On Thanksgiving Day, the table serves as center stage, sets the tone for the festivities and makes the holiday meal more sensuous and memorable.
“It’s one day a year, and you’re hosting, so make the table special,” said Myisha McCarthy, head event designer at Newberry Brothers.
Paula Newberry-Arnold owns the Denver florist and event décor company, which is celebrating 70 years in business. A lot of Newberry Brothers’ customers set the Thanksgiving table days ahead of the holiday. “The table is all ready, and they just get their flowers the day before,” Newberry-Arnold said.
Jason Hammond, resident chef at Sur la Table in Cherry Creek North, plans to cook Thanksgiving dinner for 12 people.
“I’m a huge fan of keeping the table simple,” he said. “A lot of people overwhelm themselves to their detriment with decorating and the meal itself. Relieve some of the burden on yourself.”
The three offered these tips for setting your Thanksgiving table:
One glass means less mess. “Use a single wine glass so you’re not ending up with a Mount Vesuvius dish pit,” Hammond said. “Every wine in the world can be drunk out of a white wine glass.”
Color outside the lines. McCarthy likes the punch of atypical colors when setting the Thanksgiving table. “Try vibrant fuchsia, aubergine and deep burgundy — jewel-tone fall colors.”
Hammond prefers more traditional autumnal oranges, yellows and reds. “Warm tones warm up the room,” Hammond said. “You want a cozy feeling at the table, not white everything, and people afraid to spill a drop of anything.”
Use table linens. Linens add formality to the occasion. “Pretty linens make the Thanksgiving table special,” Newberry-Arnold said. McCarthy agreed. “Table linens change the everyday dining room into a festive gathering of friends and family,” she said. For a more modern look, go for solids and color blocks rather than floral prints, Hammond said.
Opt for cloth napkins, hands down. “I get it from a clean-up perspective, but at my table, paper napkins will never be there,” Hammond said. “Cloth napkins are absolutely the way to go.”
Napkin rings vs. fancy folds. “Folds are more current, but rings are easier,” McCarthy said. Check YouTube for instruction on origami-like napkin-folding.
“On my table, I like having the plates on the table and laying the napkin over the plate so it barely drapes over the side of the table. It’s a modern look,” Hammond said.
Create a centerpiece. Base the centerpiece on the table shape, McCarthy said. “To allow for big dishes on the table, you don’t want to take up too much real estate.”
Almost everybody opts for obvious autumnal ambiance with pumpkins, gourds and leaves, but “pomegranates and kumquats are traditional and lovely, yet different, fun and current,” McCarthy said. “And we do a lot of magnolias for Thanksgiving, too.”
Newberry-Arnold advised limiting centerpiece size to 12 inches or shorter.
Hammond suggested an alternative to bouquets. “Do something festive and simple like pumpkins. They’re fun and evoke the seasonality of the foods you’ll be consuming,” he said.
Let candles add glow. “Candles add a classic, romantic, traditional feel,” McCarthy said. “Have candles burning when guests arrive.” But don’t let your décor cause a fire drill. “Votives are lower and more discreet, and it’s easy to forget after a couple glasses of wine, and pretty soon somebody’s sleeve or napkin or hair or dried leaves decorating the table are on fire.”
McCarthy likes long-burning pillar candles. Newberry-Arnold prefers tapers and offered two tips: Reduce dripping by stashing candles in the freezer overnight, and use glass coasters beneath to catch the wax.
“Natural beeswax candles are nice,” Hammond said. “No-drip candles are a must unless you want massive cleanup. And you don’t need 222 votives. I go with one candle per two people at the table.”
Finally, snuff scented candles. “Flavor is a combination of smell and taste, and any kind of scent can interfere with the palate,” Hammond said. “If you’re eating mashed potatoes and a lemon-scented candle is burning, your brain may decide there’s lemon in the potatoes. Lavender is divisive. You don’t want to eat turkey that tastes like soap.”
Chargers frame plates. Chargers make the table more special and give a finished look, McCarthy said.
Newberry-Arnold noted you can use them with or without a tablecloth. “They’re nice with a table runner.”
Chargers come in a wide variety of materials ranging from rustic wood to formal glass. “My chargers are gold-y brass that plays off the wood tones of my table,” Hammond said. “The chargers are one good opportunity to bring a simple pop of color to the table.”
Place card pros and cons. Both Newberry-Arnold and Hammond favor place cards.
“I love them,” Newberry-Arnold said. “To me, for an intimate dinner, place cards makes it really special, thought out, the icing on the cake.”
“With a larger Thanksgiving, it makes it really nice because everybody’s got a crazy uncle or cousin, and you know which people to keep at a distance,” Hammond said. “You can control the environment by placing people where you want, which can lead to everybody’s sanity around the holiday.”
McCarthy finds place cards “too stressful, too political. Some people don’t like their positioning. Let people sit where they naturally want to be.”
Fork over the serving utensils. “People often forget service wear,” Hammond said. “Put the serving utensils on the table or buffet when you set it. Use one piece for each individual dish. You don’t want the turkey fork in mashed potatoes.”
Renting saves money and space. Newberry-Arnold advised renting anything from extra chairs to chargers, vases to votives. “Find your favorite florist, go in and play with them,” she said. “And if you don’t have enough chairs, rent them. People put all the time into making the table lovely, but then bring out folding chairs or the piano bench. It never looks good.”
Small touches, big impressions. “It’s nice to have something special at each plate,” Newberry-Arnold said. “For example, a blown-glass turkey.”
McCarthy encouraged tucking a fresh sprig of a flower, herb or foliage into napkins. “If people arrive and congregate in the living room, add something festive on the coffee table, or do a little piece on the kitchen island.”
Hammond advised conducting a bit of research on guests. “Maybe Uncle George loves a little schnapps,” he said. “One tiny thing can make the difference between somebody having a good time or having a great time.”