More than any other celebrations, the rich holidays of fall and winter demand your table be properly dressed for the occasions.
The “good” linens and dinnerware are usually reserved for such festivity. The big question is what to put on the center of the table. Most of us love flowers but tire of using the same bowl year after year, filling it with the standard blooms of the season.
But there’s room for creativity. Just as you weave any other accessory into the home, think about form, color and texture.
Above all, don’t be afraid to break conventions. For example, the table’s centerpiece doesn’t have to be placed dead center; it might be placed to one side. The heights of objects also can be varied, from towering to low-slung. Just be sure not to obstruct your guests’ eye contact.
Don’t shy away from mixing disparate elements. Take an ordinary object, such as an iron floor grate. Its grid pattern works well as a backdrop for a composition of flowers, vegetables or both.
The grate acts like a frog or florist’s mold to hold wired flowers in place. Layer in fresh flowers such as pretty lavender roses with ivy, miniature squash, turnips and pears. A small container filled with water and tucked beneath will keep the flowers fresh for a few days.
If the idea seems too rustic, imagine placing the arrangement on a formal damask cloth set with Lenox Autumn china, antique Fostoria and Waterford cut crystal, your grandmother’s sterling flatware and vintage napkins. A painted wood candlestick offers still another surprising contrast.
Marion Perry, a floral shop entrepreneur and designer, first experimented with old grates by growing paperwhite narcissus bulbs through the grid. She liked its open filligree effect.
“The flowers and/or fruit can be off to one side, so one can see the pattern,” she said. “I like the idea of using color as a common thread - purple cabbage, roses, eggplant and turnips, for example.”
Besides incorporating something old into the centerpiece, you might weave in something dear. Collections add a personal touch and something to talk about.
Joe Boehm, whose job in part is to design memorable table settings for Better Homes & Gardens each year, paraded a group of nutcrackers of varying heights at the table’s center. He pulled them together with evergreens, punctuating with fresh red roses in florist’s water-filled vials and purple dried hydrangeas.
The nutcrackers and evergreens were set on a pretty flower-patterned fabric reminiscent of an old Russian shawl. Taking a color cue from the nutcrackers, Boehm chose a gold-rimmed, blue-banded dinner plate (Athena from Faberge) and a lacy, richly bordered salad plate (Renaissance from Christian Dior). In place of a napkin, he used a fringed hand towel. The final magic touch was a small nutcracker tied with a slender ribbon, an inventive napkin holder.
What’s fun about using collections is that they’re not expected. That element of surprise is another to consider when you decide on a container for flowers or fruit.
A small picnic hamper, painted to look like a faded porch, introduces texture with its basketweave design. Put a container full of flowers in the basket; mass it with lacy blooms such as yellow meadow flowers (or similar feathery seasonal stems), lilies and berries, even cattails, dried wheats and grasses.
Placing the basket on a cloth patterned with vegetables in equally muted color hues maintains the light touch. Terra cotta ceramic candlesticks in the form of Greek columns, clay pots filled with candles, and carved wood pumpkins add romance. A simple solid-colored plate teamed with flatware with a twig or leafy pattern and unfaceted crystal stems might complete the setting.
Of course, you might wish to be faithful to a particular holiday theme. That’s no problem, either. Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah accessories, for example, are widely available.
For a starry New Year’s Eve table, Boehm used silver mercury balls for fresh rubrum lilies and small glass vases for white tulips. It’s a good example of how several styles of centerpieces may be combined for a lush effect. Gold stars encircle gilt-edged cloth napkins and gold paper stars (the kind that you pull off of a card) are scattered about the table. Silver and gold balloons add to the ebullient atmosphere.
Even if you prefer the more traditional centerpiece approach, there are plenty of classic examples available in department stores and mail-order catalogs.
Epergnes (ay-PURNS) are practical as well as functional; they’re frames with extended arms or branches that usually support candles and holders for flowers, fruits or other sweets.
