It’s a well-known fact on the Remodelista editorial team: Tricia Rose of Rough Linen is our authority on relaxed-but-refined style. She’s never steered us wrong in tips for making up the guest room (leave towels in the bedroom and bath, to avoid dashes down the hallway), creating a romantic bedroom (don’t go overboard with scent), and making a beautiful bed (forget the fitted sheet).
Now, with Thanksgiving—and the holidays—ahead, we asked Tricia for her tips for setting a casual, fuss-free table. Our only requirement: tips easy enough to pull off at the last minute with what you have around the house, no frenzied runs to the store needed. Tip number one? “Take pleasure in the gathering, and in preparing your table,” she says. “I like to set the table the day before, so I can do it at my leisure and admire it, right from breakfast.”
Photography courtesy of Rough Linen.
1. Choose a palette.
“Think about your overall theme for your gathering, and pick a color scheme that matches. Are you aiming for warm and earthy, slow food, homemade bread? Layer tones such as moss and natural for an earthen, autumnal table. Going for sharp and wintery style? Off-white and ink colors layer beautifully for a crisp white and blue palette. Moody, brooding fig brings an urbane edge and makes everything look richer.”
2. Add layers.
“Since your table will be at full capacity (possibly even joined with other tables to seat everyone), table runners and long tablecloths can be layered to accommodate the surface. Linen tablecloths can make any surface look good, and you can angle them too, and add a table runner to unite all the pieces.”
3. Rethink stodgy placemats.
“Placemats don’t have to sit squarely on the table: the edges can overhang the table a bit to create a more relaxed, layered feel. You can try making pretty place cards, but no one I know pays any attention to them. Sigh.”
4. Take a walk in the garden.
“Fold napkins simply and tie fresh greenery in with string or ribbon, and strew leaves and flowers along the table rather than having tall vases as a centerpiece. Vases can get in the way of sharing both the vegetables and fascinating conversation. Same goes for tall candlesticks.”
5. Spread out the preparations.
“Prepare ahead, even days ahead, so you are not cooking everything at the last minute. Ask trusted people for specific contributions: most will be flattered. Flambéed hostess shouldn’t be the first course.”
6. Serve dinner à la Française.
“Most of us serve Thanksgiving à la Française: that is, we put platters of food down the center of the table and people help themselves. (Isn’t it great that there’s a name for it?). The advantages are obvious but there is one drawback: the food can get cold. Congealed gravy. Sullen mashed potato. The easiest way to heat your plates is to run them through the dishwasher so they are toasty warm and ready for the table. Of course if you are fortunate enough to have chafing dishes or warming trays, now’s the time to use them.”
7. Test out the lighting.
“Now is the time to look at your lighting where you eat, and tweak it so it is flattering and subtle. This is the time to install dimmers, so if you don’t have them yet, do it now, and enjoy the difference they make for a mood-lit gathering.” (No time to install dimmers? Candles will do the trick nicely.)
8. Don’t forget water glasses.
“Fill the water glasses on the table before everyone sits down. It’s easy to get a little too merry if water isn’t available, and you don’t want people talking politics.”
9. Leave a token at each place.
“Mottos or poems by everyone’s plate can set the mood for thankfulness and a little ritual. With a little luck people will leave the table feeling happy, blessed, and peaceful, and your job as host will be done.”
10. Don’t save your best tableware for one or two days a year.
“We all wheel out our best things for the holidays, but consider keeping them out to use every day (perhaps only saving the precious, brittle-stemmed glasses for the special occasions). Life is too short for dull flatware and paper towels!”
More tips and tricks for seamless entertaining this holiday season: