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Mastering the Thanksgiving Tablescape

How you set the table is nearly as important as the Thanksgiving feast. It’s the first thing you and your guests see and sets the stage for the turkey with all the fixings.

It’s also a powerful way to set expectations and ambiance. If your table is dressed to the nines complete with multiple forks, your guests understand that the meal is more formal. If the table is simpler and rustic, your guests will know things will be a bit more relaxed.

To master your Thanksgiving tablescape, it’s important to grasp a few dining basics. We have a few suggestions to help you create the perfect Thanksgiving tablescape.


You could put a simple vase of flowers in the middle of the table and call it good but the centerpiece sets the tone for the rest of the table. Be sure to give plenty of attention to the centerpiece, after all, it will be the focal point.

Create a great centerpiece by layering elements. Include different vertical levels to bring more texture and interest to the table. If you have a long table, go for several centerpieces of different sizes spread along the length.

A classic choice is the cornucopia. You can fill it with real fruits and goodies, or you can opt for flowers and fall foliage. Enhance your centerpiece by extending the look in other decor from chair covers to chandeliers.

Place Cards

Whether your gathering is formal or casual, place cards should be a part of your Thanksgiving tablescape. They can be as simple as a slip of paper or as ornate as an embroidered napkin.

Mini pumpkins with a name tacked on or even written on are a festive way to do a Thanksgiving place card. Other popular ideas include a fall leaf with a name written on it, rosemary wreaths with the name in a miniature banner across the front. Fruit (like citrus, apples, or pears) with a name tied on create a natural harvest type theme.

Paper placemats or a paper table covering doubles easily as a place card since you can write directly on it. This is an especially good idea for the kids’ table. Leave the markers out and, voila, you have place cards and entertainment in one.

Table Coverings

The foundation of your tablescape is the basic covering. This may be a full-coverage cloth, runner, placemat, or charger. Your choice is stylistic but you should also consider your table. If you have a beautiful rustic wood table or a sleek custom concrete table, you probably want to let it shine through. Your best bet would be placemats or chargers, which let the table peek through.

Your options are endless. The commercially available selection of placemats and chargers alone will let you find something that suits your table dreams easily. You could also get creative and opt for slices of raw-edge wood. Paper gives you lots of creative license too: cut outs, drawings, colors, etc.

Close up of tablescape decorated in a fall theme.

Napkins & Napkin Rings

Thanksgiving is no ordinary day so it deserves out-of-the-ordinary napkins. No paper towels today! Bust out your cloth napkins and brush up on your folding skills. A popular way to fold napkins right now is to knot them in the middle—elegant but not stuffy. Or simply fold napkins in half and drape them under one of the plates.

In combination with a napkin ring, you have even more possibilities. Leaves, acorns, small pinecones, and flowers wrapped to a wire with floral tape make beautiful (and festive) napkin rings. The rosemary (or other herb) wreath around the napkin is another popular choice.

Get a little multi-tasking out of your tablescape and combine the napkin ring with the place card. It’s one less thing to do and keeps the table free of extra stuff.

Color Scheme

Let color guide your tablescape. Build on the colors in your china to create your color scheme. Don’t think you have to stick to fall colors. Just about any color is welcome in the season of gratitude. If you feel you still need some fall ambiance, paint pumpkins in your scheme colors.

Pick a pattern instead of a color scheme, like plaid or buffalo checks. The scheme will be held together by it’s common shapes rather than it’s common colors.

Ombre is the easiest way to introduce more color to your table. Pick a color in your china then bring in the shades and tones surrounding that color for a waterfall of hues. A theme is a great way to add instant color: a coastal theme will require some blues, and a garden or outdoor theme will bring in greens and an assortment of florals.


‘Tis the season for pumpkins. It never hurts to add a few to your table. Go with smaller sizes and even consider adding other squashes to the mix. If bright orange pumpkins don’t seem to fit with your plans, there are plenty of ways to dress them up: paint, decoupage, pin some lace on, add decorative tacks.

Carved out pumpkins make great vases for floral arrangements. Use an assortment of pumpkins to create a sort of runner down the middle of your table. Turn your pumpkins into lanterns to add the ambiance of a little romantic lighting to your table.


Just like the interior of your house, no design is complete without some metallic accents. Your flatware is naturally metallic, so let it have it’s moment in the sun. Polish it up if you like things crisp and shiny. Or if you like a little patina, add it with a bit of tarnish for character.

Consider adding an alternative color to your flatware collection. Gold, copper, and rose gold are all stunning additions to the Thanksgiving table.

Place Setting

Odds are you don’t have as many matching plates and glassware as you want. This either limits your guest list or means you have to mix and match. Eclectic tablescapes are trending, especially if you add some antique items that give the table a cozy, curated feel.

Try layering the different sizes of your plates using different patterns across the table (every place setting will have the same china patterns just in different sizes) to make your place settings go further.

Kids’ Table

The kids’ table deserves some tablescaping too. Go with things the kids can appreciate and kudos if decor doubles as entertainment. For instance, a paper table cover and some markers or crayons becomes a covering, place mat (draw it on), place card (write it on), and drawing pad for when the kids get bored.

Use plenty of eye-catching color and kid-friendly elements. Edible decor is always a winner. Make little cornucopias and fill with candy. Create mock turkey drumsticks with rice krispy treats as place cards.

Melamine plates and cups are break-resistant, so a great choice for the kids’ table. They look nice enough for Thanksgiving dinner and come in a variety of colors and patterns that make the kids’ table the place to be.

Take your Thanksgiving tablescape seriously this year and make sure it’s ready to receive the delicious feast you’re placing on it. Some attention to each of the major elements of the table will make all the difference. Happy tablescaping!

Wondering how you’re going to fit everyone at your holiday table? It is possible. Try a few of these tips and you're in business. 

Make Room for Everyone at the Table