Eat, drink and be merry seems to be the ringing theme of the holiday season. Not only are we busy making merry at other people’s homes, but more often than not, we’re also hosting get togethers and dinners in our own homes. And while we’re busy dressing the family in their perfect holiday outfits, so too should we be dressing up our home, particularly, the dining room.
“During the holiday season, the dining room is really the star of your show says Elaine Griffin, NYC-based interior designer and author of Design Rules: The Insider’s Guide to Becoming Your Own Decorator. “Think about it, Thanksgiving, Christmas, even New Year’s Eve—they’re all about food and people and this is the place where the two come together. It’s time to bring you’re A-game to your dining room.”
Your first order of business she says is to have a plan, develop a plan of how you’ll be presenting your home this year and that plan starts at the front door. “Think about the path that people will take as they walk in,” Griffin says. “There is always a guest circuit that begins as your guests enter your home and ultimately ends in the dining room. Walk your typical guest circuit from the front door so you can see what your guests see, then always make sure there is something visually pleasing in that path.”
This is one of professional event planners’ top tricks, explains Griffin. “As long as you have moments of fabulosity along that path, you’re done,” she says. “This includes the front door, foyer, coat closet, living room, even your powder room. Always make sure there is a decorative moment in each.”
For the powder room, which Griffin points out is the most used room after your dining and living rooms, display a tray filled with sparkly ornaments and light a candle with an inviting holiday scent. “I also really like to have a pretty nightlight on in my powder room so when my guests open the door they have something pleasant to look at before turning on the light.”
When it’s time to focus on your dining room, think about your table and chairs set up. “Your table and chairs are equally important,” says Griffin. However, that doesn’t mean it all has to match perfectly. “Your chairs should be clean and comfortable and if you have a mismatched set of chairs, have fun with them and arrange them symmetrically so they look like you did it on purpose.” Also, she advises that chairs should have three feet of clearance from any walls surrounding the dining table and you should always allow for 18 inches of table space per person.
When it comes to setting the table, placecards are a must for a gathering of four or more. “A few of my favorite tips is to split up husbands and wives (they talk every night at dinner at home) and never put the most talkative guests together, instead, seat them opposite each other,” she advises. “This helps the conversation flow among all guests at the table.”
Once your seating is in order, choosing a decorative theme for your table is all about having fun. “The most wonderful thing about a holiday table top is that there are no wrongs,” says Griffin. “From the juicy colorful fruits of the season such as pomegranates and pomanders to the beautiful bounty of nature, there’s so much to choose from.” Griffin likes the idea of going beyond using only traditional colors and instead pairing one holiday hue with another that is dominant in your home’s color scheme, or mixing in metals such as gold and silver. “I think it’s fun to mix things up and you’re guaranteed to not see the same colors at your girlfriend’s house!”
Final touches such as making sure everything on the table is at chin level or lower so guests can easily see one another is important—keep the taller candles and décor for a sideboard or buffet. “I like the idea of mixing shorter candles at different heights on the table, giving your guests something to meander and take in.” Also, she says, don’t forget what’s above your table.
“Most of us have a chandelier or similar above our dining table,” explains Griffin. “First, make sure it is hung at an appropriate height of 32 inches above the table. Then, extend your decorations there as well with a few evergreen sprigs or hang a few ornaments for that special touch up above.”
Finally, when creating a cozy, festive environment in your dining area, don’t forget about your windows too. “Bringing together a large group for dinner can get a bit noisy,” says Griffin. “Sound absorption is important during the holiday season. Roman shades, such as the new Design Studio line from Hunter Douglas are great because you’re giving your home both a functional and decorative lift. I like the idea of installing them behind curtains for that extra protective layer from the elements.”