Festive Table Laying Tips

By Anya Cooklin-Lofting

Never have we known a table richer in expectation or weightier in tradition than the Christmas dining table. From the jolts of nostalgia to the eye-stinging gratitude it brings, the sight of the Christmas table positively shuddering under the weight of its cumbersome contents is a touchstone many of us simply won’t do without. Whether you’re laying a festive table for just one household or are welcoming guests this year, make sure to set a memorable, joyous table that brings those you love together. Even if you’ve eaten far more meals around the table together over the last two years than you may have expected, seeing the table dressed and ready for the big day will bring a little more festive cheer to the season.

Start With the Basics

Especially if you’re welcoming multiple guests, making sure your proportions are generous involves a little calculation and rearranging. Work on the basis that each guest should have at least a 40 centimetre setting along the table. Of course, much of the joy of a large Christmas gathering is the jostling of shoulders around the table, but if you can, provide as much table space per guest as possible.

Another calculation you may wish to make is whether you have enough of the correct cutlery for each course you plan to serve. A quick, pre-Christmas audit of your cutlery drawer will pay off, and as you’ll read, it doesn’t matter if you need to supplement with a new set or two.

Glassware will play an expectedly large role over the festive season and you’ll be surprised by quite how many glasses guests accumulate between arrival and Christmas dinner. Between reception bubbles, wine pairings throughout the meal, water and digestifs, ensure there is enough room around each place setting for each receptacle. A handy tip is to serve Champagne in flutes rather than coupes as these take up less space on the table and are far less prone to spilling.

Layering Up

Consider the festive season your ticket to full-blown maximalism. Your Christmas table should be filled with colour, pattern and texture to create a memorable, inviting and expressive scene. The best way to achieve this look is through layering pattern and colour from the tablecloth, up, adding highs and lows, textures and points of interest along the way.

So, begin with table linen. A patterned table cloth can be a real crutch to lean on if your crockery is plain, but can also act as a foil for more decorative plates and bowls. Often, you can purchase napkins in the same print or in contrasting colours to make a style statement. Vintage napkins also make a lovely addition, bringing some eclecticism and history to the table.

Placemats are delightful additions to the table and provide the opportunity to bring in a new layer of texture. Rattan or jute options are particularly popular at the moment and bring an unexpected dress-up-able texture to your layering.

Layering up your charger plates will bring more of a sense of occasion to mealtimes like these, and although they can give a more formal feel, you can opt for quite contemporary – or even novelty – styles. The rest of the plates should be stacked at each setting according to the courses you’re serving. This makes for a more impressive table as guests arrive and also encourages a more intimate, ‘hands-on’ approach to dining. Serving pre-plated courses feels fussy and overdone. For example, soups should be served at the table from a tureen, and then the bowls removed after the first course to reveal the next plate and to signal the arrival of new serveware filled with the next, delicious items on the menu.

Finally, don’t be afraid of mixing and matching cutlery. In metallic finishes, they serve as little glinting accents amongst the rest of your table. Using a mix of brass, silver and even gold with enamelled or scrolling, antique detailing adds character and personality to each setting.

Florals and Table Decorations

An honorary part of the layering up of the table indeed, but a sub-heading in its own right, is the Christmas floral arrangement. As integral as it is divisive, greenery on the table can make or break a table setting, so be sure to get it aesthetically – as well as logistically – right. When it comes to the look and feel of your table florals and foliage, keep it seasonal. Spring blooms on a Christmas table looks particularly jarring, so why not opt for sprigs of rosemary, pine or eucalyptus dotted around the table. Clusters of oranges also work well to bring colour and fragrance to each setting. Where possible, source greenery from your garden, or ask your local Christmas tree seller for some off cuts. 

From a practical perspective, it’s important to keep any displays low to stay out of guests’ eyelines as taller, larger arrangements can obstruct conversation. It may also make sense to remove any larger or wider florals, foliage or ornaments before it’s time to eat to clear space on the table for your serveware.

Magical Moments

Little, magical moments around the Christmas table lodge themselves in the minds of children and adults alike, forming memories to last a lifetime. So, this Christmas, imbue your table with considered details and thoughtful flourishes. Super-size pepper mills are hugely popular at the moment, bringing a smile to each face at the table with every grind of the turnplate. Personalised crackers and menu cards will also give your table an enchanting feel, bound with velvet ribbons. 

Finally, there is nothing more magical or festive than the glimmer of candlelight between the bulging dishes and elegant stemware. Choose a mix of little votives, chunky pillar candles and some taller candlesticks to put the proverbial cherry on the top of your Christmas table, adding the qualities of luxury and cosiness that only candles do.