DULUTH — Hosting a holiday meal this year? You’re in luck. Experts say you don’t need a candelabra to make it special.
“It’s not about setting your fanciest wares,” said Mariah McKechnie of Northland Special Events in Duluth. It’s creating an environment that supports a personal experience.
According to Emily Post, order your utensils from left to right: fork, plate, knives and spoons. The drink glass goes to the right. Place the napkin on the plate or to the left of the fork. The rest of the table is your palette, and you can do a lot with items you already own.
“Always start in the color scheme,” said Mary Carlson of Pure Event Planning and Design in Duluth. A good starting point are what’s trending, and this year, it’s rust or terracotta, dark greens and deep apple red. But always opt to use what inspires you.
Find one anchoring piece, consider how it fits with the shape and size of your table, and build around it, said McKechnie. Forage for fresh greenery, cut cedar from your yard and put some pine in a Mason jar.
“A little bit of fresh greens, some fall leaves can really spruce it up without having to over-invest.”
Candles add a sense of ambience and romanticism. Think about what you have and how you can cluster and arrange them in an interesting way. Use a scarf as a grounding base in the center of your table.
“Found objects can create a really pretty tablescape,” McKechnie said.
Tablescaping is the unified design of a table setting, and it uses a grouping of items — candles, florals, different sized vases — for a focal point. “It’s taking it a step beyond a centerpiece and making it more of a multidimensional design (and) matching that with your linens, the patterns and napkins,” McKechnie said.
It’s all a far cry from where it started.
“During the Middle Ages, most dining tables were simply boards placed over trestles, a practice that survives in the expression ‘set the table,’” according to National Geographic.
Soup was slurped from one bowl, and diners shared knives, cups and spoons.
There was resistance adding the fork, plate and the napkin to the table, but by the 18th century, they were fully integrated.
For a sample seasonal spread in her Superior Street storefront, McKechnie opted for mismatched china and chairs for an eclectic and unique vibe. This can make a meal feel more inviting because it mimics the home.
She used brass candlesticks from garage sales and colorful thrift-store books as centerpieces. Books can double as decor and a conversation starter, she said, and she’d used her colorful Reader’s Digest condensed books for several events already.
Each item should have a use, and consider the purpose of the meal, your family's tradition and if you want to perpetuate them.
Add a menu or a handwritten message at each place setting for a personal touch. She demonstrated writing family members' names and prompts about gratitude on rocks in metallic pen. Also, consider small gifts for loved ones to open at the start of the meal.
“The people at the table are more important than the table decor, but table decor certainly adds a fun element,” Carlson said.
Don’t forget to bring joy and intention to the place setting. There’s an enhanced sense of purpose when a host brings that level of attention. “You naturally sit up straighter and are more engaged when you recognize that level of effort,” McKechnie said.
Part of being a good host is engaging your guests. What questions can you ask to stimulate interesting conversations. How do you make people feel comfortable?
However you approach it: “Keep it simple. Even the smallest things will go a long way.”