How to Best Dress the Christmas Table

Christmas table decorations
Tiffany china always makes a good impression, complemented by Christmas-tree shaped sugar cookies, a classic red tablecloth and red anemones from the Bridgehampton Florist.
Courtesy of Bridgehampton Florist

Christmas table decorations — Unless you have a flair for decorating or are the next Martha Stewart, you might have some difficulty coming up with ideas for setting your table for Christmas beyond the obvious red placemat. Perhaps it’s not creativity you lack, but rather a sense of pulling it together so that it does not look like a Christmas tree exploded all over the table.

There is a fine line between an elegant setting and an overdone mishmash of Christmas paraphernalia.

For some advice on Christmas table deocrations, Behind The Hedges turned to the experts — those with an eye for detail and an understanding of what the average host can handle with the Christmas countdown on.

Classic Floral Centerpieces

Lou Guillen, the president of Dutch Petals, a flower shop that supplies arrangements to stores like Citarella as well as direct to consumers, says the traditional holiday colors — reds, greens and whites — are the most popular this time of year.

A classic red and white centerpiece made in Dutch Petals’ new shop in Southampton.Courtesy of Dutch Petals

When a customer comes into Dutch Petals’ new shop on County Road 39 in Southampton looking to create a floral arrangement, the design team always first asks about the table itself. Is it round or rectangular? How big is it? “This will set the starting point for any design,” he says.

For those looking to create a centerpiece on their own, Guillen says, “In many cases you don’t have to look far for holiday greens; a holly tree, White Pine branches, even Arborvitae all can be used as a base for any table arrangement.”

An arrangement made for Christmas.Courtesy of Dutch Petals

Next, pick out a container before selecting the flowers. “I have personally found some great unique containers in Riverhead, and once decorated with beautiful flowers they look incredible. At Dutch Petals we frequently have customers bring in their favorite containers and ask us to make an arrangement in them,” he says.

“Next on the shopping list for the DIY florist should be some Floral Oasis, easily cut to size and soaked overnight,” says Guillen. Floral Oasis is a brand of a water-absorbing structure that holds stems in place and keeps flowers fresher longer. Dutch Petals sells the foam and uses it in their arrangements. “It’s very difficult for the beginner to make a table arrangement without this as flowers will be falling from side to side and things get frustrating quickly!”

Another tip, Guillen offers, is to line the inside of the container, assuming it’s glass, with either a leaf or green ribbon, for appearances’ sake.

“We try to keep it simple, yet elegant,” he says, “Don’t try to fill the arrangement with too many different colors or flower types. Pick maybe three or four maximum and build with those.”

Don’t underestimate the power of simple, white orchids. “White orchids are always a favorite out here in the Hamptons and a stunning orchid arrangement will make any holiday kitchen island light up,” he says. His “Orchids Galore” arrangement is a best-seller year-round.

Arrangements should be kept low, at a maximum of eight to 10 inches tall, “or your guests won’t be able to see one another across the tables,” Guillen cautions. “We often suggest making a taller arrangement in similar colors for a bar or kitchen island area where people are sure to gather, and choose one common flower to complement the centerpiece.”

He suggests buying a few extra bunches of the selected flowers. “For a large arrangement it can take a lot of individual flower stems to fill it up and it’s most always underestimated. Any leftovers can always be used in small bud-type vases and placed in a guest bathroom,” he says.

Start Early

“I think you should keep it simple because you have so much to do,” says Michael Grim, who with Jim Osburn at the Bridgehampton Florist has been dressing up Hamptons homes with flowers for 30 years.

Grim, known to many as the florist Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa trusts to deliver timeless pieces for her table, suggests starting with evergreens a week before the holiday and then building on them. The evergreens can be a centerpiece for the middle of the table or a long piece that extends the length of the table.

A festive table with lots of greenery.Courtesy of Bridgehampton Florist

“Get it from the garden or go to a florist and get something already made in terms of evergreens that are made for a mantlepiece,” he says.
Then drop in pine cones from the backyard and keep embellishing. Ideas include seed pods, pomegranate in the kitchen for a holiday dish, berries or nuts. “It’s something you can work on all week and not worry about doing on the 23rd and 24th.”

Candles can be placed in tall and short votives amid the evergreen centerpiece to illuminate the table when guests are about to arrive.

In a recent Instagram post on the Bridgehampton Florist’s page, Grim also places miniature wreaths on top of the dishes. Each wreath’s red bow drapes over the green napkin at the place setting.

