Form follows function even for holiday parties

‘Tis the season to start planning holiday parties, dinners and soirees. If you’re intimidated by the thought of hosting one of these merriments, don’t be. You don’t have to be a great cook and a perfectionist like the fictional character Bree Van de Kamp on “Desperate Housewives” in order to throw a successful event. By planning ahead and keeping it simple, you can host a smashing event while you enjoy quality time with your family and friends.

It all begins with a theme. Holiday themes are the easiest as they are practically selected for you. You can use a broad theme or make it as specific as you like by adding a theme inside a theme. For example: A Christmas theme might be focused on snowmen, holly, rocking horses or a myriad other possibilities. Because Thanksgiving is when my family comes together to celebrate, I’m focusing on a harvest table setting as an example in this article.

Set the table beautifully. When you are developing your table décor, think of creating a snapshot in time. You’ve heard the saying, “First impressions last a lifetime.” Apply this philosophy to your holiday table. When your guests enter the room, the first thing they will notice is the care you put into the table décor – a sneak preview of the anticipated feast ahead. A good cook or a chef will tell you that a delicious plate of food tastes better when it is served in a beautiful way.

Your meal doesn’t have to be homemade and it doesn’t need to be gourmet, unless that is your forte. There are tons of options available to you. You can make the easy things on your menu and leave the fancy work to an outside source.

We are fortunate to live in a city full of caterers and experts in the entertainment business. Call for help when you need it. Most catering companies are happy to deliver trays of food to your home before your guests arrive. Remember that guests usually come to your celebration to enjoy the fellowship, not to judge your cooking.

Begin planning the table décor by implementing the design term, “form follows function.” Simply put, plan your meal and then you will know what type of dinnerware and silverware you must use. If your meal is a simple family dinner, you may want to use stoneware. If it is gourmet or formal, use your good china. If you are serving soup instead of salad, you will need a bowl and a soup spoon instead of a salad plate and salad fork. Use a logical process of elimination.

Take a closer look at the featured photograph. It is simple and beautiful while showing the proper place settings. No fancy napkin folding necessary, although they do appear crisply starched. The dinner plate is classic white, as are the napkins. The hostess added interest by using a unique salad plate. There is no particular centerpiece but the center of the table is lined with seasonal fruit: apples, pumpkins and gourds. Votive and tall, thin taper candles are scattered between the sprigs of bittersweet.

A salad fork and dinner fork sit on the left of the plates. When eating you always start from the fork furthest away from the plate, the salad fork. The knife (blade facing the plate) is on the right of the plate and a spoon to the right of the knife. The napkin goes either on top of the plate or to the left of the forks. Although I don’t see it in this picture, a dessert spoon or fork would be placed horizontally at the top of the plates. Spoon handle to the right, fork handle to the left. A water glass and wine glass are at the top right of the plate. Place cards would be placed above the dessert utensils.

If you use a tablecloth, you do not need to use place mats, but you can use a table runner to add texture and interest. Be sure your centerpiece(s) has graduating levels of height but is not so high that the guests can’t see each other.

As a finishing touch, select some music to softly play in the background. Be sure it matches the atmosphere of your table. Light some candles before your guests arrive and dim the lights a little.

Be sure to plan time to destress and dress up so you can greet your guests with a smile. Your smile and laughter is by far the most important décor of the party.

Now you’ve created a lasting impression as your guests walk into your beautiful room and all their senses are stimulated. Wishing you lots of heart-warming celebrations in the up and coming holiday seasons.

For added support, purchase a book like “InStyle Parties,” from the editors of InStyle. It has party ideas and step-by-step instructions on what to do before the party begins.

Cindy Payne is a certified interior designer with more than 25 years of experience, a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, as well as a licensed contractor. E-mail questions to her at deardesigner@ or send them to her at Project Design Interiors, 2620 S. Maryland Parkway, Suite 189, Las Vegas, NV 89109. She can be reached online at

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