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Designer Ramey Caulkins set this English antique dining table for eight, but flexible bench seats make it easy to squeeze in one or two more guests. Photo by Kimberly Gavin.

Before You Set Your Holiday Table, Read This

Interior designer and pro hostess Ramey Caulkins shares her tips for creating an unfussy, inviting spread.

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Ready to haul out the holly for this year’s big family feast? Before you set the table with all the traditional holiday trappings, hear this advice from interior designer and pro hostess Ramey Caulkins, principal of Denver-based Griffin Design Source.

“Don’t overthink it. We put so much pressure on ourselves for everything to be perfect,” Caulkins says. Turns out, an overdone, over-starched vibe isn’t the best way to capture the spirit of the season. Far better, Caulkins says, is the mood of cozy conviviality she created for a family gathering in this rustic Minturn cabin. Here, her four best tips for freshening up your celebratory style.

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Photo by Kimberly Gavin

Create a layered look. “It’s all about the mix,” Caulkins says of this eclectic take on the holiday tablescape, which incorporates etched-crystal glassware, antique hand-embroidered napkins, botanical-print dishes, Sabre bamboo flatware, pine boughs from the backyard, and funky, crystal votive holders from World Market. “Don’t be afraid to use that unexpected thing that might seem out of place,” Caulkins says of the holders. “It’s the different layers that make this setting appealing.”

Loosen up. Fancy isn’t always best, says Caulkins, who topped this table with a French, cotton-denim homespun textile instead of a starched tablecloth—and who prefers a holiday dinner of caviar and cheeseburgers to the classic roast. Her floral go-to? “Carnations—in just one color—in silver julep cups,” she says.

Rethink red and green. For a fresh twist on traditional holiday colors, try incorporating a few related shades instead. “I love hunter green and apple green, and different whites and creams for texture,” Caulkins says, “or raspberry red instead of crimson.” Another go-to color combo, on display here: “Navy and red, which can be so pretty at the holidays. On this table, fresh pine provides the only hint of green.”

Use the good stuff. Skip the kitschy holiday decor and instead, “bring out the things that represent you and your family,” Caulkins says. “The wedding china, the silver you inherited—you can’t take it with you when you’re gone, so you might as well use it now.”

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