It’s the holidays! Why not set a pretty table?

By Caitlin Kelly

Five of these for $10 at our local thrift shop


I love to entertain!

And I’m a total sucker for a beautifully laid table, as the French call it, l’art de la table.

If you’ve ever been to France or Italy especially, you’ve probably enjoyed some gorgeous table settings, even in inexpensive restaurants, thanks to lovely colors in seating, table-tops, floor tile and thoughtful lighting.

The last thing you want is bright glaring overhead light.

The idea is to set a mood, to eat and drink slowly, to enjoy a leisurely meal.

Creating a pretty table isn’t as difficult, scary or expensive as you might assume but it takes a little planning, some digging around for lovely, affordable items and having the confidence to put them all together.

Details matter: iron textiles. Polish metals. Make sure your glassware is clean, not pitted or cracked.

(Those of you with very small children, especially boys, may snicker and leave at this point!)

I’ve been amassing tableware and linens for decades now, and have a good collection of antique china and porcelain, including brown transferware, a sort of poor man’s china popular in the 19th century, which also comes in pink, purple, red and black.

I use mismatched but heavy silver-plate cutlery, found at flea markets, and keep it well-polished.

New tablecloths aren’t always easy to find, and tend to be expensive, but flea markets and consignment shops have plenty of them.

I sometimes just buy a few yards of nice fabric and hem it myself by hand.



Summer breakfast on our New York balcony


Fresh flowers — a must!


For new things, I like: Mothology, Anthropologie, Pottery Barn, Wisteria, Horchow, Crate & Barrel, Ballard Designs.

But I mostly haunt flea markets in every city and have found some great/affordable/quality old things at antiques fairs, consignment shops and inside group antiques malls.


To create a pretty table, for the holidaysย  — or ongoing — here are some things you might want to collect (or rent):


— linen or cotton napkins

— tall candles aka tapers, maybe mixed with unscented votives

— candlesticks or candle-holders, brass, glass, wood, crystal, silver

— a centerpiece of fruit or flowers or vegetation; (no fragrant flowers or arrangements too tall to see over)

— a couple of handsome serving platters and large serving bowls

— a large fabric tablecloth to soften and add color and texture or a long, wide fabric runner

— clean and well-polished cutlery, (what Americans call flatware)

— matching glassware (one for water, one for wine)

— salt and pepper and butter in their own servers/dishes

— a nice jug for serving cold water


No open containers!


Here are some of my own photos, for inspiration:


montreal 4

Restaurant Alexandre, Montreal. Marble table-top ringed with polished brass and cheerful striped bistro chairs



So sorry I couldn’t get these home safely from Venice!



I found the tablecloth in Prince Edward County, Ontario. The cup and saucer are early 19th century, English



A collection of candlesticks — three from Mexico (pewter) and one silver-plate found at a flea market


A vintage tablecloth scored in Maine


We love to have dinner on our balcony, a pleasure we eagerly await all year long



A table set for one of our dinner parties

23 thoughts on “It’s the holidays! Why not set a pretty table?

  1. pinkgeranium

    Beautiful! Share your love of a beautiful table and thrifting! Some of my best finds ever came at a local estate sale. It turned out the owner had once owned a small shop selling fine linens and at some point – I am guessing in the ’70s – shuttered the store and stored the stock in her basement. Oh, the treasures! I scored a few packages of unopened Irish linen dinner napkins – the price worked out to something like 50 cents a napkin. Shockingly, my local Marshall’s sometimes has decent deals on tablecloths, etc., but nothing beats those serendipitous finds. I still mentally toast that lady when I drive by the site of her old house. There are condos there now.

    1. What a great story! Thanks for sharing it.

      It is a little heartbreaking to me to see the extraordinary linens, china, crystal and silver (plate) being sold for a song in so many consignment shops — but there for us to find and re-enjoy!

      I love an elegant table, lit with candles. It makes even the simplest meal something special and memorable.

      and NO PHONES!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I love entertaining myself. In fact, I’m having friends over on Monday (assuming I’m not still sick then), and I’m making a couple of my special recipes. I don’t have anything fancier than some placemats, but I still tend to make the experience special for guests. Even without alcohol, amazingly. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Isabelle

    What do you mean โ€œespecially boysโ€? I do have a sweet young boy who is a gentle soul while a girl cousin is the more boisterous type Iโ€™d guard the glassware from. Beautiful displays โ€” a gentle nudge against gender stereotyping.

  4. I always try to channel my European friends when entertaining. They pull it off with pizzazz whether the china is chipped or the thermostat broken–no matter. The nicest compliment I received was from a new Brit friend who walked into my house and asked me if I was French:).

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