How to Set a Great Holiday Table (Even on Your Budget!)

It seems like the winter holiday decorations have been in stores since the Fourth of July, doesn’t it? It won’t be long before the holidays actually are here. Now that you’ve settled into your apartment home, you might be facing the daunting task of being the one to host the traditional holiday dinner. Don’t be intimidated! If it’s your first turn hosting or just the first in a different space, you’ll be able to put together a festive table setting, no matter what your budget is.

Take it from the experts: You can’t go wrong when your table decor features greenery or other natural elements. Whether that means taking a few sprigs from your living Christmas tree, snatching a few branches at the corner tree stand, snatching a few pinecones from your trip to the mountains or even incorporating cactus, let the great outdoors inside for texture and color on your holiday table.

Here are some other tips from the pros:

  • Don’t be afraid to be irreverent in your mix. Find things around your home to mix into your tablescape. Keep to a certain category or color and you’ll be fine.
  • Create take-home place-card holders as parting gifts. Use a little potted plant or a small wrapped scented candle in a box with a bow.
  • Choose flameless candles that won’t die down, have no fire risk and whose scent won’t ruin the delicious flavors of your holiday meal.

Take it to a new level

Notice when the experts decorate a table, elements are on different levels. You can even use books to prop up a centerpiece or platter (old books look great or you can cover with cloth napkins for a more elegant display). Different heights add interest and drama to a holiday table.

Of course, the more planning you put into your table setting, the better it will come out. After all, this is where your guests will spend most of their time, so you want to set the right tone and feeling for the dinner you want to present to them as your holiday gift. Even if it’s a casual gathering, there are many things you can do that will put your guests at ease and make the meal fun.

Black and gold are never out of style for color themes. You can buy inexpensive gold plate chargers at discount stores. Don’t be afraid to use sterling silver just because you’ve got gold on the table, too.

Do you need a centerpiece? No, but if you do, remember it doesn’t have to be in the center and it also doesn’t have to be one piece. Scatter points of interest around the table to give your guests something to talk about as they dine.

Consider using subdued setting themes in soft grays and browns with touches of metallic to bring an elegant sparkle to your table, but help keep your guests as the entertaining focus. Or instead of the expected red-and-green decorations, use jewel tones and burnished golds to add texture and a quiet elegance.

‘Less is more’

One of the cardinal rules of accessorizing is “less is more.” Don’t clutter the table. For instance, if you use candles, make sure you don’t set the whole table on fire.

The folks at Williams-Sonoma know luxury when they see it and we can take a few cues from the experts there, too:

  • Be playful with color. Remember that your food will add holiday hues to the table, so even red currants used as garnishes on cakes can add interest to your table.
  • Think outside the platter. Find an antique chopping board to serve your roast on. Mix and match rustic and patterned bowls to add interest.
  • Create your own cocktail. The craft cocktail movement can come to your dinner party, too! So you don’t have matching cocktail glasses—mix them up for a fun flourish (and your guests won’t get their drinks mixed up, too.)

You don’t have to spend a lot on your table settings, though. Here are some suggestions that don’t cost too much:

  • Get white flat bed sheets or fabric from thrift stores to use as tablecloths
  • Buy a roll of burlap (look in the florist aisle at the discount department store) to use as a table runner or to cut into rustic placemats
  • Thrift stores are chock full of various candle holders and votives you can mix and match
  • Shop at a dollar store for candles of the same size and color

Wrap it up

Paper or plastic? These days, especially if you’re expecting a lot of people, it’s OK to use either. It’s all in how you present them to your guests. Did some wrapping paper catch your eye? Who says you have to use a traditional tablecloth. Wrap your tabletop and you won’t have to wash it afterward, either. Paper napkins that have the feel of cloth are perfectly acceptable, too. Want to create your own snazzy napkin rings? Use toilet paper or paper towel tubes and glue wrapping paper that matches your tabletop or scraps of fabric to them.

Let food decorate your table. Present a bowl of simple fruits, a variety of cheeses on a board, nuts in small bowls and small loaves of fresh bread.

Placemats easily add color and texture to a holiday table and, as we mentioned before, they don’t have to be expensive or fancy. If there’s something you might want to consider investing in because you’re planning to have many dinner parties at your apartment home, it’s classic white dishes. They don’t have to be expensive, but they’re the best for making your food the star of the dinner. Vintage china is always great, too. Here’s a hint from a pro: Check out the antique shops for heirloom china. Millennials aren’t interested in family hand-me-downs, so you can find full sets of china, silverware and crystal for half of what they were sold for a few years ago.

Simple, sturdy, large stemmed wine glasses can serve red, white or sparkling wines to your guests and could also be used as water goblets, too. (Speaking of which, don’t forget to include water glasses for your guests.)

Whatever you do to make holiday dinner in your apartment home a festive event, remember to make some fun for yourself. Don’t get so caught up in the details that you can’t enjoy the great company and meal that you present. Happy holidays!