How to lay the perfect Christmas table

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  • Whether you're new to this turkey dinner malarkey or are a seasoned pro looking for a fresh twist on things, you'll love our top tips

    Your tree’s all dressed, the house is lit up from the outside and there’s a wreath on the door. All that’s left is to get the dinner table ready for the biggest meal of the year. And we hate to break it to you, but a random scattering of crackers and that old baked-bean-stained tablecloth just ain’t going to cut it.

    For some timely advice, we asked the experts at Slaley Hall – a Northumberland hotel which prides itself on being ‘the place to party’ over Christmas and New Year. They’ve come up with some top tips on how to lay the perfect Christmas table.

    More inspiration: Christmas table decoration ideas that will set the scene for your festive feast

    1. Don’t leave it to the last minute


    Image credit: Lizzie Orme

    It’s best to dress the table the night before Christmas. This gives you plenty of time to hunt down missing cutlery and crockery, to check glasses are free of watermarks, and means you won’t be thrown off if your guests arrive early.

    2. Give the table a theme


    Image credit: Brent Darby

    ‘Having a definitive colour scheme or theme makes the table look extra special and refined,’ says Amy Towers, a member of the expert party planning team at Slaley Hall. Start with a simple base – a plain table cloth or runner is best. Then work with a handful of tones – frosted pastels, Scandi red and white, or copper, silver and burgundy are all on-trend combinations this Christmas.

    ‘Alternatively, if you can’t decide on a colour, a key interior trend for this year is organic and natural decor, so experiment with earthy colours and highlight with gold tones to keep it effortless yet elegant,’ Amy suggests. ‘For a more traditional setting, opt for festive colours red and green and complement with raw materials such as wooden-handled cutlery or wicker placemats.’

    3. Get your place settings right


    Image credit: Tim Young

    To do this, first you’ll need to know how many courses you are serving. Put the plate for the main course at the centre of the setting. Then stack the starter plate and soup bowl on top. ‘Cutlery should be placed either side of the dishes, arranged in the order in which it will be used – first course on the outside working inward with knives and spoons on the right and forks on the left,’ advises Amy.

    Where your napkin sits will depend on how intricately you plan to fold it. If it’s just a simple arrangement, place it to the left, ideally on a side plate that you can also use for bread. If you plan on some serious napkin origami, pop your effort in the middle of the place setting.

    4. Create an eye-catching centrepiece


    Image credit: Dominic Blackmore

    Depending on the size of the table, you might already be struggling to fit on all your glasses and crockery. If that’s the case, avoid cluttering it up further with tealights and other decorations. However, it’s always worth squeezing in a centrepiece. Just remember, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better.

    ‘Familiar festive accents such as wreaths, flowers and candelabras work as sophisticated centrepieces,’ says Amy. ‘Candles are an easy yet effective addition for an element of Christmas magic – opt for sturdy pillar candles in a variety of complementary colours and sizes.’

    5. Make it personal


    Image credit: Simon Brown

    Welcome your loved ones to the table with a handwritten place setting. This could be as simple as a card, or you could double up and create small gifts for your guests. Perhaps a small succulent with a chalkboard label bearing their name? Or a personalised bauble or cracker? Feel free to let your imagination run wild – just make sure, whatever you settle on, that it works with your overall theme.

    Related: 8 ways with Christmas place settings

    Oh, and one last thing – before everyone sits down to eat, make sure you share your carefully laid table with the world! Take a quick snap for Instagram, and add the hashtag #tablescape so that others can seek out your scheme for inspiration. It’s also a good term to search with if you’re looking for ideas.

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