Now that you're focused on your dining room because of the holidays, consider long-term purchases that will make the room a nicer place to be for years to come. When Baltimore interior designer Kim Coale decorates a client's dining room, she starts with the rug. It becomes the inspiration for the other colors and fabrics in the room.
"If you don't have a rug, get one," she says -- a major investment, but not an unreasonable suggestion when you're trying to create a cozy winter room. You also have time before the holidays to add curtains if your room doesn't already have them. The more fabric in the room, the warmer it will seem.
"Some catalogs have ready-made sheers that are very pretty, perhaps in a leaf pattern," says Coale. "You could hang them over decorative wrought-iron poles."
Lighting is key to an appealing dining room, she adds. "If you haven't invested in recessed lighting, do so."
At the very least, you can bring in lamps from elsewhere in the house and put them on the sideboard to add warm light to the room.
Candles, of course, are the cheapest and easiest way to light a holiday dining room. Choose them in the colors of the season, and avoid scented ones that might take away from the aromas of the food.
"I'm big on low candles on the table," says Ed Albers. "High ones can block the view. There are lots of unusual votives out there. I like large candles, too. They're very festive." If he's using patterned china, he likes to pick out three colors for the candles from the tableware.
Albers uses low vases for table arrangements. He brings the outdoors in with pompon mums, gourds, pine cones and magnolia leaves.
"Keep it simple and look for the unusual," he says.
Anything that says harvest, like fruit and small pumpkins, is appropriate decoration for the Thanksgiving table. You won't have time to force paperwhite narcissus or amaryllis for Thanksgiving, but you can get them at a florist. They add a festive touch and are a change from the traditional mums. Pretty dried leaves can be used for place cards; write on them with a metallic marker.
Last year, Wendy Frank, who lives in Ruxton, had 17 for Thanksgiving, which meant she had to set several tables. She used centerpieces of small pumpkins, berries and flowers to coordinate the various tables, with a smaller version on the children's tables. If you can't have everyone sitting together, in other words, use your decorations and settings to suggest that every table is as good as the next one.
That was important because, she says, "My children don't want to think they're children's-table material."
For most of us, Thanksgiving is all about family. Designer Jay Jenkins isn't afraid to do something unabashedly sentimental this time of year. He might take tiny frames and fill them with pictures of family members who won't be there for the holiday. He scatters these among the other table decorations. Or he searches for something unusual like golden tulips for decoration.
It may be obvious, but it bears repeating. "Really make an effort to show your family that you love them," he says.
Give your dining room a makeover this year before the holidays. Here are some suggestions from the pros:
* Bring the colors of the season in.
* Lighting is key, whether it's adding candles or jazzing up the room with new recessed lighting.
* Do whatever you can to make the room warm, such as putting out brass accessories and adding a seasonal plant or two.
* Make the room cozy with new slip seat covers, slipcovers or coordinated linens.
* Refurbish a chandelier with new shades, new light bulbs or a new chain sleeve. Or string something pretty through the arms.
* Think natural when you plan your table decorations. Pumpkins, gourds, seasonal fruit, berries and dried leaves hark back to the past and the roots of our celebration.
* Use your once-a-year focus on the dining room as an inspiration for more lasting changes once the holidays are over -- adding a curio cabinet to hold favorite collections, for instance.
* If you don't have the time or money for major improvements, at least have the dining room sparkling for Thanksgiving: wax the furniture, shampoo the rugs, wash the windows, polish the silver.
Here are some Thanks-giving decorating tips from this month's Country Living magazine:
* A pedestaled glass bowl filled with fruit makes a festive accent for the table or sideboard.
* Let the dining room reflect the colors of fall. Aged wood, antique creamware and simple beeswax candles can help set the mood.
* A rectangle of stationery propped against a pretty pear works well as a holiday place card.
* Don't be afraid to mix the old and new. Vintage water goblets hold their own next to modern crystal wine glasses.