Have you seen the MTV show Pimp My Ride? I always loved that show. The premise was to take someone’s old beater car and turn it into a masterpiece. It was so over the top. The mechanics would install outrageous stereos, big sparkling new engines, and crazy paint jobs. By the time they finished with that old car, it was unrecognizable and the car’s owner (usually someone of meager means like a college student) would be overcome with the results. While this is an exaggerated example, I always love the idea of transforming something old and worn into something shiny, new, and exciting. I think I'm not the only one that feels this way these days. Every where you look there are television shows for house flipping, landscaping remodels, and make-over shows.
I decided to jump on the make-over bandwagon. With the holidays rapidly approaching, I thought I would dedicate this post to a long standing family tradition I think everyone can have some fun with: table setting and decorating. Has your table gotten a little dull and boring? Well, maybe I could throw out a few tips to pimp up that table and start some new family traditions!
Growing up, my family would spend our Thanksgivings at my maternal grandmother’s house. My mom is one of six children and at the time, there were 17 grandchildren running amok. It was mass chaos with children of all ages sliding down the stair banisters and swinging from the long draperies in the living room (no exaggeration!). My grandmother was a great gatherer of people and amidst all the chaos, miraculously managed to always create a beautiful, fine dining experience. She had a long dining room table which would be set with formal tableware (the good china, crystal glasses for wine and water, and beautiful centerpieces). It was an awe-inspiring scene (especially when you consider the bravery of this act with 17 wild banshees circling the table playing tag and hide and seek). Brilliantly, she also created a special kid’s table in the screened in porch. It was distinctly separate from the formal dining area but she was as thoughtful about the kids table as she was with the grown-ups. It was decorated more simply and probably with paper cups and plates but always had something a little special like fancy folded napkins and little chocolate turkeys. It never felt like a banishment but instead a comfortable place where the kids could conspire and break the rules a little as opposed the rigidity of the formal table which could look a little intimidating from a kid’s point-of-view! There would usually be many hi-jinks and little pieces of food flying in every direction at the now infamous kid's table but what it lacked in formality it made up for in style. Looking back from an adult perspective, with a much smaller family, I can’t begin to imagine the magnitude of preparing this type of gathering (not to mention the clean up....phew!). What I really love and appreciate are the special touches my grandmother created to make it feel so fancy. She formed memories our large extended family still warmly embrace to this day. I’d love to share a few fun things I picked up over the years to add that special touch to your table and create some traditions that someday maybe your grandkids will pass along to their children!
First I thought I would share a basic formal table guide. There are many variations and you can tailor this to your own menu but basically our setup looks something like this:
At this point, you may want to take stock of how many guests you will be serving and how many plates, utensils and glasses you have. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough of one kind. I think there is a wonderful charm to mix and match place settings! Thrift and antique stores always have a steady supply of colorful, inexpensive china. Don’t worry about getting all matchy-matchy. My mom, who has shared so much sage advice over the years, always told me that if you are the one picking things out, your taste will be consistent and therefore there is no need to worry about matching (Brilliant, right?) So just get things that appeal to you and there will be some type of common thread. Have no plates? No dishwasher? Not to worry! There are many options of fancy paper products out there that would work just as well (and would definitely be more forgiving in the cleanup department!).
Let's go browsing and I'll show you what I mean:
Let's take a look at some of these finds from a few Denver antique stores. The prices vary so much and I do not know brands so I just go for what looks nice provided the price is right. I tend to do better price-wise in the local thrift shop or at garage sales but you can find some great bargains. You just have to dig around a little.
O.K, check this next one out. Totally fell in love with this set....maybe too crazy for Thanksgiving but I bet it could work for valentine's or even a pink Christmas!! Why not? It's your gig...have some fun with it!
I like to put a tablecloth down first. I try to get one that has colors that reflect the theme of the occasion but it will be covered with dish ware, food, and decorations so it doesn’t matter that much. If you are going to buy one, it’s a great idea to stick to neutral colors that can be transformed to fit any occasion. Try a discount home store. They usually have some really affordable options especially as you get closer to the holiday and they want to clear out the old stock. If you are really ambitious, go to the fabric store, grab some fabric and make one!
Pull out all your stuff and start arranging it on the table, playing with it until you are satisfied with the lay out. If I don’t have enough of one style, I like to alternate for some symmetry.
Now here comes the fun part! You can start to get creative here. I have always loved the touch of a special folded napkin. I got a cookbook when I got married called The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. In the back of the book, there happens to be a couple of napkin folding tutorials. I refer to these on every occasion because a folded napkin just adds so much class. I’d like to share the one that I use most frequently here:
I started out with a 16 x 16 inch square cloth napkin which I folded tip to tip in order to form a triangle. This can even work with paper towels and really adds a nice elegance to the table!
There are many options for a centerpiece. A nice bouquet of flowers is so pretty and elegant. The grocery store always has festive arrangements and they are easy to grab when you are there picking up last minute food items. Another idea is candles. They add such ambiance (especially with the lights dimmed). You can get cheapies at any dollar store but they are everywhere in every size, color, and theme
Craft stores usually have bins full of clearance ribbon that would look great tied around glasses, napkins, and/or silverware. Look around the house and see what you can use. You don’t have to buy anything if it is not in the budget. Check out your yard. A big see-through bowl of pinecones, a bouquet of sticks from the yard artfully arranged in a vase, anything goes!! (Just a helpful tip here; check for bugs before bringing in the outdoors.).
There are so many things you can do. Look around your house and see what you can find. Improvise and try things out!
I like to jot out the menu. This makes for a nice touch as well (and no one will ask, “What’s that green stuff?”). You could type it out with some clipart and special fonts or if you enjoy writing things by hand, give that a go! It adds such warm homemade touch! If you happen to have a chalkboard hanging around, that would add a lot of charm too.
OK, lastly, some printable place cards! Everyone likes to see their name and feel special! I created a free printable place card for you to get you warmed up! Click here to download your place card PDF.
I especially like to add a little something extra if there will be kids at the table such as a small treat, a little chocolate turkey, and maybe something to keep those little hands occupied. Inspired by my grandmother’s kid table I created a special Thanksgiving activity set which you can see here at my Etsy shop. Just some ideas to get that creativity cranking!
You don’t have to wait for a holiday to create a special table. I can remember when my kids were little and my husband was traveling a lot and working long hours. Dinner time was very fragmented and chaotic. A friend once described it, hilariously, as “feeding time at the zoo”. In an effort to bring some civilization to the dinner table I told the kids we would be having a “fancy dinner” (it was probably mac and cheese but it's not so much what I served as the way I served it). I set the table, lit the candles, turned down the lights and lo and behold, the kids LOVED it. It also gave me a fine excuse to teach manners for fancy meals (......that is until they became obsessed with blowing out the candles and hot wax was flying everywhere....... but that’s a story for another day). My kids still remember those special meals. Every now and then they bring it up and ask if we can have a candlelight dinner. I notice that everyone behaves a little better, stays at the table a little longer, and is a little more polite..... always worth the extra effort!
Well, hope you have enjoyed this post and will have fun with your own fancy-pants table!!
P.S. I can not leave this post without linking to one of the most hilarious youtube videos ever entitled; "Mom My Ride" (A must see, especially if you are a parent.). It is a hilarious take on the old Pimp My Ride show. Never fails to make me laugh.