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’Tis the Season

Deck your holiday table with these festive designer looks that will surprise and delight your guests.

By Rebecca L. Rhoades | Photography by Art Holeman and Daniel James Ryan

A fanciful table setting is about more than just providing pretty accents for a meal. It can set the mood for a party, spark conversations among guests and give you an excuse to dust off your heirloom dinnerware. But how do you pull everything together in a creative way that feels fresh and personal? We asked three local interior designers to create dazzling tablescapes that evoke the spirit of the season while remaining true to their own unique aesthetics.

Alfresco Southwest

While most of the country celebrates a white Christmas, Arizonans can be found toasting friends and family from their patios, backyards and outdoor dining rooms. Such was the inspiration for interior designers Linda Robinson, Amanda Wood and Lien Liu, who imagined a rustic yet refined gathering enhanced by the Sonoran Desert’s natural beauty. “The level of elegance goes up as the sun goes down,” Wood says.

A red-and-green Navajo blanket serves as the foundation for place settings comprising a collection of vintage pewter dishes, drinkware and candlesticks. “It draws in the colors of the holiday, but it’s not the kitschy Christmas that you often see,” Liu explains.

Native plants, including potted succulents and bougainvillea and sprigs of pyracantha, add a fresh-from-the-garden appeal. “It’s all about incorporating the exterior with the setting. It’s a desert Christmas,” Wood says. Adds Liu, “If you were inviting your out-of-state friends over for the holidays, just think how much they would love it.”

“Pewter goes from casual to dressy,” says Phoenix Home & Garden award-winning interior designer Linda Robinson, who incorporated her personal collection into this Southwest-inspired setting. Native American rugs and baskets lend a historic touch. “High tapers formalize the look,” notes interior designer Amanda Wood.
1. Native American rugs and baskets lend a historic touch. “High tapers formalize the look,” notes interior designer Amanda Wood. 2. Bring indoor furniture outside. Robinson placed her dining room table and chairs on the patio for this one-of-a-kind dining experience.
Nature is the best decoration when dining outdoors, so don’t overdo it on the floral arrangements. Freshly snipped sprigs of berries as well as potted succulents and blooms are a fun, inexpensive way to dress up your display.

Time-Honored Elegance

“When I was growing up, the holidays were when my grandmother would break out the good crystal,” says Mesa-based interior designer Denise Milano. “It was hidden away for most of the year and only used during special occasions.”

Milano re-created the memories of those beloved times in her formal Yuletide dinner setting. “I wanted to go as traditional as possible, and crystal and china are about as classic as you can get,” she explains. Glittering wine, water and champagne vessels; twinkling votives; and shimmering decanters, serving bowls and cake plates take center stage against a simple backdrop of seasonal greenery.

Sleek dishware rimmed in black, contemporary flatware and hints of gilded glimmer complement the gossamer glass without overwhelming the individual place settings. “The dishes are very plain but with a modern flair,” the designer describes. “That’s really important because the rest of the table is so over-the-top. You don’t want to add anything that is too busy and takes away from the beauty of the crystal.”

To soften the look, Milano created a graceful centerpiece of verdant evergreen branches, ruby-red hypericum berries, white roses, and a selection of protea and succulents in varying shades; the desert dwellers lend texture and subtle shading to the arrangements. Adding to the lush atmosphere are similarly bedecked chandeliers and a gracious garland that swathes the dessert station.

1. Milano adorned the chandeliers with a mix of faux and real evergreen branches, berries and pine cones. 2. “Succulents add a lot of cool texture and color to flower arrangements,” notes the designer. 3. Simple black-rimmed dishes and delicate linen napkins and place mats keep the focus on the sparkling glassware. “I love the elegance of crystal and the way the light plays off of it,” says interior designer Denise Milano.

“You don’t have to have a formal dining room to do this type of table setting,” says Milano. “It’s a look that goes great on a farm table or even a kitchen island—the mix of elegant with rustic is beautiful. Crystal is timeless, and it’s making a comeback.”

A garland of greenery, long-stemmed candle holders and elevated cake plates transform the buffet into an stylish dessert station.

Mid-Mod Magic

New Year’s Eve is the perfect excuse to throw a hip in-home party with midcentury panache. “The 1950s and ’60s were all about having friends over and socializing with cocktails,” says Troy Bankord, a Phoenix Home & Garden Masters of the Southwest award-winning designer, of his traveling soiree.

The first stop is a casual fondue party, where vintage Stetson china sets the tone for an earth-inspired tablescape filled with rich, chocolatey hues; wood accessories; and potted plants. “I love the swirl on the plates; there’s an energy to the whole labyrinthine spiral,” Bankord says. “And the color brown is very comfortable. It’s not as serious as black.” Sleek chrome accents on the fondue pot, dimpled planter and decorative owl—a symbol of prosperity—add shine and contrast with the organic softness of the wood elements. Live sansevieria and orchids help connect the indoors with the desert landscape outside, while mini pavé mounds of white carnations in aperitif glasses bring a touch of nostalgia, recalling a first boutonnière. “They’re super sweet and smell great,” Bankord notes.

After dinner, head next door for a retro-inspired cocktail party where chrome and brass combine for a look that’s sexy and sophisticated. “When you mix the two metals, the design is timeless. Chrome tones down brass, while brass tends to elevate chrome. They balance each other beautifully,” explains the designer, who scours vintage shops for authentic midcentury glassware, serving dishes, artwork and accessories.

“New Year’s Eve doesn’t have to be so literal and cliché,” Bankord remarks. “You don’t have to have a standard bouquet on the table or serve a traditional meal. Fondue and cocktails fit a joyous evening at home with friends. They make for a  very interactive and playful experience.”

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1.  “Chrome and brass always look good together,” the designer explains. Touches of red and black accentuate the shiny metallics. 2. A chic 1930s art deco bar tray with Bakelite handles holds beverages and allows the gathering to shift easily between rooms. Vintage gold-rimmed stemware.
“Fondue parties were very popular in the 1950s and ‘60s,” says Troy Bankord. The designer decorated his tablescape with midcentury dishes and accessories, an antique chrome-and-teak fondue pot and live plants.


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