Five tips for creating the perfect holiday tablescape

Five tips for creating the perfect holiday tablescape
Photo/Magnolia Stripes)

By Stephanie Marrs

Once Nov. 1 hits, the debates begin in our household. And, no, I’m not talking political debates. While some think that the holiday season doesn’t officially start until after Thanksgiving, I’m of the camp that once Halloween has had its day, the holidays should happily take over.

In the wild ride that has been 2020 so far, I’m thrilled to see a lot of people share my decorating philosophy – even if just for this year. That said, it’s time to start thinking about a holiday spread.

I have five tips when it comes to setting a winning tablescape that will keep your guests talking, even if it’s only you, your partner and the dog this year.

Think outside the box when it comes to your centerpiece.

Naval oranges decorated with cloves add to a festive centerpiece. (Photo/Magnolia Stripes)

Flowers are gorgeous, but winter is known for some of the best fruits. Think bright citrus and shining pomegranates.

My husband and I took inspiration from Colonial Virginia for this year’s Christmas tablescape. Using a toothpick as our guide, we punctured designs – found in a book on old Virginia entertaining we picked up in Colonial Williamsburg over the summer – into navel oranges, then stuck in some cloves.

The oranges, alongside a few pomegranates, cinnamon sticks and a modern reindeer with plaid holiday bows, completed our festive centerpiece.

Get your lighting right.

Make sure to vary your
height with tall candlesticks and smaller votives, like this pinecone. (Photo/Magnolia Stripes)

Lighting sets the ambiance for any dinner party. I personally love the glow of candlelight. It’s flattering, cozy and adds a bit of comfort no matter how dressed up the party is.

Make sure to vary your height with tall candlesticks and smaller votives. Remember, more is more when it comes to candlelight, but make sure to clear the way so that your guests can reach for the gravy and their cabernet without lighting a sleeve on fire.

Get creative with your place cards.

This holiday season, the Marrs’ centerpiece includes
reindeer with plaid holiday bows. (Photo/Magnolia Stripes)

I am a big fan of place cards, especially when you’re hosting outside of the family. It’s a wonderful way to seat guests who may work in the same industry or share a love for golf. Who knows, you could be the matchmaker who sparks a new friendship or two.

In keeping with a festive theme, this year we used gift tags with our guests’ names made via stationary site Dogwood Hill. I also love sticking traditional ecru place cards into pinecones or leftover sprigs of garland with red wired ribbon.

One idea that’s on my list for this holiday season is to stick alphabet letters in pearl or crystal with our guests’ initials onto velvet ribbons and tie them around each napkin. You can find all these materials at your local craft store.

Layer on the details.

Stephanie Marrs at her holiday table. (Photo/Magnolia Stripes)

I would hardly call myself a minimalist when it comes to decorating tables. To me, one of the most fun aspects of setting a table is sprinkling it with thoughtful details to keep conversations flowing lest they hit a roadblock – another reason why your guest list and place cards are important.

For filler, I use little Waterford Christmas trees I picked up one year. I also have my eye on a few of Simon Pearce’s handblown glass trees available locally at Ann Sandra in Annandale this year.  

A guaranteed good start: Offer your guests festive cocktails as they walk through your door.

My favorite part of any dinner party is greeting my guests. Assuming I have it all together and am not panicking over some last-minute pimento cheese appetizer, I love to welcome guests with a cocktail.

If anyone remembers Serendipity III in Georgetown, they were known for their $1,000 sundae and their frozen hot chocolate. Perhaps we’ll tackle the sundae another time, but today I want to share a quick and easy recipe for our version of frozen hot chocolate.

Happy holidays, everyone!

The writer lives in Alexandria and runs Magnolia Stripes, an entertaining, home and lifestyle blog. For more holiday entertaining tips and tablescape tricks, visit and follow @MagnoliaStripes on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.