- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dressing a table for a festive holiday meal can be as easy as tying a colored ribbon around a glass stem or as ambitious as buying special place settings and hiring a florist to design a centerpiece.

Plenty of imaginative ideas flowed from Washington-area interior designers and antiques dealers who were asked to invent table designs for the Georgetown Jingle benefit held Dec. 3 in the Four Seasons Hotel.

A silent auction allowed patrons to bid on some of the items shown throughout with proceeds going to the pediatric bone-marrow transplant program at Georgetown University Hospital. Sponsors plan this to be an annual event.

Interior designer David Herchik, owner of the District’s JDS Designs, combined high and low styles for his contribution, titled “Santa’s Christmas Day Breakfast.” The table for six was covered with what he described as “ice,” which was really white paint covered with microglitter.

Matching organza napkins were embroidered all over with the words “Ho Ho” in red, green and white. A CD player sat on the floor covered with fake snow. The other elements were supplied by his local Starbucks: coffee cups, gingerbread trees and other holiday ware that were then offered up for auction.

Interior designer David Mitchell, owner of the District firm David H. Mitchell Interior Design, went the other direction entirely, to provide what he calls a mock-up of a “Christmas in Aspen” because, he says, “that is where so many of my clients have houses.”

The theme was carried through with many organic and textural notes. The tablecloth was a custom-made silk burlap decorated with birch reindeer, felt snowflakes, rock crystal and greenery.

The napkins were linen — “washed but not ironed” — and napkin rings were the thumbs of white hand-knitted mittens he bought at the Gap. Evergreen wreaths functioned as charger plates. The centerpiece was a birch-covered vase filled with holly.

“Unless you own red plates with Christmas trees on them, you use your everyday china,” says Deborah Gore Dean, owner of Georgetown’s Gore Dean, dealers in fine collectibles and antiques. Her choice in this case was a bright red-and-white “Balcons” pattern from Hermes. (The word applies the iron-wrought balconies of Portugal translated into geometric designs.)

With that she chose black beaded place mats over a smoky acrylic table. “All very stark,” she says of the scene she titled “Exotic Christmas, set for four.”

The surprise element was her choice of turquoise-blue ornaments functioning as place card holders to match turquoise beaded napkin rings. Goblets were blue and white crystal, and the centerpiece was a blue crystal vase containing a mound of tightly bunched red carnations.

“Normally, I’m a traditionalist,” says designer Justine Sancho, owner of Potomac’s Justine Sancho Interior Design. “But when we saw this fabric with the brown and the peacock eyes, we were goners.”

Animal lovers, take note. Her reference is to a tablecloth that she describes as “green silk shot through with a kind of red luminosity.” On top of that she put a chocolate brown square table skirt with green, blue and gold and what resembles peacock eyes all around it.

Peacock feathers were used in the centerpiece along with some bark. Twigs bound the napkins. A chandelier over the round dinner table set for six was suspended under a large wreath filled with green leaves. Lime-green-bordered Herend dishes sat beside multicolored goblets. “Funky up against a lot of elegance” is how she described the scene.

Some major chain stores do the work for you by selling a complete line of tableware and table decorations geared to a folksy Christmas theme.

For example, Target’s offerings this year are complete with both ceramic and paper plates, napkins and candelabrum, all conceived by Dutch designer Tord Boontje. His signature design of the season is a reindeer perched on the edges of vibrant red and white ceramic dishes.

For tips on correct placement of dishes and flatware or silver on the table, you need only consult the Internet for diagrams outlining where pieces should go. Occasionally, catalogs such as those from Sur La Table show ideal shapes and sizes of the glassware needed for each of the many liquids likely to be served.

In addition, Sur La Table is selling metallic-colored chargers that easily can be reused for parties throughout the year.

Another source for ideas are Home Depot’s Expo Designer Centers, which offer these tips for setting a fancy table:

• A single color scheme makes the decorating job easier, but vivid combinations such as red and gold or gold and purple are more festive, and a muted palette such as white and gray can be a welcome surprise.

• The table design easily can be matched with other decorative elements throughout the house in terms of color and even in selection of greens.

• The use of glass tree ornaments in a centerpiece helps set off similar colors and decorations on the tree.

With seemingly an unlimited choice of accouterments at his disposal, Scott Hamberger of Reston, vice president of Fortessa, a wholesale chinaware company with a retail outlet in Sterling, Va., says his family meal will be focused on traditional red, white and green.

Dinner plates will be a white, “because it goes with everything,” in a classic embossed design dating to 1895, he says. The charger plates are patterned with gold leaf atop a red and green “that looks like hand-painted swirls.”

Goblets are red and green, and the centerpiece — “my wife’s job,” he says with a laugh — will be a mix of dried materials and Christmas tree balls.

Interior designer Libby Langdon on HGTV’s program “Small Space, Big Style” suggests using pine cones as place card holders or smooth, cream-colored river rocks instead of cards for a special holiday meal. Take a thick pen and write the name of the dinner guest on the rock’s smoothest side, she adds.

Etiquette advisers urge dinner hosts to consider such sensible matters as avoiding the use of tall candles since candles at eye level can block the view of diners and make conversation awkward. And beware of scented candles that can conflict with the much more intriguing scent of freshly prepared food.

Votives are popular because they are short and reduce the risk of fire.

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