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Gabrielle Fagan: Lay on the style this Christmas

By Gabrielle Fagan

Getting your table set up beautifully is all part of the fun say the experts, by Gabrielle Fagan



John Lewis: 08456 049 049

Pretty Parlour: 0870 850 0330

SIA: 0870 608 6060

Tesco: 0845 600 4411

The White Company: 0870 900 9555

Getting your table set up beautifully is all part of the fun say the experts, by Gabrielle Fagan

Most of the year you may pay little regard to your table as long as there’s a decent meal on it — or even just have dinner on a tray in front of the TV — but on Christmas Day that table has to rock. No pressure, but along with the tree it’s the most important focal point in your home.

It’s where family and friends gather and linger for the feast and so it should sparkle and perfectly complement the food.

But, unless you’re a domestic goddess, you probably haven’t got all the time in the world to polish candelabra, unearth the heirloom china and steam-iron tablecloths. What’s needed is a delightfully easy dining plan.

Chrissie Rucker, founder of The White Company, believes a table can be quickly turned into the star of the show.

“I’m a great believer in picking a theme — say a white tablecloth — and contrasting that with red berries, holly and greenery, or perhaps blue and silver tree baubles in clusters along the length of a white table,” she says.

“Frankly, using anything more than three colours looks garish.”

This Christmas at her home, she’s chosen a white cloth, which she will top with a grey velvet runner.

“On that I will arrange a procession of candle holders of varying heights,” she says. “I’ll use clear glass holders and white candles, mirrored place mats, and then I’ll scatter some small table crystal gems or stars for added sparkle.”

Domestic doyenne Anthea Turner, author of The Perfect Christmas, believes that simply using a small amount of greenery from the garden or a garden centre, or dressing up some cheap crackers, can work wonders on a table.

“It’s easy to decorate plain crackers to match your Christmas table,” she says.

“Simply add ribbon or bows in the colour you’ve chosen for your theme and, if you want to get a bit more fancy, add lace or glitter as well.

“Or you could just personalise them by adding a label to each with individual names written in gold or silver ink. Buy yourself a glue gun to make things easier.”

For the focal point she suggests using a ring of florist’s oasis to display some festive foliage, with a large church or pillar candle in the centre.

Be inspired by other suggestions that will make your table divine and win compliments.


Designer Caroline Clifton-Mogg has gathered tips from the rich and famous for her new book, Set With Style.

“Even at times when people may not be spending so much on extras, it’s still possible to make the table look really good, without spending a fortune on expensive accessories,” she says.

“The key is generosity and abundance, which is not at all the same thing as extravagance.

“So freshly-cut ivy stems laid the length of the table could curl around stubby, fat candles on small saucers and make a focal point of Christmas balls heaped into a glass bowl or scattered around the table.”

She greatly admires one host who laid a faux fur rug on his table, and laid small sprays of branches laden with red berries on charger plates, and grouped different-sized gold candle holders around fruit and foliage for a focal point.

“If that’s impractical because you’ve got children eating at the table, even a couple of bowls of nuts and satsumas with candlesticks grouped around them can make a stunning focal point.”


Black and white or black and silver are the two contemporary choices this season, and the shops are overflowing with table accessories to suit this look.

GET THE LOOK: Asda has a selection of silver and black baubles (£1.97 a pack), which would be dazzling against a pure white cloth. Add its ‘Diamond ring’ napkin holders, £3.47, and silver Taper candles, £2.97 a pack.

Savvy design divas could plunder HomeSense for its selection of reduced price designer tableware. Runners are £7.99 each, silver charger plates £2.99, and a set of six crystal wine glasses costs £24.99.

There’s plenty to choose from at John Lewis, including unusual black wooden rocking horse ornaments, £20 each; Platinum range dinnerware from £6; and a Wire Christmas tree card holder £5, which could be an unusual focal point.


“People respond to traditional colours and tones — and silver or gold paired with white is a brilliant combination,” Caroline Clifton-Mogg says.

“Just don’t go for overkill, otherwise it will be too overpowering — especially when you add all the colours of the food.”

GET THE LOOK: Do a supermarket sweep

and follow the ‘less is more’ rule. Tesco has a brilliant selection of tableware in its Finest range, including a pure white 12-piece dinner set, £45; crystal wine glasses, £12 for four; gold placemats, £5 for four, and gold and cream luxury crackers, £12 for six.

The White Company’s groaning with goodies that would add sparkle. Its range includes mirror placemats (set of four £18) and my favourites — a glass tower-shaped tea light holder (small, £10), and stunning ball-shaped silver and glass tea light holder, £15.

Scatter some sparkling table gems, £15, and you’ve got a table hit on your hands.


Colour’s a trademark of the festival — and there’s nothing more jolly than splashes of red, maybe velvet or gingham ribbon tying up napkins, or a red tea light holder beside each placemat, or a ribbon bow and name label hung on the back of a chair.

GET THE LOOK: John Lewis has a fab Red Berry garland (£10) that could be wound down the centre of the table, or wound around the dining room doorframe. Then add its Carnival Lights crackers, £15 for 12.

SIA’s selection of table accessories is hard to beat, and caters for every taste from gold and silver through to rich reds. Make a table look opulent with its sprays of red faux flowers, from £1.95 a stem. Add its glass Christmas tree, £18.95, for a dazzling centrepiece.


Take the stress out of flower arranging by using a stylist’s trick recommended by Chrissie Rucker.

Use a low level vase, and criss-cross lengths of sellotape across the top of it, leaving small spaces for the flower stems.

“I love white flowers like roses or snowberry and I only like to see the heads, so I trim the stems and just pop them in a vase so they rest on the sellotape ‘web’ and it makes a dense, luxurious-looking arrangement,” she says.

n Place settings needn’t be dull if you use a large fir cone, from a florist, to make an unusual setting, suggests Anthea Turner.

“Rub the bottom of the fir cone with sandpaper to give it a flat surface and leave it as it is or spray it to match your colour scheme,” she says.

“Then use Blu-Tack to keep it in place on the table, and attach your guests’ name tag.”


This the fun bit and you can source table ‘stationary’ from shops such as Paperchase.

The Last Detail also has an elegant range of co-ordinating Pretty Parlour accessories, including miniature crackers, a gold Table Talk set with 60 conversation-starting questions such as, ‘What was the funniest incident you have ever witnessed?’, or a red Table Trivia box.

My favourite is its 20 shiny gold indoor sparklers for popping into desserts or cocktails. Prices range from £1.99 for a pack of star-shaped scatter confetti to £5.49 for a pack of eight crackers. Sparklers cost £3.75.


Red wine spills, cranberry sauce stains, and greasy marks are usually the evidence that everyone’s had a great time, but they can ruin a lovely cloth.

But a JML Magic Tablecloth has a special weave that forces spills and stains to the surface making them bead.

This means it will retain its good looks throughout the meal and cleaning it is a breeze.

It’s machine washable at 30°C for 10 times, measures 150 x 210 cm, and is suitable for eight guests. It’s £14.99 from ASDA, Debenhams, and

Set With Style by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, published by Jacqui Small, £30. The Perfect Christmas by Anthea Turner, Virgin Books, £16.99

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