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Holiday Entertaining Ideas

Written and produced by Lucy Fitzgerald
  • ‘Tis the time of year when friends and family gather to celebrate with food, drinks, and seasonal festivities. Good food and drink, plenty of preparation, and of course, gorgeous décor make the season bright. Whether your gathering is for two people or twenty, your home classic or contemporary, embracing the holly-jolliness of the season is simple in the right setting. Read on for tips on how to welcome guests during the most wonderful time of the year.

    Its very brevity is what makes the holiday season magic, giving you a chance to experiment with a new approach with minimum commitment. A touch of animal print or superfluous shimmer can turn an ordinary dinner party into a real feast to remember. This normally neutral dining room is decorated to stand out from the rest of the home with glittering gold and silver tableware, opulent chandeliers, and ornate holiday greenery around the mantel. Hickory Chair dining chairs covered in a zebra-patterned fabric offer a modern contrast to the Royal Crown Derby dinnerware.

    Click here to see more from this home.

    Photographer: John Bessler
    Interior designer: Lucy Earl

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  • Entry Hall Décor

    A festive assemblage of oversized pinecones, wintry branches, and twinkling lights greets guests in the entry hall of this Connecticut home. No need to keep it organized: A modest amount of disarray can add cozy charm to a seasonal display.

    Photographer: Michael Partenio
    Interior designer: Cindy Rinfret

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  • Holiday Brunch Gathering

    A brunch with friends is an important holiday tradition for longtime friends and neighbors Gloria and Arnold Ventura and Sarah and Shawn McCann. They keep the tradition alive year after year with a little variety and a lot of planning.

    The table is set with “Arcadia” porcelain dinnerware by Philippe Deshoulières and “Whitework” linens from Gayle Warwick. Apple-green porcelain plates aren’t specific to Christmas but are well suited for a holiday brunch. Metallic touches on the dinner ensemble—including service plates that anchor the porcelain, gold-rimmed amber wineglasses, and white linens hemstitched in gold—give the basics a luxurious charge.

    See more from this Christmas brunch on the following slides.


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  • Place Setting Details

    A glittering package containing the ingredients for a favorite family nut bread recipe sits at every place setting. CDs of holiday tunes or handmade ornaments are also great takeaway gifts for your guests. Glitter paper, ribbon, and tags are from Paper Source.

    Apple green plates aren’t specific to Christmas but are well-suited for a holiday brunch. Metallic touches on the dinner ensemble—including service plates that anchor the porceliain, gold-rimmed amber wineglasses, and white linens hem-stitched in gold—give the basics a luxurious charge.


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  • Centerpiece Details

    Elevate the look of a green centerpiece by tucking in gold and silver ornaments, like this glass orb shown here. Even simple glass balls can add just the right amount of glitter and glam to make a floral arrangement shine. Basic Christmas ball ornaments are available in endless colors to enhance any Christmas palette.

    Photographer: Werner Straube
    Designers: Catherine Bailly Dunne and Tanis McGregor


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  • A Well-Stocked Buffet

    Preparation is the key to relaxed entertaining. This “Moderne” credenza from Baker is fully stocked and ready to serve. Feather trees add some festive flair to the scene, while a red-and-gold Royal Crown Derby tea set in “Derby Panel” adds a traditional touch. “Fluted Spire” lamps are from Circa Lighting.

    Photographer: Peter Krumhardt
    Producer: Krissa Rossbund


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  • Framed Menu

    Rather than on individual cards, this menu of yuletide favorites is presented in a Swarovski–bejeweled and hand-enameled “Lorraine” frame from Jay Strongwater.

    Photographer: Peter Krumhardt
    Producer: Krissa Rossbund


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  • Rustically Regal Dining Room

    Window treatments cascade from the lofty ceiling and puddle to the floor in this dramatic Texan dining room. A19th-century French oak harvest table is spacious enough to seat twelve—perfect for a large family gathering. Lush evergreens form a simple centerpiece; garlands draped over the arched doorways. A vintage French chandelier from New Orleans hangs above, adding to the room’s rustic glamour.

