How To: Set the Thanksgiving Table

Posted by on Sunday Nov 20th, 2011 | Print

Presentation is everything, especially at Thanksgiving. It’s one thing to pile some lentils in a bowl when you’re eating by yourself in front of the TV, but when you’re serving the most important meal of the year, for god’s sake, it better look at least half as good as it tastes.

Now as you can see from the picture above, I go up to my mom’s for Thanksgiving, and she lives in a house with a not-small kitchen and an actual dining room with a big table. We take our time setting things up; I like to spread out as I bake, braid biscuits, and create place cards. One year, we even tie-dyed napkins (see above)–definitely not a small kitchen activity.

Nonetheless, most of these tips are applicable to the smallest apartment, even to Thanksgiving dinners hosted on the coffee table.

**How To Set the Thanksgiving Table**

Start with a white tablecloth. If you’ve read our book, you’ll know that we surprised ourselves by investing in tablecloths and actually enjoying putting them to use. You can find since you’ll be culling your table decorations from eclectic sources far and wide, it’s best to start with a blank canvas. Look for inexpensive tablecloths at Target.

Vary your levels. To create an exquisite-looking table, you want to have the various elements reach different levels. Tall vases are a great way to add some height; same for wine glasses. If your vases are short and your wine glasses are also known as tumblers, you’ll have to get creative. Try scouring out local vintage shops for inexpensive, cool bowls or plates with pedestals you could use to add some height. Get creative: random goblets can double as vases, and a cake plate you already own could be topped with a pile of gourds and become a centerpiece.

Choose a bright centerpiece. Which brings us to the focusing element–the centerpiece. My personal favorite is simple: a big, attractive bowl, filled to the brim with adorable gourds or a carton of clementines (the latter doubles as a part of dessert).

Fruits and veg. Like clementines, many of the edible parts of Thanksgiving are also particularly attractive objects. Buy extra squash, apples, nuts, bunches of kale, and dried fruit when you go food shopping for the actual meal. Then use them in bowls and other vessels around your house, not just on your table, to help set the scene. When aesthetically pleasing, you can actually set certain squash or very pretty apples straight onto the table (see image above). After you’ve finished with leftovers, you can eat these decorative, delicious fruits and veggies.

Color code. Everything on your table can and should play into the fall-ish theme. In fact, any object that happens to be orange, gold, yellow, or a warm shade of brown can and should be turned into a tabletop decoration. Even if you normally keep that pretty wooden bowl on your desk for paperclips, don’t rule it out (once washed), as a pretty place to pile candied nuts or dried leaves. We love Ina Garten’s tips from this post about matching your napkins to your centerpiece.

Mix buffet and family style. Some items, like the turkey, stuffing, and sweet potatoes, are served on platters so large you wouldn’t want to crowd the table with them. However, setting some food on the table before guests are seated, does help set the scene. The jewel tones of cranberry sauce or the glistening orange of glazed carrots, placed in small white or silver bowls, looks great on the table.

Candles. The glow of a whole bunch of candles screams “settle down, relax, and PARTY.” Opt for votives (they’re cheap). If you own candlesticks, get some pretty Thanksgiving-colored candles and light up. Clusters of stocky candles in shades or orange can look absolutely gorgeous.


Place Cards. This is where I really shine. You can, too. Over the years, we’ve made place cards as simple as folded index cards and as complicated as gingersnap cookies decorated in icing. We’ve written people’s names in permanent marker on mini pumpkins. Last year, we took mason jars, filled ‘em with pecans, decorated them with fabric, and added little name tags. Think about objects that evoke Thanksgiving, then imagine how you can customize them with guests’ names.

Pin it. For more ideas, check out our Tablescapes pinterest board.

Have a happy, and pretty, Thanksgiving!

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