If you’re hosting an event this holiday season, chances are you might be a little confused about the best way to set a table. Hosting a gathering can be filled with rules and etiquette—when to send invitations, how to reach out about RSVPs, and even what order the forks go in.
Luckily, as the years pass and formal rules get looser and looser, that opens things up a bit for those who might find etiquette a bit overwhelming and stuffy but still love to host. There are ways to still set a gorgeous table in modern times—playing up what you have on hand, paying homage to the sentimental, and still having a beautiful place for your important guests to enjoy a lovely meal.
Jami Van Hercke of Good Stuff China, an event rental company, loves all things vintage and incorporates all of those touches into her tablescapes. She finds many of her plates and glasses at antique markets, meaning that it’s often not possible to find a complete set—but that doesn’t mean she passes up on perfectly good plates just because there are only two! She loves mixing vintage pieces into her tablescapes that still feel curated without being too matchy-matchy.
Jami gathered a team to put together an inspiring tablescape for the holidays, along with other experienced vendors who gave expert tips on how to set a welcoming table with whatever you might already have at home. But if you still find it too overwhelming, they’re always available for hire to do it for you!
Pick what you like—there are no rules. Jami says don’t be afraid to mix patterns. Add funky tchotchkes or a sentimental heirloom that wouldn’t normally find its way onto a table. If you like it, you can make it work.
The fine china is meant to be used. If you have a nice set of china—whether it’s your own or an heirloom—it’s meant to be enjoyed and to make memories, not to collect dust in the china cabinet. Perhaps you don’t have a complete set or are afraid to break a plate that is irreplaceable, but Jami says you don’t have to match the exact pattern of your grandmother’s china. She often works with people’s sentimental dishware, like their mother’s china, in her own designs, adding more vintage plates to create a cohesive set, even if the plates aren’t all the same. This can remove a lot of the stress from using that fine china. If a plate breaks, you can always incorporate something vintage that goes with it, even if it’s not the exact set.
Start with a color palette. If you’re not sure where to start, this can often help narrow it down.
Don’t be fussy about rules surrounding dishes. You can serve wine in lots of different vessels—not just a stemmed wine glass! Jami always likes to layer plates, usually with a placemat (though not if there’s a tablecloth), a charger, and then a stack of plates. For her, that’s usually 3 plates. She likes to try for at least an inch of border between each plate to make sure the proportions are right.
Custom napkin rings can be a great gift. Jewelry maker Katherine Blauwiekel of Anne-Marie Designs loves making custom napkin rings (like the ones pictured here) for her guests to take home. She says it can add a unique touch to the table and it’s even a great hostess gift if you’re not hosting yourself.
Keep it simple with florals. If you’re overwhelmed about making an entire arrangement, Alison Montechinos-Johnson of Solstice Floral Studios loves using a lot of single flowers in bud vases. She also loves to incorporate fruit and greenery into the table, like the pears, grapes and turnips seen here. You don’t need a massive floral arrangement to make a statement—a simple runner, greenery, and candles can still be just as impressive.
Table design: Good Stuff China
Florals: Solstice Floral Studio
Venue: The Elizabeth Loft
Custom napkin rings: Anne-Marie Designs
Desserts: Taylor Elizabeth Cakes