    Photographer: Werner Straube
    Producer: Susan Fox

    More from this home on the following slides.

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  • Rustically Regal Kitchen

    A garland of feathery greens follows the arch over the Wolf range. Reclaimed 19th-century colored cement tiles form a colorful backsplash. The expansive island augments seating for family festivities, and provides surface area for drinks and hors d’oeuvres.


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  • Rustically Regal Breakfast Area

    A warm, authentic décor wraps the kitchen, adornment which homeowners Lisa and Jerry Simon describe as "nothing forced or fake." The stockings at the kitchen fireplace were made by Lisa's grandmother, as were the felt camels on the cut-cedar centerpiece. The old iron chandelier was scooped up at the nationally popular Texas Round Top Antiques Fair.

    Click here to explore more of this festive Texas home.

    Photographs by Werner Straube
    Interior designer: Sandra Lucas

     

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  • Put Your Drinks On Ice

    Who would have guessed that a bucket of beer could look so chic? If weather permits, packing fresh snow into a bucket is a festive way to keep your holiday beverages chilled. Keep wine and beer glasses close at hand.

    Photographer: Emily Minton Redfield


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  • Cozy Country Christmas

    The “dynamic duo” is how Langworthy describes her daughter Kimberly and son-in-law Marc when it comes to entertaining. “That dining table [a ten-foot long trestle] has seen many a party,” Langworthy laughs. Here, Kimberly lights candles that illuminate the country table and Windsor chairs. “Always buy a table that looks good scratched,” advises Langworthy. “This one will age beautifully with time and use.”

    Hollowed birch tree stumps act as wintery vases for bunches of greenery. Candlesticks and a traditional chandelier above illuminate the festive tabletop.

    Details on the following slide.

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  • Tabletop Details

    The centerpiece—a cobalt blue gnome in a wreath of fresh pine—complements the blue-and-white Spode marine plates and Provençal linens. “Lismore” Waterford crystal mixes deftly with wine glasses from Pottery Barn.

    See more of this cozy Connecticut home.

    Photographer: John Bessler
    Interior designer: Laura Langworthy

     

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  • Break Out the Silver

    If there is one time of year when it is appropriate to take out the good silver, it’s during the holidays. The season is already steeped in tradition, and what better way to hark back to favorite family memories than with your most prized heirlooms? Glowing flatware and shiny teapots sit on a dainty tea tray to form a classic Christmas vignette at the home of designer Christopher Hyland, aka Mr. Christmas. And it’s not too late to plan for next year’s Christmas. Keep that silver shiny and tarnish-free by keeping it available to use throughout the entire year. It’s when silver sits dormant, that it starts to patina. 

    Photographer: John Bessler

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  • Classic Dinner Party

    Homeowner and designer Gregory Van Boven and his partner David Beck love entertaining during the holidays, and for good reason. Every year, they deck out their home in classic red and white details, fresh flowers, and glittering accents. In the dining room, wreaths hang in the windows overlooking Boston’s distinguished Beacon Hill Neighborhood as a welcoming symbol of Christmas hospitality. A red paisley tablecloth sets the stage for and abundance of rich color all around. Chairs covered in white Brunschwig & Fils fabric offer strong contrast to the tablecloth. A Murano clear-glass chandelier illuminates the table and highlights its reflection on the mirrored wall.

    See more from this home on the following slides.


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  • Table Details

    On the dining room table, a red paisley tablecloth provides a rich backdrop for the white-and-gold Haviland dinnerware, William Yeoward Crystal stemware, and arrangements of roses and other red flowers. Chairs covered in white Brunschwig & Fils fabric offer contrast to the tablecloth.


