Ever since we featured Paris-based tableware shop Madame de la Maison on Remodelista a while back (see: Vintage French Style You Can Rent), we’ve been smitten with Ajiri Aki, the style maven and collectress behind the shop, who scours the best flea markets in France for vintage Limoges and styles the most beautiful table we’ve seen in a long while. When we heard that Aki was hosting a holiday dinner party for a small circle of French and expat friends, we asked for a behind-the-scenes look—and her tips for throwing a festive but sophisticated winter fête, Parisian style.
The setting? The Haussmannian apartment of Frank Barron, the baker behind Cakeboy Paris and an expat friend of Aki’s. “I love how Frank considers himself an amateur baker even though he whips together the most gorgeous cakes weekly,” she says. “I also consider myself an amateur hostess, yet that doesn’t stop me from messily throwing together gatherings chez moi. We make our own rules while adding a dash of decorum, style, and joy. We love beautiful things and we also love making people feel welcome. In that spirit, we decided to co-host a little holiday apero for friends.”
Tip number one? “You don’t have to drown your home in red, white and green,” Aki says. “You can change it up a bit while still having the trappings of typical holiday flair.” Here’s a look at the apartment before the guests arrived, plus ideas to take away.
Photography by Victoria Kolotova.
1. Go beyond red and green.
Aki suggests using linen to set a palette: “The French love linens,” she says. “They don’t need to be perfectly ironed and they don’t need to be red or green. They can be a beautiful rose like this Madame de la Maison linen tablecloth that you can also enjoy other times of the year. For our holiday table we decided to mix rose and aubergine for a romantic holiday color palette.” (These are Aki’s 100 percent linen Rose Linen Tablecloth and Aubergine Linen Napkins from Madame de la Maison.)
2. Fill bowls with festive treats.
“Keep beautiful bowls or trays with clementines, candied chestnuts, or meringues scattered around the house for guests to nibble on with their Champagne before dinner. In France clementines appear in beautiful bowls in every home throughout December.”
3. Add bunches of greens—everywhere.
“You can have a few traditional wintery greens like eucalyptus and pines that scream holiday cheer, but add some pink-hued flowers as well for a modern twist,” advises Ajiri. “If you insist on holiday berries, throw those on a plate with the cheese or another dish.” (And an insider tip on the compulsory cheese board: “The French have cheese after the meal, before dessert,” Aki says.)
4. Rethink the bûche de Noël.
“It ain’t Christmas without a holiday log burning. However for the French that log is the bûche de Noël (translates to ‘Christmas log’) and is a special dessert cake or ice cream in the shape of log.” It needn’t be the traditional chocolate log: “For our gathering, Frank made a cranberry and vanilla bûche with white chocolate frosting and decorated with sugared cranberries and rose-colored florals.”
5. Add mix-and-match antiques.
“You will almost never sit at a French table without antique treasures from a flea market or someone’s family. You can mix modern pieces with a set of antique plates, salt cellars, or dessert forks as part of your table setting. These additions are great to talk about and bring a unique touch to your table.”
6. Serve a French speciality.
“Traditionally most French families celebrate the holidays with oysters, smoked salmon, and Coquilles St. Jacques,” says Aki. “It’s impossible not to add bits of this tradition to your table if you live in Paris because every store has mountains of this displayed in front of the store. You can serve your traditional bird of choice, but seafood starters are a great way to keep things French and an excuse to bust out beautiful objects you don’t use as often like oyster forks and special serving platters.”
7. Light lots of candles.
“To really set the mood, it’s important to tap into all the senses,” Aki says. “Make sure your guests walk in to a home that smells like holiday cheer. We are big fans of Cire Trudon, the oldest (active) candlemaker in France and previous candlemaker to Louis XV. Their newest holiday candle, Nazareth Christmas, filled our party with the smell of cloves and oranges. We also used their tapered candles in rose and aubergine to tie into our rose colored theme.”
8. Pop the Champagne.
“Champagne is a must. Antique Champagne coupes are optional (but not if you want to keep in the theme o French and festive).”
Lastly: “Don’t forget a playlist full of holiday music in French and English. Luckily Frank doesn’t mess around with music and has the perfect playlist to share.”
For more style, design, and entertaining lessons to learn from the French, see:
- Christmas in Burgundy: At Home with the Expat Family Behind the Cook’s Atelier
- Expert Advice: How to Decorate Like a Frenchwoman
- Expert Advice: How to Set a Table Like a Frenchwoman