Christmas candy is also not just for the stockings of those with a sweet tooth anymore. Grim repurposes the easily accessible candy to dress up tables and mantles.

Candy canes add color and some fun to any table.Courtesy of Bridgehampton Florist

In addition to garland for the mantle at the American Hotel, he filled glass apothecary jars with ribbon candy, red and green spice drops, peppermint rounds and other assorted candies.

On the table for an event, he placed pink carnations in a container surrounded by candy canes adorned with a red ribbon. Peppermint encircled the small candle votives. Red and white striped placemats sat on top of a white table cloth. Red chargers were stacked with white plates and red napkins with a single candy cane on each tied the table together.

“It’s very simple, very basic is how I see it,” he says.

No Rules For Tablescapes

Sisters Kendra Vellante and Carlyn Vellante know a thing or two about creating the perfect tablescape. Through their business, Destination Haus, a gallery and home décor store in Montauk, they not only sell items for any table, but they curate tablescapes for events and even private outdoor picnics.

There are no rules for tablescapes, says the owners of Destination Haus in Montauk.Courtesy of Destination Haus

“Before choosing décor, I would say know your group. Who you’re hosting is key. From there, we always start by choosing a theme and color scheme, and invest in timeless table décor that we’ll re-use —we love to keep our business sustainable,” says Kendra. “For instance, if you know your party loves a specific cocktail, make sure to include the right glassware to accommodate. Or if new friends are joining the table, make sure everyone has a customized place card and choose their seats right to enhance conversations around the table. No small detail goes unnoticed!”

This Thanksgiving, the sisters tried something new. “Many of our summer tablescapes are usually romantic, neutral blues, and have a Midsummer’s Night touch,” says Carlyn. “Our Thanksgiving theme was ‘avant-garde’ and we went with a monochromatic color scheme of dark shades — black linen tablecloth, dark gray cloth tied napkins with sticks of lavender, dried pomegranate floral bunches, and pops of gold.”

Kendra Vellante and Carlyn Vellante of Destination Haus went for a monochromatic color scheme for a recent Thanksgiving meal that can easily be replicated for a Christmas table.Courtesy of Destination Haus

The Vellantes admit they don’t like to follow the rules when it comes to decorating, and encourage others to do the same. “We like to think out of the box and mix and match glassware, use unique florals and glassware, and maybe add different touches to every other seat. Patterns mixed with simplicity creates an elegant timeless style.”

Not enough time to go out and purchase new table décor? Not to worry, they say. Instead, bring in new elements by using a few sets of glassware, tying the napkins a different way, using natural elements for place cards, such as painted rocks or shells found outside, they suggest.

Don’t Stress

With Christmas just a few days away and lots to do before Santa Claus arrives, the key is not to stress, says Jackie Doskoez, the manager at Bay Gardens in East Moriches, which has been transformed into a Christmas wonderland.

“Many great table settings can be made with holiday items around the house,” she says, suggesting fun ornaments, champagne glasses, and candles that are sitting in the closet. “Then add your favorite holiday flowers. We love the classic look of the white poinsettia combined with the lemon cypress and the lavender trees. We wrapped them in some burlap roll, and they are ready to go.”

Garland can also be woven in and out of the décor, she says. Garland-inspired items can be used to dress “a natural elegant table with an earthy tone,” she says, pointing to a table set in the store.

A moss-green table runner paired with some live plants and accented with ornaments make for a natural, yet festive table.Courtesy of Bay Gardens

“We chose a moss-green table runner along with some of our live plants. We also love the different height candle holders that we sell to add dimension along with the sparkly festive ornaments,” she says, adding that she finished it off with a wood place card holder and a red dinner bell for a pop of color.

“This time of the year, we have Christmas cactus, poinsettia, cyclamen and kalanchoe that make the season bright. We also have small trees like the lemon cypress and rosemary or, if you want some fragrance, you can try the lavender tree!”

One point stressed by all of the experts we spoke to is to stay within a theme. “If you love red then get the red poinsettia with white plates and tapers,” says Doskoez. “If silver and gold is more your theme, then ornaments, glasses and even silverware with gold accents highlighted with white and green plants would do the trick.”

Don’t forget the namecards.Taylor K. Vecsey

Follow these tips for creating a festive setting and it will not only leave your guests impressed, but will leave them saying, “Did they hire someone to do that?”

No matter how the table is dressed, the holiday is most importantly about those gathering around it. From our home to yours, Cheers to the holiday season.

This article appeared in the December 2021 issue of Behind The Hedges. Click here to view the digital edition.