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  • Homemade Party Favors

    Gregory and David send their guests home with homemade holiday cookies as a token of their hospitality. For a festive display, fill a large silver bowl with individually wrapped treats with a touch of personal charm. These treats are tagged with words from the Christmas lexicon, but for a New Year’s Eve party, try suggested resolutions tied around the take-aways.


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  • Side Table Details

    Bright winterberries and glittering reindeer add a touch of festive flair to a living room side table. The eye-catching red branches provide a visual tie to the dining room, where crystal vases of red roses grace the formal table.


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  • Elegant Foyer 

    Standing on a marble-top demilune table in the foyer, a vivid red amaryllis and an elegant Nymphenburg porcelain stag make a double impact with their reflections in a gilded mirror.


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  • A Dose of Texture

    When space is limited, adding details rich in texture will make a splash. In the living room, Christmas colors shine from a cluster of red glass balls, a green plate, and two white porcelain sea urchins atop a stack of books.

    Click here to see more of this beautiful Boston home.

    Photographer: Eric Roth
    Interior designer: Gregory Van Boven
    Producer: Estelle Bond Guralnick

     

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  • Playful Place Settings

    A holiday brunch among adults does not have to be a serious affair. “Grand Tour” china from Home James is part of a flurry of patterns. “It’s fun when having a dinner to provide a little favor for each person,” says homeowner and designer Christopher Hyland. “It doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as a candy silver coin or a miniature book.” A fun trinket in the soup bowl, a turtle napkin ring from Extraordinary, and lime-green placemats make for a festive table in the breakfast room.

    See more of Christopher’s home on the following slide.

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  • Tying the Room Together

    “For me, holiday decorations are also the flatware, the glasses, plates, cups, and candelabra on the table,” says Christopher. “These are the fine details of architectural and decorative interior design.” China from Bernardaud New York and stemware from Home James make a pretty presentation in the formal dining room. Purple ribbon offers an element of surprise.

    Click here to see more of Christopher’s eloquent holiday home.

    Photographer: John Bessler
    Interior designer: Christopher Hyland

     

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  • A Time for Traditions

    In this dining room, family traditions are celebrated with Gorham crystal and antique Waterford goblets that were passed down from this homeowner’s grandmother. Spode china in “Fleur de Lys” adds delicate touches of rich gold against the shimmering stemware.

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  • Tabletop Topiary

    In the breakfast room, a custom zinc table sits below a low-hanging chandelier from Niermann Weeks. Reaching up between the two is a festive trimmed topiary, whose shape and verticality lends style to the scene without taking up much surface area. Stationed around the topiary are stout Santa Claus placecards and candy cane-striped bowls for the family’s four young children.

    Click here to see more of this Dallas-area home.

    Photographer: Werner Straube
    Interior designer: Lisa Luby Ryan

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  • Change It Up

    For this seasonal gathering, event planner Rachel Hollis toasts colorful wares from L’Objet’s new Fortuny collection by creating a knockout environment that dazzles with festive jewel tones and gold—staples that anchor conventional holiday ambience. “It doesn’t take very long for families to become sentimentally attached to holiday traditions,” explains Hollis. “A simple change like a new accent plate can add a different dimension without offending anyone.”

    From the Fortuny collection, whose salad plates come in four vibrant colors, Hollis selected blue and green with gold accents. Dinner plates with a textural scale motif and white chargers rest atop a mélange of shimmery textiles, ranging from a basket-weave tablecloth and thin corduroy-like placemats to napkins adorned with opulent trims and tassels. “Strasbourg” sterling flatware is from Replacements. “Maori” salad plate, “Aegean” dinner plate, and pinecone salt-and-pepper shakers; all from L’Objet. Pewter pinecone from Four Seasons Design Group.

    Photographers: Peter Krumhardt and Colleen Duffley
    Producer: Krissa Rossbund
    Interior designer: Rachel Hollis

    For more of this festive holiday party (and recipes!), click here.

