Setting the Table

Setting the Table


Joan Faison’s dining room table only sits 10, though that’s no indication of how many people she can accommodate for memorable holiday meals at her Charlotte, N.C., home.

In fact, with a little creativity Faison welcomes as many as 25 family members for formal sit-down dinners.

All it takes, says the academic director of interior design at The Art Institute of Charlotte, is time to plan in advance. “Without a plan in place, the home will inevitably lose its charm. Between the holiday decorations and the extra seating for guests, the space will seem too crowded,” she says.

Hosts can take various approaches to accommodating their guests depending on the number expected.

The easiest way to accommodate a large crowd calls for arranging a casual buffet with food options that allow people to eat, walk and talk. Chairs can be placed around the living room and dining room to allow people to sit but still mingle.

But during the holidays, a time of multi-generational bonding, hosts often prefer a more formal setting. Experts agree that in this case planning in advance is crucial. Guests should never be made to feel unwelcome or as if their presence was not expected. Chairs should be located and arranged before guests begin to arrive.

Transform that table

A dinner party that requires just a little more seating space than what the dining table can provide is an easy fix, says Faison.

One of the most magnificently decorated tables she’s seen involved the use of a large piece of plywood cut to size and placed over a standard dining table. Once draped, it crowned the entire room. New guests could hardly tell that it was not normally as large.

The board can be stored under the bed mattress when it’s not in use, she says.

Those looking for a more hassle-free option can simply find a table of similar height. Once the elongated table is covered and decorated, the height variations will be diminished.

Besides, during the holidays folks just want to spend time together. They understand that it involves some sacrifices, experts say.

If an extended table proves too long for the available space, move the table so that it’s on a diagonal. Other pieces of furniture may need to be stored in the garage or basement.

Faison says that if space is tight she prefers to serve the meal rather than set up a buffet table. She asks her nieces and nephew to help carry the dishes back and forth. They enjoy their special role in the family event.

Small round tables with beverages or extra serving dishes could go in the open corners of the dining room, thus creating additional room in the main table.

Faison suggests seating two people on each end of a large table. Then create a hierarchy by placing two larger matching chairs directly across from each other in the center of the table for the hosts.

A low and colorful centerpiece can help create a sophisticated holiday look as can miniature cypress topiaries, candles and ribbons around chairs.

Move the furniture

Larger dinner parties inevitably need more planning. Kathy Passarette, a decorator in Mount Sinai, N.Y., keeps it simple by renting round tables, matching chairs and tablecloths instead of hunting these down around the house and neighborhood.

Square card tables are too flimsy, she says. It’s also difficult finding tablecloths of that size.

She can rent tables in here area for $10 and chairs for $2 or $3 each. Before she selects linen, she tries to think of a theme or color palette.

Traditional holiday colors – green, red, gold and white – are often expected and preferred by hosts and guests alike.

Sometimes, she even relies solely on the rented goods. She’ll push her rectangular table and use it serve the buffet.

“This way it’s more cohesive and elegant. The china is all the same, the linen is all the same and all the tables fit properly,” she says.

Carole Talbott, a design consultant from Port Salerno, Fla., takes another approach. Instead of using matching linen, she gives each of her tables a different theme.

“You can almost take it to the adventure level and make the smaller tables even prettier,” she says. “That way everyone is happy.”

Extend the welcome

Faison say it’s important that no guest feels relegated to less important space. Assigned seating, she notes, help to manage large crowds. Guests with greater space needs or more limited mobility require special accommodations.

“The use of place cards gives me control to make sure everyone is comfortable,” she says.

For special gathering, buy trinkets to place on each chair, such as memorabilia from local museum stores or even holiday pins.

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