Simple yet elegant

Low-cost options for decorating your Thanksgiving table

November 19, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

You've agreed -- or been elected -- to host Thanksgiving dinner. Now it's only days away and you realize you might not have everything you need. Don't panic: Setting a fine holiday table doesn't have to break the bank.

With a little creative thinking, even the most ill-equipped hosts can work with what they have, fill in gaps with low-cost options, and end up with a table they can be proud of.

The table: Instead of crowding a too-small table with food for family-style dining, set up a buffet. Any table will seem much larger when it's not full of serving dishes. "I always prefer a buffet," says Steve Poses, whose Frog Commissary Catering Co. has been behind some of Philadelphia's swankiest parties for almost 30 years. "Passing all that food gets difficult for people."

The seating: Two feet is the ideal measure per place setting and chair, Poses says, but you can get away with as little as 18 inches. ("They are all friends and family, and this is just a meal," he says.)

Improvise for chairs if you don't have enough. A small bench can be a perfect seat for two. Stools can also fill in as space-saving seats. If you've got mismatched chairs, try creating simple fabric "jackets" for the chair backs. Find a cotton fabric you like at a discount fabric store, cut or tear it into the proper-size pieces, then iron the raw edges under. Straight-pin them together to completely jacket the chair backs. As an added touch: Find simple, inexpensive seat cushions at a home design store like Ikea and make the chair seats match, too.

The tabletop: Ikea also carries inexpensive white dinner and dessert plates (50 cents to $2 each) that can fill out your existing service. There are also clear glass bowls (50 cents each) if there's a soup course on the menu, and it and Target also can help with inexpensive stemware and other glasses.

But you don't need to buy brand-new dishes, says Danny Seo, an expert on eco-conscious style. He recommends a trip to the thrift store.

"It's mind-blowing to go to the Salvation Army and see how much tableware is donated," Seo says. "You can get amazing stacks of vintage plates inexpensively. They don't have to match either, as long as you have the same color. Or, if you want to go very mismatched, make it colorful. If you don't like them afterward, you can donate them back."

For tablecloth and napkins, Seo suggests thinking multifunctionally.

"Flat sheets are great as tablecloths, and they come in wonderful colors. For napkins, buy bandannas at an army-navy store. They are cheap, washable, and they come in a million different colors now."

Optionally, at stores like Linens-N-Things, you can find a rich gold tablecloth ($9.99) and deep pumpkin napkins ($9.99 for four). Or, try a dollar store. Our shopper found a half-dozen dishcloths in a woven jacquard pattern of autumn leaves and interlocking squares, in gorgeous tones of green, pumpkin and brown to use as table runners, laid end-to-end over the gold cloth.

Other touches

For place cards, cut up index cards, tape them together to make tents and glue on fake autumn leaves ($3.50 for a 9-inch garland at A.C. Moore).

Fill an oval platter with fruit, mini-pumpkins and decorative gourds for a centerpiece. Find two small vases and fill them with branches of rosemary.

For mood lighting, try pillar candles set on ceramic coasters, and a sprinkling of votives in sparkling glass holders.

You might end up spending $150 to put together a Thanksgiving table you can be proud of. But you could probably also do it for less and still be just fine.

"It's all about your attitude," Poses says. "Entertaining is an act of love. You want people to feel welcome. You want your table to reflect a level of thoughtfulness and care."

Feeling ill-prepared for the Thanksgiving hordes? Here are more ways to make the holiday more stylish at your place.

Seating

Short on dining chairs? Arrange cushions around the coffee table and turn it over to the kids you've invited, suggests Janice Simonsen, design spokeswoman for Ikea. "If you give them a separate area, they'll love that."

You could also stock up on folding chairs. Ikea has several affordable plastic-seat models in a range of colors, including "Nick" ($9.99) and "Jeff" ($7.99). "Terje" ($12.99) comes in pale wood with a slat seat.

Eco-lifestyle guru Danny Seo, whose show Simply Green With Danny Seo just started on Sirius satellite radio, suggests buying those nylon-sling camping chairs with aluminum frames.

"Everyone has them, and they're the right size to accommodate an inexpensive fabric slipcover," he says. Even better: When the weather warms up, you can bring the chairs to a picnic.

Table decor

"For styling, just look in your own backyard," says Steve Poses, who heads Frog Commissary Catering. "Colored leaves, branches, evergreens. It's easy and cheap, and it's a reflection of you."

Greens such as herbs can take the place of flowers in vases. For place cards, attach name tags to mini-pumpkins, pears or pomegranates, or write names with a metallic marker on vibrantly colored leaves. (You can preserve that color by soaking the leaves ahead of time in a solution of two parts water and one part glycerin for two days.)

To simply press leaves, gather them a week ahead of time, then put them between sheets of wax paper in a telephone book. Scatter them atop a solid-color tablecloth for wonderful patterns.

Finally, think candles. "If you are trying to do things inexpensively, the more candles the better," Poses says. "They create a wonderful mood."

Knight Ridder/Tribune

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