An epergne that’s appealing in design because of the flexibility that it offers consists of a pair of semicircular pieces made from cast brass. Birds are perched on the branch bases. The pieces can be arranged to fit around different bowls (up to 12 inches in size).
You can change the color, shape and material of the containers each time you use the bird bases. The cast brass centerpiece branches and candle cups are finished in bronze to complement the verdigris surface of the birds and leaves.
Familiarity of such pieces is something to which traditionalists cling. Even artist-designed contemporary dinnerware needs to be softened somehow, perhaps with a touch of something Mom or Grandma placed lovingly on their tables.
But whatever look you opt for, consider designer Boehm’s suggestions.
“Look around the house,” Boehm said. “You’ll find lots of things that can be taken and used in imaginative ways. If you have a collection, drag it out.
“Think glamorous - not only for company, but for yourself. Suggest an atmosphere that’s different from every day. The best part is you don’t have to spend a fortune. You can find good design at any price.”
An innovative centerpiece is something you’ll find so special during the holidays that you’ll probably be tempted to bring some of those touches of folksiness, romance and elegance to the table all year.
Old World Christmas, 4007 E. Main, Spokane, 99202. Write or visit for more information on the shorter nutcrackers.
Great City Traders, 537 Stevenson, San Francisco, CA 94103-1636. Write for a brochure or retailers near you.
Midwest of Cannon Falls, Box 20, 32057 64th Ave., Cannon Falls, MN 55009-0020. Please write for information regarding the larger nutcrackers referred to in the column as well as other ornaments.
Mig and Tig Furniture, 549 N. Wells St., Chicago, IL 60610; (312) 644-8277.
Winterthur Museum and Gardens, Winterthur, DE 19735. Or call (800) 767-0500 for a catalog.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: A LITTLE BRAINSTORMING PAYS OFF IN THE LONG RUN Creative centerpieces require a little analysis, says Chicago floral shop owner/designer Marion Perry. “Analyze the properties of things,” Perry explains. “What makes something be what it is? Think of a round vessel. What might you hollow out and use? A cabbage? A pumpkin? For a tall skinny vase you might substitute a hollowed piece of bark. “And you don’t have to cut off the tops of melons or gourds. Cut a wedge in the side and stick something in. “The key is to pull things together that are in harmony.” To enhance your table settings, Joe Boehm suggests building a wardrobe of china as you do clothing. “Buy eight or 10 settings in a beautiful pattern that you like. Then go to tag or garage sales and keep adding complementary pieces - perhaps just salad plates or soup bowls. Build with things that are sort of semi-related, training your eyes to see the similarities.” For holiday tables, Boehm shares some specific ideas: Fill a tray with sheet moss. On it, arrange a trio of votive candles, some antique Christmas ornaments, a sprig of holly and some flowers. Take a pair of wire coat hangers and make rings out of each. Stick one inside the other to form a globe. Buy four small pots of ivy with long tendrils. Cut off the tendrils and fasten the ivy to the coat hangers, forming a ball. From the center of the ball, hang a Christmas star and tie it with red velvet ribbon. Using an old stone garden urn, rim in some moss and fill it with a big bouquet of white orchids. It’s great on a snow-white linen tablecloth with white dishes. A collection of mercury glass candlesticks and vases can add sparkle to the table. Place an amaryllis bulb on one vase top. Hollow out some artichokes, spray paint them silver and fasten to the candlesticks with tacky wax or floral putty. Use a set of antique glasses as containers for small nosegays. They make nice individual flower arrangements. You also can use inexpensive tiny glass vases, available at sources such as Pier 1 Imports. Take some colorful bowls, such as turquoise from the ‘40s, and fill them with beans or nuts, like red lentils, green pistachios or yellow grains. Votive candles can be set inside the ingredients. -Universal Press Syndicate
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Elaine Markoutsas Universal Press Syndicate
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Elaine Markoutsas Universal Press Syndicate
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