Eye on Design | Inspiration for a Thanksgiving Table

I was art directing the renovation of a house in the mountains of Liguria, Italy for HGTV.  When we got to the point where I had to add the finishing touches, I knew that, being miles and miles (and miles) from anywhere to shop, I was going to have to be resourceful . . .

Pioneer woman styling!  I climbed down the side of the mountain to cut branches and wildflowers, and cleaned out old bottles that had been covered in years of dirt and grime. 

I stood on a rooftop to pick quince, raided the fig and apple trees, and placed the fruit in ancient terra cotta bowls and a tarnished copper jelly mold that I had found in a treasure hunt in a neighbor’s cellar. 

The hydrangea that I’d picked while it was still in bloom was now a gorgeous dried bouquet, and old Giovanni, down the lane, let me borrow a bucketful of juicy grapes. As a bonus, he gave me a lesson in making wine – in Italian. 

(Side note: None of the neighbors spoke English. From the beginning they assumed I understood them, and, after awhile, I miraculously not only understood, but I could converse with them. Capisco e parlo molto buono!)

I set the antique chestnut table with hand painted Italian ceramic plates atop simple Ikea dishes, clear and gray Ikea glassware, and vintage linen napkins and cutlery from a local flea market. 

It was this experience in Italy that inspired me when I started thinking of ideas for a Thanksgiving table setting.  What would I do if I had nothing to work with but what I could get at the local farmer’s market, the outdoors (it’s not the mountains in Italy, but it will do), or in my cupboards?

Here’s four ideas that I came up with.

# 1

A white peacock ornamental cabbage placed in a vintage silver bowl, became the centerpiece, and the starting point for this table setting. (Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be orange and yellow!)

-Soft sage-green ceramic plates in organic shapes echo the silhouette of the cabbage, and offset the vivid green of the water goblet.
-Delicate, mismatched vintage cutlery adds a quirky touch.
-Collect green and white gourds from the farmer’s market, and place in small groupings around the centerpiece. (Don’t think you can substitute the orange, yellow, and multicolored gourds…the key is to keep the color palette clean and simple.)
-A place card rests on top of a rolled-up washed linen napkin.  (I scanned a set of labels I’d found in Venice, and printed them out.  Printable PDF below.)
-Antique brass candlesticks tie in the warmth of the old cutlery.
-Tablecloth unnecessary – this is a white laminate Saarinen table, but, as I did in Italy, you can leave a wood table uncovered for a formal setting. (As long as it has a good, strong finish.)

[Download Italian labels, table setting 1]

# 2

This table setting is a variation on #1, using the ornamental cabbage centerpiece and green and white gourds.

-I added a batik print ceramic plate in amber and green, and a jade glazed bowl with a scalloped rim that brings to mind a hollowed out gourd.
-The shimmery gold on the bottom of the water glass brings together the colors of the plate and the vintage cutlery.
-Folded next to the plate is a chartreuse linen napkin, and a plain, handwritten place card rests among the gourds.
-A pair of brass mid-century Ivar Alenius Bjork Danish candlesticks hold pale green taper candles and add a touch of character.

# 3

This monochromatic table setting started with a white pumpkin.  It’s placed on an old ironstone plate, and leaves and grasses that I gathered outside are tucked around it. 

-Sculptural white ceramic plates add texture to the table, and they’re topped with a miniature white pumpkin.
-A flax colored linen tablecloth adds contrast beneath the white plates.
-Vintage tart tins hold tea lights – you can use new ones, too, but I love the old patina of these.
-I kept the palette neutral, filling silver bowls with walnuts, and placing a treat on a tiny plate (this one’s a little pewter plate I bought in Italy) at each place setting.  (I’ve used white chocolate-covered toffee, but you could use spiced nuts, chocolates, dried fruit…be creative, but stick with the color scheme of the table.)
-Another of my place cards from Venice – scanned and printed for each place.
-A vintage white ironstone gravy boat, clear glassware, and silver cutlery keep the overall look clean and understated.
-I love using linen tea towels for napkins.  They’re the perfect size, and I like adding a utilitarian touch to a formal table.

[Download Italian labels, table setting 3]

# 4

Bring out the white china, and fill up the table.  Everything looks better in numbers, and Thanksgiving abundance can be just as striking in white.

-The china plates are Royal Copenhagen, but the pitchers are vintage white ironstone.
-Surrounding a white pumpkin, alternated with tart tin tea lights, you’ll be amazed at how stunning a collection of white pitchers of various sizes can be.
-I kept this setting decidedly subtle with a pale linen napkin folded under the miniature white pumpkin.
-I didn’t use place cards here, but you could lay one on the napkin or tie to the stem of the mini pumpkin, or even loop the string of a tag around the handle of a diminutive pitcher.

[The first of four episodes of “The Brian Boitano Project” will air on HGTV, January 16, 2014. ]


Italy place setting: Plate, Ikea “Dinera”, water glass, Ikea gray “Skoja,” wine glass, Ikea “Svalka.”

1. Substitute plates (above no longer available), www.anthropologie.com, simliar green water goblet, www.anthropologie.com; wine glass, “Cavendish Stemware,” www.simonpearce.com; napkin, “Everyday Napkins,” www.heathceramics.com

2. Substitute plates, www.potterybarn.com, substitute chargers (color: lime)www.anthropologie.com, substitute bowl (color: lime), www.anthropologie.com, gold bottom water glass, www.anthropologie.com; wine glass, “Cavendish Stemware,” www.simonpearce.com ; napkin, “Polylin Napkin Libeco Lagae,” (color: grass) www.heathceramics.com

3. Similar plates, www.anthropologie.com; wine glass, Riedel; water glass, Antropologie; vintage mini tart tins available on Etsy; tea towel, “St. Malo”, www.libecohomestores.com

4. Plates, Royal Copenhagen “White Half Lace”; wine glass, “Cavendish Stemware,” water glass, “Ascutney Barware,” www.simonpearce.com” target=”_blank”>Simon Pearce; napkin, “Everyday Napkins,” www.heathceramics.com

3 responses to “Eye on Design | Inspiration for a Thanksgiving Table”

  1. Susan Goldstein

    You make it look so beautiful and now that I have such precise directions – you make it easy!!
    Thank you for the very creative ideas with everyday items – love love love the PDF files for the
    place cards – easy peasy!

  2. craig

    Thanks for the great ideas!