Let’s face it: Thanksgiving is a stressful holiday. Yes, it’s a heartwarming celebration where family gathers together for a day of eating, reminiscing and gratefulness, but the behind-the-scenes preparation isn’t always as perfect as the outcome may seem.
From getting food on the table to establishing ambiance throughout the house, it takes a lot of work. And that’s why we chatted with three Northern Virginia-based experts—Liza Jones of Liza Jane Interiors, Paola McDonald of Olamar Interiors, LLC and Andrea Houck of A. Houck Designs, Inc.—about creating a successful holiday (at least with your home’s decor) this Thanksgiving.
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Here, they share their best tips and tricks.
Set the scene
LJ: Starting at the front door, I always recommend adding outdoor seasonal greens and floras. Inside, changing out throw pillows is always an easy and inexpensive way of adding holiday flair to a room. I recommend keeping things fall-themed by accenting the coziest part of your home, like the fireplace! Scented candles or potpourri is always a nice touch. And don’t forget music—holiday music gets everyone in the mood.
PM: I believe that setting the right ambiance is the most-important aspect of decorating for the Thanksgiving holiday. This holiday evokes a sense of warmth, comfort, family, love, joy … all things that can be accentuated by setting the right mood in your home. Warm lighting, candlelit lanterns and familiar fall-scented candles, along with those cozy blankets and throw pillows, can help set the perfect mood for your holiday entertaining.
Also, don’t be afraid to play around with your existing furniture floor plan to make space for your holiday decor. Rearranging your existing furniture layout may be just what your space needs to create holiday-themed focal points.
AH: Decorating your home for Thanksgiving is about creating a welcoming environment that makes your guests feel special. Set the tone from the start with your front stoop and door by scattering some pumpkins and gourds or hanging an autumnal wreath on your door. Don’t forget to add a touch of Thanksgiving to your powder room and guest bedroom, with perhaps a scented, pumpkin-spice candle or a bud vase filled with seasonal flowers.
Also, when preparing for holiday guests, it’s always a good idea to start with a clear plan for how you will entertain. Think about the flow within your home and changes you might need to make to accommodate a crowd, depending on numbers. I often start by serving finger foods on small plates, so guests can mix and mingle, and then move into the dining room for a seated meal.
It’s all in the details
LJ: Pumpkin decor is always a favorite. Use various sizes of pumpkins and change up the colors, which you can do by spray-painting a pumpkin any color that will coordinate with your decor. At the moment, I am loving white pumpkins. Candles throughout the home adds a bit of sparkle to each room, as well as scented pine cones in a beautiful bowl near the front door. A fresh bloom or two can brighten up your bathroom, too.
PM: I suggest adding warm, soft blankets and accent pillows to your decor for the Thanksgiving holiday. They give the space a homey, warm, inviting feeling and help people feel cozy and comfortable after their big meal.
AH: Nature provides a rich bounty in the fall and I love to incorporate natural elements in my Thanksgiving decor. Miniature pumpkins or pretty oak leaves can serve as personal place cards with the help of a paint pen—I always have a metallic gold pen handy.
Focus on the table
LJ: Due to the nature of the Thanksgiving meal and lots of dishes on the table, keep decor to a minimum. I prefer smaller floral arrangements that do not block the view of the person across from you or the addition of candles, which always add an ambiance and make a table feel special. Bring out the special china and crystal, as this is the time to use those beautiful dishes that have been put away all year.
PM: Thanksgiving should be all about family. It’s the perfect time to catch up with each other and enjoy each other’s company, so I always recommend keeping your centerpieces and decoration items short enough to allow for people to easily see one another during dinner conversation. Fresh, seasonal flowers and small pumpkins and gourds are easy to group in the center of the table to create warm, dramatic displays. I am also a big fan of candlelight during Thanksgiving dinner.
AH: I like to keep the Thanksgiving tabletop more casual, with tons of earthy textures and toned-down colors. Rattan place mats are a good investment because they provide a textural base that works well at Thanksgiving and any time of year. My go-to autumnal palette includes burnt oranges with rich shades of aubergine purple. For a special touch, cloth napkins do the trick and they don’t all have to match. During the fall, I use a combination of paisley-patterned and solid-orange napkins. I also mix up the glassware to keep the vibe casual and the look not too matchy-matchy.
Votive candle holders in clear glass work well on any holiday table, just change the color of the candles depending on the season. I like to burn a scented candle or two in the house, but unscented candles work best on the dining table.
For the last-minute party planner
LJ: Make sure your home is clean—it’s one less thing to stress over.
Fresh hand towels in the bathroom along with a small floral, or if space allows, a candle. Change out your throw pillows to seasonal colors. Group different sizes of candles together on a table as a centerpiece. Scented pine cones, fresh floras, good food and plenty of booze always makes for a good party!
PM: A fun, creative, inexpensive and easy-to-pull-together trick is to gather branches of bright orange, yellow and red leaves from your backyard and create a dramatic, elegant arrangement with them. Turned leaf tree branches and seasonal flowers can easily be grouped into beautiful arrangements for the table. Again, a few small pumpkins from the local grocery store can go a long way toward creating some last-minute drama.
AH: When you need to decorate for a Thanksgiving get-together in a hurry, look to the great outdoors. Create a simple arrangement by stacking colorful, fallen leaves—gathered from your own yard or a nearby park—in a cylinder vase. Collected acorns, nuts, pinecones and pods all provide rich decorating fodder. Or, you can raid your own refrigerator and create an abundant arrangement in a pretty bowl with fresh fruits and vegetables, then tuck in a few colorful leaves.