When company's coming, skip the standard bouquet from the corner store, which will dress up your dining room for only a night or two. Instead, rely on one of these perpetual centerpiece ideas to decorate your table day in and day out -- no green thumb needed.
Great Wall of China
A cluster of towers made from stacked patterned ceramics forms a graphic, sculptural centerpiece. Even if you don't have an extra set of dishes lying around, you can buy great inexpensive rice bowls at an Asian outlet or pick up mixed sets at flea markets, says senior home editor Shane Powers. First, arrange columns of varying heights, some with open bowls on top, until you find a combination you like. Then attach them to one another with evenly spaced dabs of craft wax (temporary fix) or superglue (stronger hold). Top the bowls with fruit, if desired. Assorted ceramic blows, from $3, and ceramic dinner plate, $20, Pearl River, 800-878-2446. Tacky Wax craft wax, $3 for 1 ounce, ornament-trees.com
Using Your Gourds
Although they are traditional fall-decorating fodder, these gourds manage to look surprisingly fresh -- more evocative of modernist ceramics than of paper pilgrim-hat place cards (not that there's anything wrong with those). Mixing painted bowls made from dried gourds with a pair of whole crook necks gives the autumnal standbys a life beyond the Thanksgiving table. Once you've arranged the gourds themselves, fill the bowls with natural, textured accents -- like nuts and leaves -- as well as a few shiny trimmings (such as the gold seed-pods shown here, available prepainted at craft stores) for even more color and contrast.
With just a few cuts, one large dried gourd can yield a big bowl, a small bowl, and a compote. Trace a line around the gourd a third of the way up from its bottom and one a quarter of the way down from its top. Use a craft saw to remove the stem, then carefully cut the gourd along the two lines. Working outdoors and wearing a dust mask, scrape out the flaky residue from inside the gourd, then use coarse sandpaper to smooth all its surfaces. Switch to fine sandpaper for a final rub. To paint the resulting bowls, apply a coat of primer, let it dry, and brush on two coats of high-gloss craft enamel. Gourds, from $5, Dry Nature Designs, 212-695-8911. Plasti-Kote Odds n' Ends enamel, $3, plastikote.com for stores.
You don't need to amass an attic-load of identical objects to assemble a tableau of mass appeal: All it takes is a little creative combining. When you put a white figurine with a white teacup and an upturned lasagna dish, you suddenly have a new kind of collection, Shane says. The bright blossoms we dropped into the tea set make this melange more pop than prim. Another option for a not-so-odd couple: an assortment of gray glass bottles and smooth beach stones in similar hues.
Connect the Blocks
This subtly striking geometric arrangement benefits from its careful blend of earthy elements and ethereal touches. For a balanced composition, start from the center with bigger blocks and candles, and build out from there with lower, longer shapes, Shane says. Then add a few Lucite balls and a length of dried, curled vine from a flower shop -- or even just a small branch -- to soften the otherwise angular display. (A dab of craft wax will help hold the round objects in place.)