dining table into something fit for an interiors magazine does not have to cost a lot of money or take up too much of your time – and can be a fun activity for everyone to get involved in.
Helen Coughlan, director at Meadows and Byrne, loves getting her house ready for Christmas and would describe her style as “classic, featuring lots of red but with a modern twist”.
“To really pull a well-thought through look together, it’s a matter of sticking to one theme,” Coughlan says. “While many will love the traditional reds of a classic Christmas, keeping to one colour scheme will bring your whole look to another level. The key is to ensure that your dinnerware doesn’t fight or clash with the decor of your room or you’ll be on the back foot before you start.”
Coughlan’s top tips for the perfect Christmas table include using a variety of glasses of different heights (for water, red and white wine), to create a banqueting feel. She also encourages using subtle lighting, including tea light holders or a candle centrepiece for those who prefer something dramatic, to create mood and an unintimidating atmosphere.
The interiors expert says name places can be very beneficial to avoid any awkwardness of who sits where, while a console or sideboard for extra dishes or condiments is also useful.
“But most importantly, set the table well in advance of dinner,” Coughlan says. “You will be far too busy prepping, cooking and entertaining to set the table on the fly – so enjoy the process and even if your cooking doesn’t live up to your self-imposed standards, a stunning table, weighed heavily with considered detail and an abundance of candle glow will forgive all.”
Simon Temprell, interior design lead at Neptune, agrees, and says there are number of ways to really capture the spirit of the season when setting your Christmas dining table.
“One of the simplest and least expensive ways is to use foraged items such as branches and berries,” Temprell says. “So try to find interesting branches which are twisted and slightly mossy and lay them down the centre of your table to create a base for your display.
“Next, take some of Neptune’s dried cotton stems and mistletoe twigs and intertwine them through the branches and, for extra sparkle, you could add some battery-operated fairy lights in warm white or place some star tea light holders on either side of the central garland.”
Temprell also suggests adding some vintage looking Elderfield crackle baubles (€54 for six) in rose gold and slate to complete the garland and, finally, for some height, place a few Heddon warm black candlesticks (€47), with cream Nightingale taper candles (€22 for a pack of four), among the branches.
“One final touch could be to utilise wired ribbon or gardening string to attach a sprig of pine branches to the back of each chair, then add a string of Nora antique brass hanging bells (€8) to each chair, so that they tinkle as each guest takes a seat,” Temprell says.
Currently available to buy, both the Elden sprig napkins (€70 per four-piece set) and the forest green Neve tea light holders (€45 for a set of three), are festive but can also be used throughout the winter season – and the Bethnal crystal champagne coupes (€55 for two), will be the perfect receptacle for the obligatory glass of fizz.
Design expert Tara O’Connor of The Designed Table has also curated a Christmas 2023 collection and has gone with a theme of winter glitz and glamour. O’Connor has designed every piece herself, and the collection includes art deco-inspired placemats with matching napkin rings (from €24 per set); tastefully decorated tablecloths (from €120); and napkins (€40 for a set of four), in “vibrant seasonal colours” and elegant prints, which can be used all year round.
“The winter 2023 collection features a host of beautiful table linens in festive shades of red, green, navy, white and gold, all complemented by eye-catching accessories in metallics, jewel tones and painted wood,” O’Connor says. “Returning this year is the rural-inspired red plaid table linen pattern, with a new green plaid colourway added to the collection. Both options are available in a tablecloth, runner, and napkin with a complementary red or green cotton frill placemat to finish the look.
“Think Christmas in Aspen – that warm feeling you get when you have everyone gathered around a hearty feast, with the fire crackling in the fireplace, the candles lit, everyone dressed in their finery, and the table beautifully set for the occasion and that sense of magic you get this time of year.”
Tara O’Connor’s tips for a meal to remember
- Choose a colour scheme first, or a few key colours for your table. Then decide whether to go with floral arrangements or just add foliage as your centrepiece.
- Set the table the day before you entertain so it is one job that is done in advance. A tablecloth creates a lovely base layer for the table, but if this is not for you, a runner creates a fabulous statement along the centre of the table. You can then add depth to this with placemats and charger plates.
- Do not over-style your table. Just add the plates you need for your first course on each place setting. Tapered candles are great for adding height to your table along with tea lights in little votives.
- Consider placenames and menus at Christmas. It adds a sense of formality to the proceedings. For placenames, use foliage or fruit if you do not want to use paper – pomegranates and a gold Sharpie are all you need.
- Do a simple fold with your napkins or pop them into a napkin ring. If you do not have napkin rings, tie some Christmas ribbon and pop a sprig of eucalyptus on top. If you are eating late in the day, have lots of candles to add sparkle and glamour.
- Never do your florals too high, so you can see your guests across the table. The same applies for candles. Keep tea lights low and taper candles tall and slim and not in big vessels. Also, leave your scented candles off the dinner table – maybe have one in the hall and bathroom but avoid other scents apart from food near the table until the meal is finished.
- And, do not forget your Christmas crackers! We all need that family picture with paper hats.