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Getting ready for Christmas brings out my creative side. I love putting special touches on my tree and table and I LOVE having people at our house, especially this time of year. But with my birthday, Steve’s birthday, and the twins’ birthday all in the month of December — let’s not forget about baby Jesus’ birthday, too — the month can begin to feel like it’s busting open at the seams.

I thought I’d switch blog gears for just today and assemble some ideas that have really worked for me over the years to create a great looking table, meaningful gathering, and not kill the budget or my sanity. Perhaps this could be a resource for you as you create an inviting space for yourself and those you love.

1. Empty wine bottles as water pitchers: Soak your empty wine bottle in hot water to remove the label (might need a dash of goo-gone to completely remove) and now you have a found water pitcher. For Thanksgiving, I put 4 down the center of my long table, and they added that great green recycled glass feel as well as ample water for a large table. Easy. Great look. Inexpensive. I keep six on hand all the time.

2. A set of black and white dishes: Year round, black and white always works. Classic. Goes with everything. I have an eclectic set of black and white dishes that I’ve collected over time. Target, Home Goods, Marshalls. Nothing expensive. I just pick up pieces when I find ones I like. Stuff on clearance, usually. I can add different color accents depending on the season to make them occassion-specific. Love.

3. Manilla tags: I always have these on hand. Always. I buy them in bulk at Staples (available in stores and online in various sizes). I get the pre-strung ones. I can use these as gift tags, place cards, mini menus at each place, food/drink labels (i.e. tie one to each of your wine bottles turned water pitcher with “water” written on it), etc. They are just hugely handy and add a nice texture to your table.

4. Butcher paper: Again, keep on hand. You can buy a HUGE roll of butcher paper at Home Depot near the paint section. I think it’s like $8. It’s got that great brown paper bag, recycled paper look. Use it as a runner down the center of your table and then write each person’s name above their place setting with a Sharpie. Run it down each side of your table for a cocktail party, place food on top, and then write food descriptions by each dish. Adds an unexpected and accessible dimension to the table.

5. A set of milk glass for serving dishes: My mom collected milk glass and passed on a beautiful set to me. Just pieces she picked up from random antique stores, garage sales, etc over the years. Little pitchers. Footed compotes. Trifle dishes. All different sizes and shape. Nothing really matches, and yet, because it’s all white, it all matches. I use these pieces all the time: to serve food, to contain cutlery, to house candles, to serve drinks. You can’t go wrong with a random set of milk glass. Fun to collect something practical and useful over the years, too.

6. Gold paper plates, plastic cutlery, and cups: Always, always, always have a set of gold (or silver) paper plates, plastic cutlery, and cups on hand. Festive, matches anything, and ready to be used whenever needed. I keep dessert size and luncheon size plates in stock. Super cheap at Party City or online at OrientalTrading.com. Works perfectly for a cocktail party, dessert and coffee after a sit down dinner, or appetizers. Having it on hand = no stress.

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7. Multipurpose Glasses: Remember these? Love. They are Bahraini tea glasses, but they reminded me of the European version of a wine glass. Small. Stemless. Almost like a juice glass. I found these at my local Mega Mart for literally less than 25 cents each, so I bought a big bunch of them. I can use them as water glasses, cocktail glasses, wine glasses, juice glasses, champagne flutes. You name it. They work. They can even serve as votives with a tea light inside. Very functional. I keep them stacked in a wire basket that I can pull out anytime.

8. Decorative paper napkins: Again, I always have a collection of these stashed. Not necessarily overtly seasonal. Instead I focus on colors I like. I also focus on napkins I can use beyond a specific holiday. Loved the turquoise, gold, and green peacock napkins in the picture above for Thanksgiving. Harvest-y, fall colors with a twist. I always use paper napkins because they add a pop of color, texture, decoration, and they make clean up EASY! No laundry. No ironing. Black and white paper napkins are always great to have for the same reason that black and white dishes are great to have. Go with anything! B/W stripes, polka dots, or damask are great choices to mix and match. Initialed paper napkins are always fun too!

9. Juxtapose natural and fancy: There’s something very soulful about seeing very humble materials right next to fancy materials. Butcher paper and mercury glass. Old wood and crystal. Branches and gold. This is probably one of the things that makes a table most beautiful to me and why a Christmas tree is so beautiful. You take something humble and natural and you put gorgeous lights and glass ornamentation on it. Such a beautiful contrast. Pine cones. Rocks. Shells. Leaves. Take something very natural and then put something knock-your-socks-off fancy right next to it. And then add a little candle light. Magic.

10. Gather what you love: I’m a big believer in the philosophy that if you gather things you love, inevitably they will somehow all work together. Eclectic. Personal. Unique. Don’t be afraid to mix and match, layer texture, grab things from around your house to make an interesting centerpiece. If you love it, use it! It will all work out. I love it when a table looks like found art right before my eyes!

I know this post is a bit of a departure, but I had fun with it. Hope you did too. Creativity is so important! Perhaps your holiday decorating/entertaining could be a fun expression of your unique point of view!! There’s something so magical about creating a meaningful and personal space in your home!! ENJOY!

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