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Comfort and Joy

Posted On December 3, 2020

A brighter, fresher, mountain take on holiday traditions

BY: Christa Miller

Entertaining during the 2020 holiday season could either be an exercise in stress—or a great way to relieve it (with appropriate social distancing and limits on guest numbers, of course).

On the plateau, different takes on traditional secular and nonsecular holiday decorations are making for tablescapes that convey tidings of both comfort and joy.

Traditional golds and greens are selling fast at Dutchmans Casual Living Stores in Highlands, NC. “I think with the kind of year it has been, the glimmer and glitter of traditional colors is comforting and forever timeless,” Stephanie Nieuwendijk-Bramble, Dutchmans’ founder and creative director, observes.

Ann Sherrill, owner of RUSTICKS in Cashiers, NC, agrees. Although RUSTICKS closes after the Thanksgiving holiday, Sherrill believes a traditional approach can effectively set off family gatherings.

For wreaths and live arrangements, Sherrill lists “beautiful pine and fir greens, magnolia, holly with red berries, traditional [potted] poinsettias and amaryllis.” She additionally advises the use of festive candles and lots of red or gold ribbon tied into large bows and streamers.

“These things will create an atmosphere that can take people back to memories of childhood and traditional get-togethers with family and friends—the people you love the most,” Sherrill says.

Gretchen Shaw, manager of the Mantiques 8,000-square-foot Brevard location, says these elements can be further set off with unique vintage items that embody mountain life. “Maybe that includes a wooden duck or goose decoy with a wreath around its neck,” she explains.

From traditional to transitional

Some dinner hosts are seeking fresher looks for their parties. At The Summer House in Highlands, NC, says owner Paula Jones, “More and more of our customers want colors and excitement! Colorful placemats and napkins set off creative tablescapes.”

That’s what Ashley Harllee, president of CK Swan, has observed as well. She frames this approach as “traditional to transitional.”

“They’re doing several different tablescapes for several different dinner parties,” she explains—still entertaining the same numbers of people as they did in previous years, but observing safer pandemic-era social rules through multiple smaller parties.

In many ways, this is a carryover from the summer months. Outdoor tablescapes were popular, Harllee says, as people adapted their entertaining to pandemic safety. Casual wine and dinner parties called for fun, bright colors and textures such as hand-block printed napkins.

As colder weather moved into the plateau and COVID-19 testing improved, people became more comfortable within the safety of their circles of friends. Harllee says, as a result, demand for bright, bold colors remained constant.

Even as she ordered traditional standard whites and off whites for the holidays, customers wanted placemats, napkins and table pieces that could add more variety—even for more formal indoor parties.

That’s because throwing more parties means trying different decoration ideas “instead of pulling out the same old things that they’ve had for years,” Harllee says.

Traditional table settings, such as inherited china, might be blended with a bold pop of contrasting color through contemporary napkins and placemats, for instance. For example, gold charger plates and marigold napkins with peacock teal edges enlivened the brown in one customer’s Thanksgiving tablescape.

Jones has noticed a similar trend at The Summer House. “Table settings with traditional warm gold and orange leaves, pumpkins and foliage are set off with a surprise of bright green or yellow,” she explains. Textures with variety include brightly colored woven placemats and napkin rings, or linen napkins with eyelash trim.

Layering is popular, too. Blending tall, brightly colored candlesticks with surrounding votives is one layout scheme Harllee has seen; Mantiques’ Shaw says glass hurricane lamps can add a unique touch, as can railroad lanterns. Silver ones go with red for Christmas, or blue for Chanukah, for instance.

Some tablescapes include vases or other containers of varying sizes and colors. Shaw observes that a blend of different metal or stoneware containers can create an eclectic centerpiece. A grouping of vintage ginger beer bottles in varying earth tones and different sized mouths, for instance, can make a charming set of vases that can hold buds as well as bigger floral arrangements. 

For these arrangements, says Harllee, orchids, cherry blossoms and quince blossoms mixed with colored autumn leaves are popular, as well as ferns in small tabletop vases. At The Summer House, creative magnolia stem arrangements have added to customers’ tablescapes; at Mantiques, feathers are popular.

Rustic tablescaping with a festive pop

Shaw says there are a number of ways to create an imaginative tablescape by using vintage items in unexpected ways.

For example, she says, a tall three-quart champagne bottle would make a good New Year’s centerpiece. “You could set it off with a small wreath of greenery around the top or the bottom,” she explains, “then incorporate crystal glassware with silver dishes, candle holders and balls around it.”

But smaller items can be eye-catching, too. Sports-related table accents could include vintage fishing lures; for a more Western or hunting-lodge look, Shaw recommends antler candelabras and/or brass horn candle holders for long, tapered candles.

For a rustic tablescape, a scale centerpiece with a black iron base and brass bowls could be set off with brightly colored fruit appropriate for the season. Silver plates placed together with copper pitchers or pots can also offer a rustic look. To refine the look, blend these with crystal glasses.

Some holiday entertaining could feature mountain, sports or period themes—or a blend, depending on the entertainer. For instance, a holiday party with a “Roaring 20s” period theme could include vintage leather and wooden sports equipment from that era.

Another idea, particularly for a bar area: a 1950s ice cream parlor featuring small bottles of Coca Cola on copper trays. Shaw says another touch could consist of vintage decanters shaped like soldiers or period cars.

Hang a circular antler chandelier over a holiday table, says Shaw, and you’ve got a piece that will look beautiful all year round—but can be enlivened with some festive greenery and other pieces, such as battery-powered LED fairy lights, to make it pop for the season.

In fact, says The Summer House’s Jones, greenery can play a festive role even if you decide not to have a holiday tree this year. “Trim the doors inside with garlands, and don’t forget to place aromatic candles, sprays and Fraser fir diffusers around,” she advises. “Close your eyes and think about walking in a pine forest and you'll think that you are there!”