Originally Published: November 11, 2016 6:02 a.m.
Perhaps more than any other holiday, Thanksgiving is about tradition. The menu and tableware often vary little from year to year, and the day feels as reliable as a cozy sweater.
It can also feel repetitive.
So as you honor tradition, why not bring a dose of fresh style to your Thanksgiving celebration? As interior designer and HGTV host Vern Yip puts it, just “get to the heart of why those traditions exist and what they’re about. That opens up a whole new box of decor ideas.”
Here Yip and two other designers – Maxwell Ryan, founder of apartmenttherapy.com, and crafter Lia Griffith of liagriffith.com – offer advice on creating a memorable Thanksgiving table.
BRING NATURE IN
Summer’s blooms may be a distant memory, but nature can still brighten up your table. Go outside and see what’s available, says Ryan: Collect pine cones, berries, vines and anything else that strikes you as beautiful. Cluster them on the table in different ways, adding other natural items like squash or pumpkins to the mix.
Another natural touch: “Scoop out the middle of an apple in the same shape as a votive,” Ryan says, and then tuck a votive candle into it. Do this with a half-dozen apples arranged on a dish, then light them. The candle flame warms the apples, releasing their sweet scent. As long as the top of the candle extends a few centimeters above the edge of the apple, the tiny flame remains a safe distance from the apple.
Yip suggests lining up tiny topiaries down the center of the table. He asks guests in advance what their wish is for the coming year or what they’re thankful for, and then he writes those words on tiny paper tags attached to the topiaries. This gets guests talking about what’s meaningful to them this Thanksgiving.
Amid all this natural greenery, Griffith points out that you can mix in paper flowers to create a striking centerpiece or napkin rings.
She also suggests cutting an image of a bare tree out of butcher paper and hanging it on the wall. Cut leaves out of colored paper, have kids (or grownups) write what they’re thankful for this year and paste the leaves on the tree branches. (You can find templates for the leaves at liagriffith.com.)
FEATURE THE FOOD
This year, try adding hand-written or typed paper flags or labels to your serving dishes, says Griffith. Beyond helping guests with food sensitivities or allergies, this lets you draw attention to the history of dishes, the relatives who made them and who contributed them this year.
Consider letting the food take center stage on Thanksgiving, skipping a traditional centerpiece. Try displaying the food at various heights, says Ryan, by using cake stands or wide bowls overturned to serve as pedestals.
And don’t keep dessert hidden. Thanksgiving desserts, he notes, tend to look phenomenal.
“It’s such a shame that these beautiful cakes and pies and cookies are kind of left in the kitchen,” he says. Displaying them on cake stands in place of flowers or other decorations lets guests enjoy their sight and scent throughout the meal – and serves as a reminder to save room for dessert.
Just be sure, Yip says, that nothing on the table is so tall that it blocks the view of other guests.
TRY FRESH COLORS
If your usual Thanksgiving palette is browns and oranges, try something new this year: Griffith suggests dressing your table in soft shades of purple with accents of metallic copper and gold.
“The metallic trend is so hot right now,” she says, and the warm beauty of purple is a striking backdrop for white china.
Yip likes to ask guests before Thanksgiving to tell him something special about themselves, and then use that to personalize the table. For instance, he might ask everyone to name one place in the world they’ve always wanted to visit. Then he orders postcards (Yip says they’re easily available online) to decorate each place setting. Guests can find their seat based on the destination, and talk with other guests about their choices.
Or ask everyone for the title of a favorite book, and then place those books on the table in stacks or on each napkin. Each guest can explain why that book resonated with them, and each can go home with a recommended book.