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Setting Even Prettier


If your Thanksgiving turkey is destined to spend its final hours on the same platter you've used for the last 10 years, it's time for a change.

There's no excuse for setting the same boring table, say two L.A. party designers who created three settings using backyard foliage, thrift store pieces, grocery store items, hand-me-downs and low and moderately priced dishes. All it takes is thinking outside the rut--and a can of spray glue.

Since design has become more democratic in recent years, exceptional pieces can be found at proletariat prices. Each season brings a vast new array of stuff, from candleholders to napkin rings to popular items such as the charger, once spotted only in the finest restaurants. These extra-large plates sit beneath the dinner plates, functioning as a placemat and an accent piece. They're usually removed before the dessert course. Chargers can be found in almost every housewares and kitchen store, and come in everything from rattan to ceramic.

When setting a table, Walter Hubert of Silver Birches, a Pasadena flower shop and event design company, suggests starting with items already on hand but giving them a different spin. He makes a centerpiece out of a curved piece of eucalyptus bark (from a backyard tree) filled with pomegranates (from the grocery store) and vines of bittersweet (also backyard, or from a flower shop). Brown sea glass (craft or floral supply stores) and fresh cranberries are scattered on the table to add color and texture.

"It's a still-life arrangement that requires no vases, no oasis, and it can be set up days in advance," he says--except for the perishable cranberries, which should be added just before the meal is served.

The tablecloth is unbleached linen, but Hubert says any tablecloth or piece of fabric can be used, as long as the raw edges are hidden (fusible webbing or even masking tape will work). Dark wood chargers (from Pottery Barn) provide a contrast to the light table. Atop those are ochre dishes (Cost Plus) with a pomegranate serving as a place card holder. Bamboo silverware adds to the wood theme. Wine glasses (Pottery Barn) and gold-frosted tumblers (Ikea) add some sparkle to the table, as do the small amber votives, which, Hubert points out, "Give a warm glow and make complexions very attractive."

He approached the modern setting by staying with angular shapes, which give the table "more of an edge." Those edges are softened with warm autumnal colors and rich textures from organic elements. The dark wood table is covered with a runner--backyard leaves in shades of gold and cinnamon that have been spray-glued to a piece of craft paper. The same technique was used for the napkin rings. The square woven chargers (Cost Plus) are lined with white rice "because it gives the setting a sense of style and panache. Your eye goes right to it. It's about reconsidering materials."

Sturdy square stoneware plates (Pottery Barn) and geometric tumblers (Crate & Barrel) are offset by the red-stemmed curved wineglasses. Nuts and dried beans were placed side by side in rectangular baskets (Cost Plus) for centerpieces, and gold-flecked square pillar candles (Pottery Barn) lend some sparkle. The flatware is worn, mismatched, hand-me-downs that fit in because of their lack of decoration.

But what if the entire china/glassware/flatware arsenal is mismatched? Haul it out and use it anyway, says L.A. party decorator Lynne Holmes, who encourages hosts and hostesses to scour garage sales, thrift shops, outlet stores and Kmart for bargains. Even mixing metals such as brass, gold and silver is OK: "It just makes it much more interesting," she says.

Her elegant holiday table is set with an heirloom tablecloth, its stain covered by a red and gold runner. Thrift store brass chargers are layered on top of red lacquer chargers. Holmes points out that the brass plates can be removed after dinner, giving the table a different look for dessert.

Her grandmother's black-and gold-accented fine bone china blends with a whimsical set of new plates she got from a friend. The stemware is an eclectic collection of black water glasses, silver wine goblets and crystal champagne flutes. The silverware is from a vintage Thai set Holmes picked up at a flea market. The rest of the table is accented with salt cellars, a lion and lamb salt-and-pepper set, crystal water pitchers, small vases of flowers and candles in varying heights that don't obstruct views across the table. Although it's busy, Holmes says an array of items draws the eye around the table and can spark some interesting conversations.

"The nice thing about bringing out your treasures," says Holmes, "is that they mean something to you. You may even have some things that your guests gave you, and they'd love to see you use them."

Both Hubert and Holmes recommend playing with different combinations to see what works. And don't be afraid to try something new. As Holmes says, "People just may be in awe of what you've done."

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