Design Experts Share Tips for Making Holiday Tablecapes Extra Special

You can follow the rules or break them—just make the effort. It's worth it

Aspen Forest Tablescape by Debbie Marks of Qube Luxe

Qube Luxe

One of our favorite things about following interior designers and lifestyle influencers on Instagram is that they constantly post small ideas on how to make daily life more beautiful. Now, with intimate, at-home holiday celebrations as our new normal, we're particularly loving the rise of personal tablescaping and napkin folding.

It’s easy to see how this might take root during a time when we’re all at home a lot more. If we can’t go out to eat nearly as often, then it’s only logical that we’d bring the restaurant experience to us. And as more upscale restaurants offer take-out options, we’ve also seen a huge increase in virtual events and parties. DIY tablescaping feels like the obvious next step to making even our most mundane day-to-day meals feel special and celebratory.

Now, with the holidays quickly approaching, we’re facing another hurdle: how do we make the holidays feel festive when we can’t all be with our nearest and dearest? Of course, nothing can replace that time together, but luckily, the stylists and designers who fill our feeds are here to help keep moods merry and bright. We’ve rounded up some of our favorites and reached out to ask a few of the experts for their insights and tips:

Rule 1: Use Cloth Napkins

Debbie Marks, luxury event planner and stylist at Qube Luxe was clear on one thing: “Paper napkins are a real no no!  If you want to create a luxury tablescape, you need a stunning linen napkin.” It’s a bonus that this is the more sustainable option, as well. “I generally use machine washable napkins,” said Marks, “so that I can use them again and again.”

Aspen Forest Tablescape by Debbie Marks of Qube Luxe

Qube Luxe

If you feel a bit overwhelmed by the actual art of napkin folding, Marks says not to fear. There are other options. “You can't have a gorgeous napkin without a showpiece napkin ring!” She says. “If napkin rings aren't your thing then you definitely need a really special touch that goes onto the napkin. This could be some cinnamon sticks or even a little gift for your guest.”


3 Fancy Napkin Folds That Are Easy to Learn!

Creator Mandavi agreed. “You don’t have to be good at folding. Napkin holders and rings can really add to your theme. Even if you just use a simple twine and add a dry leaf, you can be really creative. I’m not into folding because I’m not good at it, so I use different ways to display.”

Gold holiday tablecape by Mandavi


But if you do want to attempt to learn to fold a festive napkin, then June Summerill and Seb Bishop, of the London-based Summerill & Bishop, fully approve. They go all out for the holidays, admitting that, “in the past we’ve tried everything from angels to envelopes, Christmas trees to love hearts. Persevere with the folding; it’s worth it, but be careful they don’t look overly done.”

Christmas tree napkin by Summerill & Bishop

Summerill & Bishop

“You want the table to feel special and relaxed,” they rightfully pointed out. “A beautiful table should look effortless.”

Rule 2: Find Inspiration Everywhere

Mandavi said she finds inspiration in everything, even if it’s not quite home décor related. It might be an accessory from around her home, or a window display that does something in a unique way. “I’m a very visual person, I visualize a lot in my head,” she said. Her sources also include Instagram and Pinterest, but never underestimate the value of “adding your own touch.”

Similarly, the team at the LA-based Casa de Perrin is looking at the world around us as their muse. “This year, with the amount of time we’ve dedicated to staying in and social distancing, we’ve been reaching out toward nature for inspiration more than ever.”

Green and gold tablescape by Casa de Perrin

Casa de Perrin

Plus, this crazy year in general has offered a new perspective. “With all of the uncertainty 2020 has brought us, it seems to us there has never been a better time to hunker down and get creative with your holiday table design,” they said. If you do it right, the table can be an immersive experience. “A beautifully designed table can transport guests to another time or place and capture their imagination, making 2020 the perfect year to go all out on your tabletop, no matter how intimate your guest count!”

At a time when it's recommended we stay put, we’ll take all the mental escapes we can get.

Rule 3: Look at the Big Picture

As you’re planning your table, Marks and the Qube Luxe team also suggest looking at the table as an entirety. “It’s not just one element, it’s every little detail that contributes to the overall finished look.”

Yes, a table runner with complementing cloth napkins and placemats are key as your base. But you can also up the WOW factor with glittery or pine-laden garland and an abundance of candlesticks. Then, once your big picture is set, add the small finishing touches that pull the entire aesthetic together. Marks suggested scattering the table with something small, like autumn leaves and pinecones for Thanksgiving, snow and diamantes for Christmas, or dreidels for Hannukah.

The team at Summerill & Bishop echoed Mark's thoughts. They suggested using "the tablecloth and napkins and pick elements from their design to detail across the rest of the tabletop.”

Hanukkah tablescape by Rebekah Lowin

Rebekah Lowin

Rebekah Lowin also strongly suggested adding flowers, always. “They add so much to any tablescape. For Hanukkah, if you have a hard time finding blue flowers in the wintertime (it can be tough!), you can always supplement a basic, white supermarket bouquet with a few blue faux stems from your local craft store.”


Rule 4: Go With What You Know (and Love)

Sure, some elements of the holidays offer built-in themes. If you think of a Christmas table, your mind probably drifts to lush greens and reds and golds, lots of candles, and maybe some pinecones or jingle bells. But you can also think outside the box and focus on a seasonal hobby your family loves.

Do you normally go skiing over Christmas and will really miss the apres-ski this December? Then Marks suggested bringing the lodge home. For a recent client, she created “a ski lodge vibe and adorned the table with antlers, hurricane vases, and pillar candles.” She also added faux fur throws on the backs of each chair to really up the cozy vibe.

Rule 5: Break the Rules

Casa de Perrin is a big fan of mix-and-match… something that might not be the norm in a more formal dining setting. You can stick with one color palette and instead, layer with different styles. Casa de Perrin recommends combining ornate china with organic touches or mixing heirloom pieces with something sleek and modern. It’s all part of the fun—and the challenge!

Lowin is also all for playing with color, especially as she plans for her Hanukkah table. “Typically, people decorate for Hanukkah with some combination of blues, golds, silvers, and whites (emphasis on the blue!), so that’s always a great jumping-off point. But remember, these aren’t hard and fast rules. Feel free to get creative and use variations of those colors—maybe a navy blue instead of a royal blue; maybe just stick with silvers and golds.”

“Or you can color totally outside the lines,” she added. “Make Hanukkah pink, purple, green…  whatever you want. It’s your party!”

Rule 6: Make the Effort—It’s Worth It

Mandavi pointed out that right now, making the holidays special is more important than ever. We spoke as she prepared for Diwali (November 14), and she said they planned an intimate, sit-down dinner rather than their usual large, family-centric gathering.

There will be lots of sweets, lots of candles, and most importantly, lots of effort—even for their small family. “Sometimes with kids we don’t make an effort but this time, we’ll make an effort. Everyone will have a three-course meal and make it special.”

Summerill & Bishop agreed, and they even go so far as to include their little ones in the full execution. “My kids handwrite the place settings," Bishop said. "Everyone contributes to the table in some way and so it feels unique to us as a family.”

And, whether you’re a proud maximalist or a staunch minimalist, my near-obsessive scrolling has taught me one thing. As long as you pick your theme and run with it, setting a full table for your holiday celebration is sure to make it feel special.