Ideas for decorating your Thanksgiving dinner table

Posted at 9:39 AM, Nov 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-05 10:06:07-05

Chastened at the thought of decorating the holiday table, especially at Thanksgiving, when friends and family (read, in-laws) might tend to be a bit judgmental about your efforts?

Don’t fret. Here are some no-sweat ideas that will have dinner guests of any lineage singing your praises for years to come.

Place runners lengthwise along a bare table
Runners can work especially well if your dining table is made of darker wood, like walnut or mahogany. The rich brown color provides a warm foundation for your Thanksgiving display, offering guests a sense of comfort, even hominess. Choose runners in warm tones like burnished red, orange or gold. (Red does double-duty at holiday mealtime, as it helps stimulate the appetite.) And if a single runner along the table’s center feels a bit stark, use two. Just make sure they’re evenly spaced apart.

Layer tabletop textiles for a cozy feel
There’s no law against settling a tablecloth, topped by a runner or two, with a placemat at each setting. Varying textures heightens visual interest. Start with a heavy cotton tablecloth. Layer on a burlap runner, and use placemats made of sisal rope for a casual, natural vibe. Guests might be at first surprised, but in the end, no doubt, delighted.

Thanksgiving centerpieces don't have to be fussy or fancy
A centerpiece can make a strong impression regardless of its complexity or cost. A simple row of candles — tall and slender, or short and squat — along the table’s center can be surprisingly effective. Use a range of fall colors, like russet, ochre and umber, or try a single color — ivory even — arranged in an arresting way.

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Prefer the tradition of a bouquet? Give the flower thing a rest, and go for a collection of fall branches propped pleasingly in a tall vase. If that doesn’t bring enough of the outdoors in, carefully settle a selection of crisp fall leaves about the base of the vase. Aim for a casual, but not sloppy, look.

And yes, pumpkins and squashes at the center of the table surely scream Thanksgiving. But why not take it up a notch? Add other fall veggies like creamy white or purple sweet potatoes, or even yams or parsnips, especially if you’re including the cooked versions in the meal.

Don't splurge on dinnerware
Dinnerware doesn’t have to be expensive or bought especially for the occasion. Dress up plain white plates with festive holiday favors, or colorful linen napkins cinched with simple wooden holders. Spark up all-white place settings with clear-glass or decorated ceramic salad or dessert plates. If you do happen to have holiday-specific dinnerware on hand, feel free to mix and match it with solid-color, everyday plates.

Linen alternatives
Napkins of weighty cotton or linen are a tried-and-true tradition. Or is it tired and true? Why not go for fabric alternatives like jute or burlap? Not only will they provide a (much-needed?) textural twist, they’ll add an element of sustainability to the family feast. And since Thanksgiving hearkens back to a far simpler time, who could argue with that?

Keeping your guests on their toes with unusual, even whimsical tabletop touches, doesn’t have to strain your brain or drain your budget. A dash of creativity, a dollop of ingenuity, and the courage to try something all it takes.

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