The Cook's Guide to an Easy, Elegant Holiday Table

We here at The Kitchn are cooks, not craftsters. Our creative energy goes into testing recipes and mastering kitchen skills; our aesthetics are tuned to eggplant and persimmons, not stitchery and glue guns. And yet we want to set off our food the best we can, especially on a holiday like Thanksgiving. We really want a beautiful, Martha-worthy table, but we're too busy in the kitchen to whip up an embroidered table runner and crocheted napkin rings.

So we've been looking for inspiration on setting a table in a beautiful way that doesn't require sewing, gluing, crafty skills or even buying that much new stuff. Here's a gallery of our favorite ideas so far.
Table Tips for the (Otherwise Occupied) Cook:


  1. Pick a color and stick with it
  2. We get a little crazy at holidays, wanting new dishes and coordinated tablecloths and all that sort of thing. But there's no need to buy anything new; just pick a common color from your dish collection and stick to it. Have all blue dishes? Use blue dishes and accent with red flowers. Or go all white and do a modern, minimalist table setting.

    Table setting inspiration:
    A modern table at Martha Stewart. So inspiring - just stacked whited dishes, white tablecloth, and fall leaves in hurricane glasses. Simple and elegant!
    Match your dining room - Another very inspiring table from Flickr user qichao.
    Layer your dishes and use all the silverware - Stacking the dishes creates a more formal look.
    Set your table in a modern way - Inspiration from Dwell Studio at AT Chicago.

    Runners and other decoration:
    Chris's no-sew ribbon runner - All you need is tape and pretty ribbon. Directions here.
    Use paper - Put a strip of butcher or kraft paper down the center of the table. You can write on it (everything you're thankful for!) or just leave it blank as a nod to an Italian family trattoria.
    Use an old scarf as a table runner. Or cut extra fringes in an old piece of fabric. At Martha Stewart.

  3. Use the fruits and vegetables already on hand
  4. We are using some flowers on our table, but don't forget about cranberries, apples, and pumpkins. Even fall leaves! Arrange in glass bowls or vases for easy, quick centerpieces that take no time at all. We also love the fruit placecards from Martha Stewart.

    Easy centerpiece ideas:
    Pumpkins and kumquats - could also use oranges, lemons, and tiny pumpkins. At Martha Stewart.
    Cranberries and white flowers - Very dramatic! Cranberries submerged in water have become something of a decorating cliche, but that isn't stopping us from doing it this year. Paired with a mass of white flowers it looks modern and elegant.
    White pumpkins and flowers from La La Laurie. Different yet seasonal and beautiful!
    More centerpieces with white pumpkins from BHG - also see this one.
    Fall centerpiece inspiration from AT Los Angeles - A grey pumpkin and white pumpkins are really all you need for a dramatic centerpiece.
    • And departing from pumpkins for a moment, try putting gourds in a basket or pears and nuts on a plate.

  5. Iron your napkins
  6. This one small touch can make a big difference. Iron your fabric napkins to help them look crisp, fresh, and formal.

    You can also put napkins in the glasses for another pretty yet easy look.
    Also here. At Martha Stewart. Or tie them up with a ribbon and add something pretty.

  7. Make simple placecards
  8. A small note at each guest's place, or an apple with their name on it is a tiny, easy detail that makes the meal feel even more special.

    Easy placecard ideas:
    Plain brown cards with silver pen - Ignore the fall leaves - a simple card will do, perhaps with a note of welcome for each guest inside. At Martha Stewart.
    • Another Martha Stewart classic: placecards made from fruit. So easy and pretty.
    Or just use the fork tines as a placecard. At AT Chicago.

  9. Don't forget candles
  10. Try to use unscented candles so they don't interfere with the food smells and tastes.

    Pretty candles:
    Make votives from apples and pumpkins
    Use different heights of candles but keep the majority low enough to see over. Beautiful photo from jeans on Flickr.

Please add your own - what are your favorite ways to set a beautiful, elegant table for Thanksgiving?

Related: Setting the Holiday Table with Diane Morgan

(Gallery images, first to last: Martha Stewart; Flickr user qichao; Martha Stewart; Dwell Studio; Chris Phillips for The Kitchn; Flickr member eren | thisvintagechica; Martha Stewart; Laurie Cinotto; Better Homes and Gardens; Jonathan of Happy Mundane; Better Homes and Gardens; Flickr user eugene; Martha Stewart; Peggy Blair; Martha Stewart; Flickr member jeans)

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