Suffice it to say that this holiday season is unlike any other in recent memory. Many of us are hosting a much smaller group than in previous years—or, even further from the norm, one that’s socially distanced. But complying with social distancing restrictions doesn’t mean we have to sacrifice closeness during the holidays. In fact, there’s plenty of opportunity to revisit and reimagine what it looks like to gather with your loved ones, starting with the meeting place: around the dinner table.
“The holidays are all about bringing together the people you love and sharing special moments,” says Josephine Kurtz of Kurtz Collection (1010 N. Union St., Wilmington; 654-0442; kurtzcollection.com). We sought advice from Kurtz, along with several other experts, on inventive ways to dress the dinner table this year.
“Look no further than your backyard,” says Liza Nicole of Liza Nicole Interiors (Wilmington, 808-861-6112; lizanicoleinteriors.com). “Using simple, locally sourced natural décor in creative ways is a surefire way to make an impression with your guests.” For her table, Nicole has magnolia trees readily at her disposal. “Their leaves are perfect for spreading around the table—or in a wavy pattern down the center—along with candles,” she says. “I also love adding sprigs of rosemary over a folded napkin and wrapped in twine as part of my table setting. The color, texture and scent are just perfect.”
Chef-Partner Tyler Akin, who helms Le Cavalier at The Green Room in Hotel Du Pont (42 W. 11th St., Wilmington; 594-3154; lecavalierde.com) has more than one kitchen to manage over the holiday season, so a quieter celebration at home was already in the cards. That’s exactly where he’s drawing his inspiration from for his table. “We’re excited to clip holly from our new backyard, which will serve as a centerpiece,” he says. “And I will be filling vintage vases with rosemary for an aromatic touch that is more cost-efficient than poinsettias.”
Likewise, Kurtz will be taking advantage of what’s around her. “My own tablescape at Christmas this year will consist of gathered foliage and flowers mixed with decorative elements like tealight votives and candlesticks,” she says. “I love the mix of natural textures and colors.”
“Our style at Kurtz Collection focuses on layering the new with the old,” Kurtz says. “Mixing antique pieces on the table with newer pieces adds some drama and interest.”
Chef Akin agrees. With plating, he recommends making it family-style, placed on the table for a display that’s good enough to eat. “Buffet lines are for cafeterias, and food looks beautiful when it’s plentiful,” he says. “Pull out whatever old-school big plates you have or find some at a flea market. The holidays are a time to embrace the retro.”
With greater intimacy comes greater opportunities to sprinkle in some sentiment. Nicole suggests using photos of your guests as place cards and adding personal notes to them. “This can be a fun and sentimental activity of reflection for you as the host while also making your guests feel special and loved.” Or, she adds, “Leave them a memento. Pick out simple cloth napkins or coasters from your favorite store and work with a local calligrapher to add your guests’ names or favorite memory.” A good friend of Nicole’s who is also a calligrapher (Dianna DeStefano of Paperly Studio, thepaperlystudio.com) did personalized coasters for her last Thanksgiving.
Kurtz agrees with the gesture of personalized gift-giving. “I’m all about layering in meaning and personal touches to a table or room.” She recommends leaving a small, personalized gift for each guest at their seat at the table to add one such special touch. “Opening them is a fun way to start or end the meal—it brings out the kid in all of us to see a surprise waiting for you!”
As devastating as the pandemic has been, it does offer us the opportunity to take stock of what really matters most and what makes occasions like the holidays so special. Ultimately, a more intimate gathering is never a bad thing. “For me, the most important dressing to a table is family, friends and love,” says Chef Akin. “As long as my partner Gia, our child-to-be, and my daughter Marlowe are at the table—and the dogs are around stalking for scraps—I’ll be a happy person. These are all infinitely more timeless table dressings than gourds or holly.”