Beautiful holiday tablescapes bring life to the party

Holiday season means party time and tablescapes to set the mood for the occasion.

When done right, tablescapes tell a story composed of a centerpiece, linens, flatware, glasses and decorative items. Tablecapes ignite conversation and delight the eyes.

A stunning tablescape starts at the tabletop and builds up, according to Jill McKenzie, of Steve McKenzie's, a home furnishings and accessories store located in Atlanta's Westside/Home Park and named carrier of the best tabletop by Atlanta Magazine in 2014.

The foundation for most tablescapes is the tablecloth. "It's really the true base of your setting. It sets the tone, sets the mood," McKenzie said. "We did a seminar this summer for the Black Southern Belle Collective and we used everything from a fine linen runner to a quilt... Make it interesting."

McKenzie recommends starting with white or cream tablecloths. "Then you can dress it up or down with runners, squares and that sort of thing."

She suggests layering basic table covers with beautifully colored or patterned linens or runners. Le Jacquard Francais is one of her favorites because of its great 69-inch by 69-inch square. "I like putting that kind in a diamond in the center of the table. That gives you great color and interest. "

For family dinners, McKenzie said she likes to use different individual pieces at everyone's place setting. "We also like to use little place cards, especially if it's a larger group, so no one comes to the table and kind of panics about where should I or where shouldn't I sit."

She encourages people to pull out the silver and fancy china for casual as well as formal dinners. "What are you saving it for?"

When it comes to centerpieces, McKenzie recommends keeping them low or super high. The key, she said, is to avoid disrupting sight lines for guests. "You want to encourage conversation and not block anyone's view," she said. "We've got some great candelabras from Dunes and Duchess that make a wow factor either on the table or on a sideboard, especially if you put fancy candles in them."

McKenzie likes candles from Et Al, which add an element of surprise. "Candles are very important on the table, as pretty tapers in your holders and even little votives. We like to sprinkle votives about the table."

She said there's no need to rely on overused centerpieces such as Christmas trees, poinsettias and cornucopias.

"We love using fresh flowers," she said. "Look in the backyard and see what's there seasonally. Maybe you prune the magnolias or the holly bush. Maybe lay down a pretty bed or trail along the center of the table and then you can nestle in your candles or a little bouquet of mums for Thanksgiving, something with color that ties in that way."

Similarly, McKenzie said it's OK to use non-traditional colors in holiday table decor.

"A lot of folks are incorporating either a third color into that, such as green, red and gold; or green, red and silver," said. "Or they are managing the green. We've got a great chartreuse dish maker out of Athens called R. Wood. It's just this great chartreuse, super saturated really brightens the table a lot."

No matter what theme or color scheme you decide on, McKenzie strongly recommends setting the table the night before, and perhaps even days prior to your event. She also suggests playing around with the tablescape. "Audition some different pieces. Layout a place setting and walk away," she said. "When you come back in the room, see how you like it."

The following are examples of dazzling holiday tablescapes.

1. Pretty in Pink: Despite a departure from typical Christmas colors, this tablescape captures a celebratory holiday mood through use of pink and green satin linens from BBJ Linens and jewel-toned glassware and dishes. Decorative accents like the small gift boxes and holiday bulbs add sparkle to this dazzling display.

2. Holly Jolly Centerpiece: The centerpiece on this table creates a rustic yet elegant ambiance. A tree log base tapped with frosted pine cones and pine accents contrast with traditional fine china and glassware.

3. Hanukkah Holiday: The tablescape from Crate and Barrel blends traditional Hanukkah blue and white and menorah-themed plates and table accents. Bubbled silver glass candle holders and cobalt blue glassware add elegance to an otherwise casual setting.

4. Bountiful Bouquets: A mixture of fruits, vegetables and flowers create a lovely runners on this table. The woven chargers beneath the scalloped porcelain plates complement the organic accents on the table. The blue tablecloth from BBJ Linens, acts as a neutral canvas for the colorful tablescape.

5. Fall harvest holiday: This fall-inspired tablescape features ceramic pumpkins from Crate and Barrel mixed in with real harvest vegetables. The Marin harvest tablecloth anchors the orange and green color-theme throughout.

6. Holiday Royalty: Various brass candle holders with candles of different height arranged to create an opulent centerpiece that complements the gold china and amber-tone glassware.

7. Garden Variety: Dried leaves and flowers found at grocery stores with mix-matched porcelain and flatware add warmth to this lovely table setting, ideal for intimate dinners or holiday brunch.

8. Fancy New Year: An hourglass, miniature clock and midnight-inspired candles reinforce the theme and color scheme of this fancy New Year's Eve buffet tablescape.