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  • Flexible Seating Arrangements

    If you frequently hosts dinners and soirees, invest in furniture that will adapt to accommodate groups of all sizes. This custom dining table from Soucie Horner, Ltd., is able to seat 20, and breaks down into separate tables that each seats four.  It also has leaves that alter its shape, from square and rectangular to round and oval.

    Details on the following slide.

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  • Elegant Details

    Chocolate-colored placemats from Tabula Tua lend a dose of whimsy to the elegantly appointed dining table. Sampling from nature is a refreshingly easy way to incorporate seasonal cheer into your decorating: Simple sprigs of evergreen and silver berries are tied together with sheer ribbon for a personal touch. Antique Haviland china adds sparkle.

    Click here to see more of this home.

    Photographer: Werner Straube
    Interior designers: Shea Soucie and Martin Horner

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  • A Fresh Perspective

    Give reds and golds a break in the dining room, and opt instead for a refreshing natural look. Young paperwhites sprout upwards from rectangular containers in the center of this Regency-style mahogany dining table. The green-tinted tableware carries the fresh motif, alluding to traditional Christmas greenery but also to the theme of renewal that accompanies the new year.

    Click here to see more of this Maryland home.

    Photographer: John Granen
    Interior designer: Elizabeth Hague

     

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  • Fruit Décor

    Fruit goes glam in this classic holiday display. Faux pears encrusted with glittering gold beads sparkle in a simple silver bowl. A small piece like this is easy to modify for use as a table centerpiece or a mantel display. Add a few glass ball ornaments or some festive tinsel for more shine.


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  • Formal Yet Fresh Dining Room

    Designer Barry Dixon accepted the challenge to decorate the dining room at Blair House—the President’s official guesthouse for foreign heads of state visiting Washington, D.C. What he created is a refreshing approach to the traditional formal dining room. The table settings were inspired by the Blair House Chinese export porcelain and blue-and-white needlepoint chair seats. Instead of a floral centerpiece, Dixon filled a large bowl with art glass ornaments nestled in magnolia leaves. Tiny wrapped gifts glitter at each place setting for a personal touch.

    See more of this exquisite dining room on the following slide.


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  • Formal Yet Fresh Dining Room Details

    Beyond the dining table, Victorian beadwork and antique ornaments adorn a small tree. The colorful yet nuanced color palette of chartreuse, jade, cornflower, and silver strikes an unconventional citric tone. “It’s not the expected holiday formality," Dixon notes. "But it's still rich…It's a bespoke Christmas decor. You simply have to look around your house and find inspiration for your own Christmas scheme."
                                                                                                          
    Click here to see more of Barry Dixon’s Blair House décor.

    Photographer: Gordon Beall
    Decorator: Barry Dixon

     

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  • Sweet Treats

    From cookies to cocoa, nothing says holidays like an abundance of sweets. This family’s favorite winter treats are displayed alongside a make-your-own hot chocolate station in the breakfast room. Sweet additions like flakes of chocolate or mint sprinkles let guests personalize their dessert. Candy-red and white tableware from the Martha Stewart Collection is appropriate for the season.

    See more from this holiday home.

    Photographer: John Bessler
    Interior designer: Shazalynn Cavin-Winfrey

     

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  • Clean and Simple Setting

    A clean-lined chartreuse palette keeps this table sweet and informal. The dining chairs are backed with a two-tone damask, lending a touch of texture. The citric hue is tempered by gold touches, like the floral detail on the salad plates. Little woolen polar bears grace each table setting—charming children and adults alike.

    Photographer: Helen Norman

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  • First Impressions

    A home’s front door is the first thing guests will see when they visit, so make it stunning.  This porch achieves a classic, natural look, tying the surrounding Utah wilderness in with fuss-free décor. Pinecones and boughs collected from the woods gather atop an asymmetrical wooden demilune. On either side of the home’s front door, large ceramic pots are filled with red dogwood branches and pinecones. Lanterns house flickering candles to light the space.

    Photographer: John Granen
    Interior designer: Elizabeth Hague


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