How to build a beautiful holiday table with a basic white dinner plate


The standard white dinner plate is like a white T-shirt: You can dress it up or dress it down, depending on the accessories you choose. That makes it the perfect starting point for creating a warm and festive table during the holidays — or for any special occasion.

Looking for inspiration on how to do this, we sent one of Crate & Barrel’s Aspen white porcelain dinner plates ($5.95 each) to four designers and asked them to come up with a merry — and attainable — tablescape. We chose Aspen, which has a high-gloss glaze, because it’s affordable and several of us here own it. “The delicate rim elevates the plate for everyday use, and the clean design leaves room for creativity in dressing the rest of the tablescape,” Sebastian Brauer, Crate & Barrel’s senior vice president of product design, said in an email. It has been in the company’s line for more than 20 years.

Whether you’re hosting your first holiday gathering or you just want to have a special night in with your partner, we have you covered with these four designs.

Shellie Pomeroy of Silk & Willow

Pomeroy, a textile artist and creative director in New Paltz, N.Y., likes to use colors and textures from nature as inspiration for table settings, so she begins by foraging the land around her. “Look outdoors for your first step, no matter what the season is,” she says. Her recent book, “Natural Tables: Nature-Inspired Tablescapes for Memorable Gatherings,” shows how she uses botanicals. Here, she made a delicate wreath of fresh rosemary, twisting the long sprigs, then tucking them together in a circular shape. If you don’t have enough to make a wreath, a few rosemary sprigs from the grocery store tied with silk ribbon can create a similar feel. (Pomeroy also posted an Instagram Reel explaining how to make an herbal wreath.)

The wreath, tied with Red Rouge plant-dyed silk ribbon, is the setting’s centerpiece. She likes the contrast of the natural greens and red ribbon against the white plate. “It creates a dramatic effect,” she says.

She added Crate & Barrel’s whitewashed water hyacinth place mat. “I used the round place mat to repeat the circular pattern of the plates and the round herbal wreath. The circular shapes read as one unit, drawing your attention to the colors and greenery on the table,” she says. An antique white linen napkin and simple ceramic candle holders trimmed with a bit of pine and boxwood complete the look.

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Ariene Bethea of Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio

“I love table settings with personality that are guaranteed to start a conversation over dinner,” says Bethea, an interior designer and vintage furniture shop owner in Charlotte. Bethea is known for mixing bold colors and patterns and incorporating pieces that spark memories.

“When I got married, I chose white plates,” she says. “They are great, because you can always build on them.” She likes a strong patterned fabric underneath, because it “wakes up the table” and requires “less stuff” to bring it to life. Bethea suggests using fabrics stashed away from travels as napkins or cloths. Here, she used an African wax print fabric that a friend brought her from Senegal. “I love that the colors are a twist on the traditional red and green and that it adds lavender to the mix,” says Bethea, one of the tastemakers featured in the new book “AphroChic: Celebrating the Legacy of the Black Family Home,” by Bryan Mason and Jeanine Hays.

She layered the Aspen plate on top of a gold charger. She added a leopard print fabric between the charger and white plate “for dimension” and placed a patterned napkin (Moko by S. Harris) on the plate. A black velvet ribbon on a vintage brass African pendant was an additional adornment. “This can be re-created with any pendant from a necklace to add personality to the table setting. Imagine everyone with a different pendant and the stories that could be shared about their origin,” she says.

She finished with Target’s glam Sussex gold-toned flatware and vintage green wine glasses. “The dollar store is great for colored wine glasses,” she says, “or check out thrift shops for glasses in a color you like. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t all the same shape.”

Brit Arnesen of Nouveau Mono Home

Arnesen, an interior stylist and a dedicated DIYer in Kokomo, Ind., doesn’t have much experience setting holiday tables, because her large family is all about buffets. But she came up with a plan that matches her keep-it-simple design philosophy.

“I didn’t want to go overboard; I just wanted to make sure someone at home could replicate it easily,” she says.

She put the dinner plate directly on a maple table that she built herself and used a green cotton napkin from Target as the focal point. “I wanted to add something fun to that white plate, so I looked up a tutorial on napkin folding on YouTube,” Arnesen said. “It made it look fancy without having napkin rings.” She had never folded napkins, but she found it to be easy and satisfying; she made a Reel of how to replicate this tree napkin and posted it on Instagram.

A tiny Christmas ball from Target tied with sheer metallic gold ribbon from Michaels adds sparkle. Arnesen also included a swath of faux garland on the table. “I usually use faux, because I don’t like the mess of real,” she says, but she often weaves natural greenery, such as asparagus fern, into the garland for texture.

She enjoys a mix of glassware: The fluted drinking glass is from Ikea, and the bubble stem glass is from Etsy.

Eddie Ross of Maximalist Studios

Ross, a magazine editor and creative director in Wayne, Pa., spends his free time scouring thrift shops and church tag sales for vintage tableware and accessories, so he has cupboards full of treasures that can elevate a white plate. He advises everyone to check their pantries and attics for family heirlooms to add joy to a holiday table. “Take out one of your grandmother’s flowered plates and put one on top of your white one,” Ross says. “It will instantly make it look more modern.”

Ross wanted to do a festive, wintry tablescape that would work — with a few tweaks — for Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year’s Eve. His silvery gray palette was inspired by a favorite faux bois (wood grain) digital print fabric that he buys on Etsy ($6.49 per half-yard). “I liked its woodland feel and the fact that it elevates whatever you put on it,” Ross says.

Ross, author of “Modern Mix: Curating Personal Style with Chic & Accessible Finds,” layered the Aspen plate atop a larger dinner plate (Wayfair’s Fortessa Heirloom in smoke), then placed an antique Wedgwood plate and a Spode Chelsea Wicker soup bowl on top. The tiny stocking (Bauble Stockings’ fig and dove) was hand-stitched in Haiti. He finished with modern glassware and Elsie Green’s overdyed napkin, as well as vintage silver-plated flatware and a red Bakelite knife.

“This arrangement made me think of a snow-covered scene in Vermont, where even on a nice day, there is usually a gray, wintry look,” he says. “I added small pops of red and green to make it happy. I think it has a youthful holiday feel, not like ye olde holly china table setting.”

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