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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Create a Fantastic Fall-iday Table

As thankful as I am, as we all are, to be able to gather once again with friends and family this fall, and to not have to eat Thanksgiving dinner outside while sitting six feet apart wearing masks and passing the hand sanitizer, my fall dining table doesn’t reflect that sentiment.

In fact, it falls flat.

Maybe it’s because I sat two fall seasons out, but my inspiration well is as dry as the leaf pile.

So, in a quest for ideas to spice up my fall table, I turned to Sur La Table (, the entertaining and tableware retailer that has been encouraging customers to cook well and entertain often since it opened its first store 50 years ago.

“I need a fall-iday refresher,” I said, when I got Natalie Rodgers, Sur La Table’s senior director of merchandising for the entertaining division, on the phone.

“In normal times,” she said, “the second half of the year is when hosts start to elevate their dining tables, and make the everyday more formal. But this year, people are more excited than ever to gather and are ready to pull out all the stops.”

“This presumes I have stops to pull,” I said.

“That doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy anything new,” Rodgers said. “You can use what you have and what is in your backyard, as well as look at what’s in store.”

All that sounds grand. However, before you start running around like a turkey with your, err, uhh, before you get too carried away, heed this: It’s really easy to make a fall table look like a pumpkin-pilgrim mashup. Turkey-themed plates next to pumpkin-print napkins wedged into napkin rings crafted to look like pilgrim hats all spread on a tablecloth dusted with fall leaves can look like yesterday’s giblet stuffing.

So, to help you (and me) proceed tastefully, I asked Rodgers to talk us through how to set a beautiful fall-iday table from scratch, including what not to do. Here’s our checklist for a fall-tastic table:

· Balance the blend. Mixing patterns and textures is what makes a seasonal table come to life, but it’s also where hosts get in trouble, Rodgers said. “Not everything should have a pattern. If you are using heavily patterned linens, balance them with plain, simple dinnerware. Conversely, if you have patterned dishes, use simpler linens in solids, checks or plaids.” It’s all about balance.

· Start with your linens. Though it’s tempting to nab those table linens featuring pumpkins and fall leaves, choosing tablecloths, runners and cloth napkins in fall colors (brown, gold, rust, plum, olive) will give you more flexibility. These linens can be solids, or plaids. If you have light-colored dinnerware, using darker linens can set dishes off nicely. Choose color combinations that work with the rest of your home’s décor.

· Formal or casual? A tablecloth will create a more formal look, and is a great way to dress up a rustic table. However, for a less formal feel, a table runner alone in a fall color can be enough. Try making your own fall runner out of burlap, which adds interest and texture. You can also layer a runner in a contrasting color over a tablecloth to add drama.

· Charge it. Placing a charger under a dinner plate instantly says, “special occasion,” Rodgers said. Round chargers made of woven abaca, seagrass or rattan work especially well on fall tables.

· Put a ring on it. Seasonal napkin rings are another opportunity to elevate an everyday table for a holiday. Again, napkin rings don’t have to be adorned with faux fall leaves or stenciled turkeys, but rather can reflect the essence of fall through color.

· Add the settings. Five-piece flatware settings, that is, not just a knife, fork and spoon, but a salad fork and soupspoon as well, are another hallmark of a well-dressed table. Put away the everyday tumblers and pull out the stemware for wine and water.

· Look to nature. “Leverage what’s readily available, natural and in season,” Rodgers said. “I love idea the idea of incorporating seasonal produce from the grocery store, like pomegranates, gourds, or fresh pears into table décor. I also like looking in the yard for branches to lay across the table.” (Wash them first.)

· All eyes center stage. Although your centerpiece is the focal point, it doesn’t have to be complicated. The most successful centerpieces keep to a tight color palette or even to a single color. Try making a simple fall floral arrangement out of yellow or orange chrysanthemums or marigolds. (Remove leaves to get rid of their smell.) If the table is long, place two or three simple floral arrangements down the center. A cornucopia overflowing with squash, figs, artichokes, acorns and greenery is a traditional favorite. Whatever you create, keep arrangements low so guests can see over them when seated.

· Save room for the food. If you’re serving a buffet, centerpieces can be more elaborate. However, if you plan to put food on the table Norman Rockwell style, they may be in the way.

· Last, layer in candles. Whether tapers, pillars, or votives, candles add magic and ambiance to any table. Nestle them into your tablescape where you can, but be sure they’re unscented so they don’t compete with the food.

· Most important: Be grateful.

CAPTION: Balancing Act ─ When setting your holiday table, balance patterns and solids, says Sur La Table’s Natalie Rodgers. For example, if you have patterned dinnerware, pair it with solid-colored napkins. Photo courtesy Sur La Table.

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