Keep it casual
An open-plan room is ideal for informal gatherings, but define areas to create a cosy atmosphere and discourage diners from entering busy cooking areas!
For laid-back sophistication, rich organic materials, raw timber tabletops, linen napkins, chunky stoneware crockery and mix-matched chairs encourage everyone to feel at home. Using a bench at the table will also allow little ones to sit together, adding a little excitement around the table.
Chef, writer and ethical foodie Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall likes to keep his festive entertaining simple, especially when it comes to leftovers. He suggests using left over crystallised fruit or nuts to scatter over a puddle of melted chocolate. ‘Leave it to set and it looks great broken up and served as slivers on the side of a coffee cup’, he says.
Start the day in style
Preparing the evening before is key to being able to relax and enjoy the festivities on Christmas day. Opting for a casual, informal setting for breakfast means that you can mix up your favourite antique, vintage and new pieces to create an ecclectic scheme that carries through from tableware to seating.
Focus on feasting
Effortless dining starts in the kitchen, and dishes made in advance will lighten the load on Christmas day. While warmed lidded serveware can help retain heat, stocking up on china, cutlery and stemware reduces time at the sink.
Chef Marcus Wareing recommends keeping things simple on Christmas day. ‘Try to do just four or five canapés,’ he suggests, ‘and if you want to do a cocktail, mix up a big jug of it and keep it in the fridge.’
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Serve up in style
Well-chosen serveware can enchance your table, while using sideboards, consoles or dresser bases for the display of Yuletide treats, cold courses and desserts all pre-preparation, prior to the main event. They also act as visual tempters to forthcoming delights!
Designer and cook Sophie Conran always displays her collection of glass cake stands at Christmas time. ‘I fill them with candy, chocolates or dried fruit – sugared almonds are fantastic for colour, and you can tie them in with your table setting too’, she says.
Choose statement tableware
Fine crockery goes hand-in-hand with elegant dining, while stoneware offers a homely appeal. Rather than using a matching service, why not mix china, crystal, cutlery and even antiques to make things more exciting – after all, Christmas is a celebration and there are another 364 days to be ordinary!
Create celebratory settings
A side plate, dinner plate and bowl are all that are required to lend your table an air of occasion, without looking too crowded. Linen tablecloths and napkins also evoke a warm, luxurious feel. Always ensure that there is plenty of space in the middle of the table for the star pudding, too!
In the words of Prue Leith, a flaming Christmas pud is also always a show stopper at the table. ‘Turn your pudding out, hot, from the bowl. Stick a piece of real (not plastic!) holly in the top and ensure that all windows and doors are closed to exclude drafts when lighting the brandy!’
Ensure suite success
While you may dream of glittering tableware, soft candlelight and roaring fires, the basis of any successful seasonal setting starts well before the accessories stage, with a well chosen dining suite. Round tables are good for conversation, whereas oval or reclangular tables work for feeding a crowd.
Indulge in festive touches
For instant atmosphere, look to rows or clusters of candles as they are far more effective when grouped together. Very low tea lights or very tall candlesticks are ideal, so diners can see each other across the table – a principal that also applies to floral arrangements. Also avoid strong aromas as these may change the taste of the food.
Chef Antonio Carluccio OBE makes the dining table the heart of his festive celebrations. ‘At home I have a beautiful oak table that I decorate with two huge bowl candles.’ he says. ‘Rather than traditional English holly, I actually wreathe it with gladioli – as this makes me feel like I am on a boat moored in a sunny Italian harbour.’
The appearance of your Christmas or Thanksgiving table has almost as important an effect on your guests as the food that you serve. Follow the eight simple steps in the gallery above, complete with some extra-special celebrity chef tips, to ensure that your festive dining room has real sparkle (and all the trimmings!)