Q: The dining table in my apartment isn't very big, and I'm hosting my boyfriend and his parents again for Christmas this year (we just decided!). I want the dinner table to look good, and not to be so crowded with decorations that there isn't room for the food and our wineglasses. What are simple and really fast ways to put together a holiday table?
A: The holidays are one of my favorite times of year, and I enjoy hosting friends and family for dinner. Sometimes these gatherings are at the last minute, so I hear you. When that happens, I keep things simple and don't worry about making everything perfect.
When you have a small table, simplicity is even more important. And, it's faster. This strategy works any time of year, too. If you have a moment to do some shopping (it's probably too late to get something shipped from an online retailer), visit your local crafts supply or fabric store and look for neutral-colored fabric or burlap, muslin, or linen for an earthy and timeless look. Other stores' selections of tablecloths, place mats, runners, and cloth napkins may be somewhat picked over.
For your small table, instead of a tablecloth, try just one runner, or maybe two runners crisscrossed in the middle with the four place settings on the fabric instead of adding another layer with place mats. To make your own runners, cut fabric to size and let the edges unravel a little so it looks like you intended it that way. Another fun look right now is a "table throw," which is a smaller square cloth placed diagonally on a square or rectangular table to allow the fabric corners to drape over the sides.
White dishes are the most versatile place setting color year round for any occasion, and food always looks great on them. Add color or an extra festive touch for the holidays with a charger plate in gold, silver, or a rich color like burgundy. In the center, a collection of three or five candles in varying heights and sizes won't take up much space. If you have a few extra Christmas ornaments, especially clear, white, or metallic ones, place them among the candles. Or, to tie in the season, you could always add a few pine boughs with a short string of battery-powered LED lights in a bowl or vase at the center.
Good luck and happy holidays.