To make Thanksgiving dinner at your house comfortable as well as delicious, make sure diners have enough room to wield a knife and fork.
A good rule of thumb is to allow 24 inches from side-to-side with a depth of about 12 inches for each place setting.
The dining table should be 42 to 48 inches from any nearby walls or furnishings to provide plenty of room for folks to push back their chairs and leave the table gracefully.
Whatever table decorations you plan to use for the meal, make sure it's low enough to allow eye contact between diners sitting opposite one another.
Your personal style will help determine your preference in table design, but whether you're interested in formal, contemporary, romantic, retro, country or carefree dining, it pays to start with a neutral palette. Too many colorful or intricate elements can look busy unless your design has places for the eye to take a well-deserved rest. If your china has an uncomplicated pattern, it may be the perfect foil for those harlequin placemats, otherwise choose a neutral tablecloth to showcase your Thanksgiving tablescape.
Clear glass vases full of flowers or fruit can add luster on a budget, and you can maximize the impact by repeating or grouping elements. Instead of one huge centerpiece, try using three smaller ones in identical glass containers. Fill them with flowers, fruits, nuts, shells, floating candles, stones or anything else that will complement the other decorative elements you have in mind.
Thanksgiving is all about family, and there's no better way to celebrate family than with pictures. If you haven't used table placecards before, this is the year to start! Reprint photos of your guests when they were toddlers or teens, add them to attractive frames and use them as seat assignments. They're bound to spark some great family stories everyone will love.
When you want to create some special holiday pizzazz, take stock of the elements you have to work with first. Good tablescapes are about making everything work together, which includes your linen, china, cutlery, glassware and other decorations. A pyramid of pears in a golden bowl, a row of tall, white pillar candles or two candlesticks flanking a dish of autumn flowers create great ambience -- and don't forget the added flair of a creatively folded napkin.
Fall color evokes the bounty of the season, and no Thanksgiving tablescape would be complete without some colorful seasonal touches. Russet, cranberry, auburn, chocolate and gold in candles, runners, serving pieces, chargers and fruit or flower accents will make a white tablecloth look welcoming and give your shining silver a warm, friendly glow.
You can make the meal part of the show by incorporating food elements into your table design. Instead of the usual cornucopia overflowing with fresh fruit, try a brightly colored quilted runner decorated with wooden bowls of fall apples, or willow vases with cat tails and autumn seed heads. Assemble an impressive bread-basket centerpiece sporting loaves in all shapes, sizes and colors. It's a natural for Thanksgiving that's thrifty, edible and eco-friendly.
For casual dining with surprising opportunities for creative license, serve Thanksgiving dinner buffet-style. It gives the host easy access and control over the meal. For a country casual look, place a stack of mini-hay bales (available at most home improvement superstores) alongside your buffet service to showcase your homemade pies or dessert cookies. Produce a layered effect by stair-stepping wood planks across a couple of concrete blocks on your table and covering your makeshift shelf with a tablecloth to create height and interest. You can produce eye-popping effects with some brightly colored gourds and a large bouquet of fall mums.
Good company, good food and a sumptuous table setting make for great Thanksgiving dining. Be bold and try something new this year. Your perfectly browned turkey and signature dressing deserve the royal treatment, and with a free afternoon and some forethought, you can create a memorable holiday table worthy of the occasion.
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