Your Guide to Setting a Festive Holiday Tablescape That Doesn't Feel Overtly Seasonal

Think beyond a red-and-green color palette, for starters.

overhead view of Christmas place setting
Photo: lambada / Getty Images

Setting a sophisticated holiday table—which is something you should do, even if you're celebrating with immediate family only this year—doesn't take a Christmas miracle. Start by avoiding a few key elements—think "anything cliché or kitschy, like snowmen, overly trendy glitters, or décor pieces you might find in the dollar section," says Cassandra Stearns of Borrowed Blu. Then, elevate the rest of your design with a few simple swaps: Mix surprising shades of iconic holiday colors, add playful candles in chic patterns, or trade a formal flower arrangement for a foraged-from-your-yard centerpiece. Ahead, more ways to set an unexpected holiday tablescape.

Keep your color palette simple.

For a cohesive tablescape, recommends Stearns, start with a minimal palette of just two or three colors—but choose slightly unexpected takes on the holiday classics to create a more upscale design. For her table this year, Stearns plans to trade emerald for "earthy olive greens," accented by striking matte black—instead of gleaming onyx—and bright white for contrast. "While darker green is a typical winter color, you can mix deeper hues with other rich tones, or look like a pro by layering in pops of pastel hues in the same color—for example, take olive as the dominant color and add smaller accents of sage or pastel," she says. "The light/dark contrast, whether in your tableware or floral arrangement, is always suggested and is an easy way to make your décor speak volumes."

Make it shine.

From Christmas candles to New Year's confetti, the last few weeks of the year offer more glamour and glitz than any other season. Add shimmer to your holiday table with intricate details and glittering metallics—like hand-etched gold dinnerware and cut crystal glassware. "To avoid an overly obvious seasonal table—but still set one that's festive—we suggest focusing on sparkle and metals mixed with evergreen," says Virginia Frischkorn of Bluebird in a Box and Bluebird Productions. "For us, the holidays are all about sparking joy and bringing in some light and cheer. Think mirrored chargers, glass candlestick holders, gold votives, and even some fairy twinkle lights running through a greenery garland."

Add subtle accents and backgrounds.

Complement your place settings with understated, monochromatic linens in rich textures. "Linens in a solid luxe material, like velvet or organic cotton, can be a nice uniform foundation," says Stearns. "The texture you go with will give you a different vibe, and with one solid color there is still a lot of flexibility here to make your table glam, or earthy, or modern minimal." Then add a low-key centerpiece inspired by cold-weather landscapes: Think evergreen boughs, dried flowers, or bleached ferns. "Use elements found in nature for this time of year based on your own climate zone," says Stearns. "Keep it simple and don't over-style." Candles—whether votives, pillars, or tapers—create an intimate atmosphere and a cheerful finishing touch; for her table, Sterns chose tapers in the same color, but three different styles. "By choosing to the keep the color consistent but mix the patterns, you immediately get an interesting play of texture in your centerpiece," she says.

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