Thanksgiving is a time to tend your table in such a way that it will bring on a smile. Kevin O’Shea, who knows from hosting — he and his partner, David Bowd, dreamed up the Salt Hotels in Provincetown and Asbury Park, N.J. — says that’s what’s important this year, whether you’re setting a table for yourself or for the same group of people you’ve been looking at for the past eight months.
For “tablescaping” inspiration, O’Shea says, start with color — and nature offers some gorgeous possibilities at this time of year, with leaves, gourds, and pumpkins. Once you choose a palette or strong accent color from the season, pick it up with flowers, napkins, or your tablecloth. That will help pull everything — including mismatched pieces — together visually.
This is the time to dust off those serving pieces and heirlooms usually hidden behind cabinet doors: tureens, platters, the gravy boat. Once you get them out, O’Shea suggests, maybe you’ll even decide to keep them in circulation.
“I have a lot of antiques and heirlooms from my grandparents that I use all the time,” he says. “I don’t believe in keeping special pieces hidden away and used only on the holidays.” What if something breaks? “At least it got used and appreciated.”
So how do you coordinate the look of this mismatched grouping? Perhaps Grandma’s heirlooms don’t match your current dinnerware, or anything you own? O’Shea’s advice is to find an organizing principle to tie things together.
“All of our silverware is mismatched,” he says, “but it’s all silver, so that is the organizing principle that keeps it looking good.”
Besides, there are even design terms for mixing things up. “It adds layers and interest,” O’Shea says. “Have fun. It’s a table setting — you can’t really mess this up!”
Next, consider the linens. While it’s true they can be tedious to iron, cloth napkins feel special compared to paper. Look for no-iron, everyday napkins. O’Shea’s favorites come from the website Food52, but he’s also found deals at home stores. “Keep an eye out for when napkins go on sale,” he says. That’s when to buy enough to set the table for guests. “We can accommodate eight at our table, so I try to always buy eight napkins.”
Over time, you’ll gather a great collection of different patterns and colors. His advice for a napkin-folding klutz? Napkin rings. His current favorites are mismatched antique silver ones from Loveland in Provincetown.
Finally, there’s the centerpiece. O’Shea encourages keeping things low to avoid blocking guests’ views. Add warmth and light with taper and votive candles.
“I love mixing them at different heights,” he says. “Tapers add a nice glow to people’s faces, and votives tucked along the table sparkle in glassware and light up the food.” Just be sure to place taper candles strategically so they aren’t in people’s sight lines. Take a seat when you’re setting the table to make sure you can see across it.
When you’re eating family-style, you’ve got to leave room for platters and bowls on the table. For Thanksgiving, either plate the dinner or serve a buffet. That way, O’Shea says, “you can really go over the top, as the middle of the table doesn’t need to be used for anything but decor.”