Ask anyone: Hosting your family's annual holiday celebration isn't as easy as it looks. Add in the newlywed factor—which implies limited entertaining experience—and it's easy to become completely overwhelmed by your new role as hostess. After all, these responsibilities, which likely include reproducing your mother-in-law's go-to holiday recipe, cleaning every inch of your home, and setting a seasonal tablescape, are manifold. If you're feeling the pressure, we're here to tell you that neither the food nor your décor has to be super intricate, which should lighten your load considerably.
A more relaxed approach doesn't mean sacfricing on aesthetics, especially in the tabletop department. To help you achieve an elevated table setting, we tapped UrbanStem's creative director Lewis Miller, the New York City floral designer known for his "Flower Flashes," to help you elevate your first holiday tablescape. From choosing easy (and affordable!) blooms and greens to adding in seasonal motifs, Miller's advice is sure to help even the least experienced entertainer craft an enviable dinner table.
Keep it simple.
If there's anything to take away from Miller's entertaining tips, it's this: Don't complicate things. "Pick three elements—pinecones, red ribbons, and candles work—and use them heavy-handedly," he explains. "These pieces don't have to be expensive or difficult to get. They should be things in the aisle of grocery store that you can pair with trimmings from your backyard's spruce tree."
Consider unexpected motifs.
Hosting Christmas doesn't mean tabletop décor has to feel inherently seasonal or cliché, explains Miller. "I'm a California boy, so I love citrus for a holiday tablescape," he says, noting that clementines, kumquats, and even walnuts are fair game in terms of decorating. "Little glass balls, ribbons or trim, and candles are just as good."
Utilize in-season florals.
According to Miller, the plethora of winter florals, greens, and berries readily available during the holiday season are all you need when introducing live accents. "You'll want to capitalize on winter flowers," he says. "Nothing is more beautiful than using something during the time it's meant to be used." As for the varities you need to know about? Hellebore, cut amaryllis ("They're long-lasting and the flowers are so big and colorful,"), and green and brown lady slipper orchids are blooms to bookmark. "Try to avoid basic red roses," Miller adds. "They connote Valentine's Day—let them stay special for that."
Keep arrangements small.
"If you plan on enjoying conversation with friends and family, you can't have big centerpieces," advises Miller. "If these arrangements are too large, you'll have to take it off the table—and that's bad design." Instead, he recommends having a tall moment elsewhere. Consider placing magnolia or holly branches on the sideboard or buffet table, where they won't impede conversation.
Scentscape with fresh accents.
If there's one thing the holiday season is known for, it's incredible fragrances—think pine, fur, and cinnamon. You'll want to take an unexpected path when scentscaping your celebration, though, says Miller, who advises against spice-forward notes. "I try to avoid the likes of cinnamon and spice and go for more of a fresh zestiness," he says, of selecting fragrant tabletop add-ins. "Peel or crack open a citrus fruit and pair that with pine." You don't have to avoid the spice family entirely, though: "Boil cinnamon sticks in the kitchen and let that waft through your house to mingle with the pine and zest," he adds. "Treat scent as something layered and experiential."
Consider classic color palettes with a twist.
There's nothing wrong with the traditional red-and-green holiday color palette, notes Miller. There is, however, a way to make this shade combination feel fresher: Pair green accents (like bay leaves!) with coral or burgundy (interpretations of red that don't scream Christmas crimson!) poinsettias. Another option? "Try all-white," says Miller, who advises breaking up bright-white with shades of cream and brown.
Break out your registry china.
Now's the time to put those wedding gifts on display—especially if the person who gifted them will be sitting around your table come party time. "These things shouldn't be kept in china cabinets, since they're meant to help you create memories and start traditions you'll pass on," says Miller. "It's all about incorporating major moments of your life into other big life moments—really cherish and celebrate it all."