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Set for the Holidays

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With a few tweaks, Thanksgiving decorations can work well into December

at-home-picWhether the mood is formal and elegant or simple and rustic, there is nothing more welcoming than a beautifully set holiday table. Before the economic meltdown, elaborate was the seasonal hallmark for both food and flowers: Foie gras, smoked salmon and whole filets of beef were accompanied by towering arrangements of roses, pheasant feathers and rarified ephemera. Today, the fare is more likely to be roasted turkey with stuffing, sweet potato casserole and a nice wine decanted in a crystal vase.

Thanksgiving ornamentation morphs into December festive with the mere change of a ribbon, garnish or the adding of ornaments found in the attic. Old-fashioned, homey and vintage are words that carry sentiment, and sentiment carries the day these days.

Recently, Diane Mouton, of Fat Cat Flowers on North Murat Street, and I were kicking around ideas for a birthday party I was hosting. The colors were to be autumnal, plus I wanted something I could play off of as we moved closer to the big holiday season. Having always liked the idea of being able to eat the centerpiece after the party was over, we started with a huge harvest gourd, found at Whole Foods. We used an ice pick to make holes in it and put short wooden kabob sticks in as anchors for what was to come: still-green grapefruit, oranges and lemons from the garden, along with greenery. Apples, mini pumpkins and grapes were grocery store finds, as were a couple dozen inexpensive orange-hued roses. Then I started building the centerpiece; when it was complete I stuffed clear glass vases with the smaller fruits and flowers.

Mouton takes a simpler but more professional approach. She loves working with people’s heirlooms, whether a huge silver tureen or some tiny tea cups from a great aunt. And she has a great eye for placement and proportion.

“You have to look at your table and think of it with all the food on it before you can begin to consider the arrangements. The food is key at holiday parties, so along with flowers, candles and ornamentation, it’s important to carry your theme on to platters of food, et cetera. I like things that are organic, and I like things repurposed. And you don’t have to spend great amounts of money to create a very festive look.”

Here are some inspirational examples:

—Use a large grapevine wreath in the center of the table or wherever you are placing the largest platter. Decorate the wreath or leave it plain, which can be quite pretty. The idea is to fill empty space with what will eventually have a groaning platter of food on it. The table will look beautiful. When it comes time to bring out the food, take the wreath away, put it on your front door and put the food in its place. The table will never look bare.

  • Accent basic table elements, such as salt and pepper cellars and grinders, by placing a big rose, orchid spray or single flower next to them.
  • Floating a single flower or tea light in a wine glass or even a teacup raises the level of visual interest and shows off a pretty heirloom.
  • Fruit is always a fabulous contrast to flowers, especially wonderful winter fruits like pomegranate, lady apples, Seckel pears and cranberries.
  • Wooden containers from the yard filled with large flowers and fruit can be a rustic centerpiece or a corner-of-the-room accent.
  • Bundles of cornstalks or sugarcane tied with pretty ribbon make a big statement.
  • An unframed mirror with a group of pillar candles at one end and seasonal leaves, which change to greens, at the other.
  • Hurricane or large glass vases filled with a big candle, unshelled nuts and berries.
  • After Thanksgiving, bring down the ornament boxes and fill vases or mound ornaments in a huge wooden salad bowl.
  • Recycle, reuse, reinvent. Move things around; dig in the back of the cupboard. For instance, I’ve used Abita and Barq’s bottles, filled with red and white beans to help anchor them, and added a single stem like a freesia or gerbera daisy for a party. It’s fun!

So as “gobble, gobble” turns to “jingle, jingle,” take a look around at what you’re got. Pick up some fruit and flowers, add ornaments, ribbon and candles, and voilà, it looks like a holiday party!