INTERIORS TOP DINING TABLES

You’ve decorated the tree and decked the halls, but do not forget about your dining table – with just a little effort you can create an incredible setting for your Christmas meal. Mary Norden shares her top tips

The dining table is the place where your friends and family will spend much of their time on Christmas day. The dinner is the big event -and although setting the table is likely to be the very last thing on your long list of tasks, it is worth making the effort to create something special. The table offers plenty of scope for decoration, whether it be creative place settings, a striking centrepiece or pretty displays of candles and festive baubles. The decor does not have to be anything too elaborate and can be done cheaply. Just remember to keep to the three Ss: make it simple, stylish and surprising.

CHOOSE YOUR COLOUR

The first thing to do when styling your Christmas dinner table is to choose your colour scheme. You could opt for berry red and green for a very traditional and classic look, or choose golds, burgundy and maroon for a more exotic festive palette. Or why not set the scene for a truly white Christmas by keeping it simple and all white. It’s a wonderfully versatile colour -team it with wood, foliage and slate for a modern rustic look (see image 4), or add plenty of sparkle and metallics for something more elegant and glitzy.

PICK A THEME

Once you have chosen your colour scheme, select your style and limit the number of elements. You do not want an overload of ideas – thatjust looks a mess – instead, coordinate the whole table. If you use trailing ivy and roses in your centrepiece, repeat with a sprig of ivy when tying the napkins. Looking for a simple country style? Then drop the bling. Use shades of silver and grey, but do not be tempted to suddenly add pink.

PLAN AHEAD

Because you will be so busy, prepare as much of the table decorations as possible a day or two ahead, putting candles into holders, checking glasses and crockery, making the table centrepiece, and tying and decorating napkins, ready for each place setting. Check through all table linens and wash and iron them if required.

CREATE A CENTREPIECE

A table needs a focal point. It might just be a candelabra, a couple of elegant candlesticks or a fabulous wreath with a lantern (don’t think of wreaths as being just for the front door) or thick pillar candles placed in the centre. Or you could use a cake stand and pile it with baubles and tinsel, or arrange pine cones, trailing ivy, winter berries and roses on a bed of moss. For several smaller arrangements, tie brown paper or remnants of Christmas wrapping paper around jam jars, securing them in place with ^

HE lifestyle string, raffia or ribbon, then fill with festive foliage, or with hydrangea flowers sprayed in gold. For a round table, a single centrepiece is ideal. On a long narrow table, you may want to repeat a series of candles or arrangements at set intervals along the length. Finally, consider buying mirrored trays to place your displays on, particularly if you are using candles. The lovely reflections will add extra sparkle.

DRESS TO IMPRESS

I think it is wonderful to have a generous white tablecloth for a big meal like Christmas dinner as it creates a sense of occasion (see image 1). If this is too much, lay the table with a simple narrow runner up the centre. This could be classic white linen (see image 3), a vibrant fabric you have made into a runner yourself, or a even a length of paper. Brown paper, wallpaper and Christmas wrapping paper all make great runners and even mats. Table mats are not only practical, but help to frame each place setting. They do add an air of formality, particularly when combined with a tablecloth. Look out for beaded mats for that touch of festive sparkle (see image 2). With napkins, simply roll and tie them loosely with ribbon, braid or raffia, and slip a sprig of ivy or rosemary under the bow if you wish – be guided by the style of the rest of the table.

GIVE A GIFT

It’s a lovely idea to have a little surprise in each place setting. A miniature box, a bar of fabulous

chocolate, a scattering of glitter stars, a tiny envelope or card with a personal message, a beautiful Christmas tree decoration tied with a name card, or a small posy are all good gift ideas (see image 5).

STOCK UP WITH CANDLES

If you have your main meal towards the end of the day when it is dark, aim to have lots of candles, not just on the table, but elsewhere in the room. Candlelight creates the perfect twinkly atmosphere. Place small candles in glass holders for safety (buy in bulk from Ikea), or on tiny saucers. Decorate tall candlesticks with a pieces of foliage (see image 3), and if you do not have any candlesticks, you can use wine bottles and even vintage glass decanters. Don’t be tempted, however, to burn a scented candle in the room during the meal. No scented candle works with food. If you must scent the room, do so earlier in the day.

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

To finish, I like to scatter a few baubles and stars around the table – they all help to add that extra twinkle. Always have a few extra crackers to hand, in case someone feels they have been left out. Keep a couple of games and quizzes up your sleeve, ready for the end of the meal. People like to linger at the table, particularly if you have made it all look wonderful. Fill pretty cups, elegant glasses or tiny baskets with sweets and chocolates, ready to be passed around either with coffee or for refuelling during games. “

WHERE TO BUY

1. For elegant white Christmas decor, The White Company is a must, offering everything from table linens and napkins to beaded place mats and mirrored trays; visit thewhitecompany.com

2. Zara Home is always worth checking out for crockery, pretty glasses, linens and surprise finds; visit zarahome.com

3. For a brilliant selection of decorations and papers try Paperchase; visit paperchase.co.uk

4. Habitat is great for colourful bowls, containers and crockery, as well as for unusual decorations; visit habitat.co.uk

5. Mail order company Cox & Cox is the place for inspiration, decorations and little quirky gifts for place settings; visit coxandcox.co.uk

6. Both John Lewis and The Conran Shop have a great selection of games for after-dinner fun; visit johnlewis.com and conranshop.co.uk

7. If you want to splash out on extra-special tree decorations to give as presents, check out Designers Guild; visit designersguild.com

8. V V Rouleaux has an overwhelming choice of beautiful braids, ribbons and trimmings for perfect finishing touches; visit vvrouleaux.com

9. If you want to make a party of your day, Party Pieces has all the necessary extras, from balloons to silver Christmas stags for the centre of your table; visit partypieces.co.uk

10. Rococo offers a wonderful selection of chocolate Christmas treats for gifts or for after dinner; visit rococochocolates.com

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