Friday, October 22, 2010

Elegance On A Budget-A Tablescape Tutorial

Pulling together an elegant Christmas Tablescape can seem daunting and expensive, however with a little thrift shopping through your Goodwill and the Dollar Tree, you can put a table together you will be proud of.

Most of the items to create this tablescape were thrift shopping treasures.

Shop the house for your favorite things and incorporate them in the table design.

I started with three of my cloches.  Everything always looks fabulous under a cloche. A lace tablerunner from the 99c store forms the base for the centerpiece.

I used my largest cloche to set the theme for the table.  An Angel figurine to represent the season.

I found this wonderful angel at GW last year.  She has beautiful lace and ruffles on her dress, and she's holding a small heart with stars that says Joy.

A bird topped Bell Cloche was elevated on a cakestand.  Inside is a lovely marble covered orb, and a gold dove from the Dollar Tree is hanging off the side.

The small cloche holds a Faberge Egg with a jeweled Christmas Tree on the front.  It was a gift from my DH many years ago.  A pretty ornament from the DT would look just as good.

White pointsettias and gold leaves from the Dollar Tree create a lovely floral arrangement.  Add a few DT gold ornaments at the base to add additional interest.

I added more DT ornaments and floral picks around the table to fill in the centerpiece.  This also makes sure that each guest has something special to see.

Pull out your finest linens and china for the placesettings.  Everything I've used except for the wine glass and the sherbert came from GW or Thrift stores.  The placemats and napkins are tissue linen with a scalloped embroidery detail.  The china is Grace made in Japan found at GW layered with an everyday white salad.  The sherbet/compote glasses were a gift from a friend, and the wine glass was a wedding gift many years ago.  Everyday flatware looks right at home with the more elegant dishes.  Your everyday white dishes would look just as elegant and DT glasses would work perfectly.  The linens set the mood.  You could use a lace tablecloth, or even buy lace by the yard from Walmart and make your own tablecloth.

Everything looks better with candlelight.  Add lots of candles in varying heights.  The candle stems that I have used I found at GW, however you can find candlesticks in varying heights at GW and the DT.  Just put them all around the table to add an elegant glow.

 You're all done.  Light the candles, dim the overhead lights and stand back and enjoy your pretty table.

People always ask me if we really use the tablescapes that I create.  Yes, we do.  There are a few tips that I've learned over the years that will help you to enjoy your dinner party.

1.  Be prepared.  If you are prepared you will be relaxed and so will your guests.
2.  Plan a simple meal that doesn't require last minute cooking or prep.
3.  Set up a side table for desserts and have them set out and arranged before guests arrive.
4.  I also set up a side table for wine and other drinks.  Remove the wine glasses from the table and place them on the side table along with a chilled bottle of wine, a decanter of sparking cider and a decanter of juice or punch.  Label the decanters with simple labels and let your guests serve themselves.
4.  Remove the sherbet/compote glasses from the table and fill them with a simple shrimp or crab salad layered on a bed of shredded lettuce and have ready in the fridge.
5. About an hour before guests arrive, slice all the meats and arrange on a pretty platter. Ladel some of the juice from cooking over the top of the meet to keep it moist and fresh.  Arrange all the vegetables and any other side dishes in pretty bowls, cover with foil and have ready to go into a warming oven.  DO NOT OVERCOOK your food.  It will be in the warming oven for a while, so you want it to finish cooking there.
6.  Have the salad all prepared in advance, so you can pull it out of the fridge, give a quick toss with the dressing and serve.
7.  Clean the kitchen thoroughly, guests always wander through the house, so you want to have all the work already done so you can be a guest too and enjoy your company.
8. Right before guests arrive, fill the water glasses on the table, and put all the food in the warming oven.
9. Take off your apron, freshen your makeup and you are all ready.


 None of us have help, so being prepared makes serving easy.  As a note on ettiquet also, if you are a guest at someone's house, you can offer to help the hostess, however if she declines, don't linger in the kitchen, join the rest of the party and enjoy being a guest.
1.  Put the sherbet/ compotes with your shrimp/crab salad on the plates, light the candles and call your guests to dinner.
2.  Use a tray to remove the compote glass, saucer AND the salad plate.
3.  Give the salad a quick toss with your dressing and fill each salad plate and serve.
4.  Since we live much more casual lives, I always serve the main courses buffet style.  Remove the salad plates and take everything out of the oven and arrange on the counter or island for a pleasing buffet.  Have any condiments necessary arranged on the the buffet also.  Invite your guests to bring their plates and serve themselves.  This makes them feel comfortable to come back for seconds or to try something they didn't select the first time around.
5.  Enjoy your meal and your guests and linger as long as you like.
6.  I always have coffee ready to go with a tray full of cups and saucers so guests can help themselves after dinner.
7.  While they all visit and linger over coffee, clear away the dinner plates and stack neatly in the sink.  Don't start a lot of major clean up.  Cover any left over food and just place in the fridge as is.
8.  Visit and relax, your work is done.  Guests will feel free to help themselves to more wine, coffee or dessert when they are ready. You can suggest that dessert is there whenever they would like some, however there really isn't  a need to"serve" it.  Just slice the pie and cake and let them serve themselves.

I hope this helps you to feel relaxed and confident that you can have an elegant dinner party and still be a guest too.

Thanks so much for stopping by.  I always appreciate your visits.


  1. Oh my goodness Marty. Your table is beautiful. It's amazing we can find so many wonderful items just by checking out our local Goodwill stores, dollar stores and having a vision. You definitely have a vision here, my friend. Everything is so lovely. I adore your choches. I have yet to find any. The lace runner, napkins are perfect. Lovely...Thank you for sharing your wonderful and beautiful Holiday table. Have a great weekend. XO Linda

  2. Marty,
    What a service you have done for all of us! Your gorgeous table seems so much more attainable when you break the setting of it down into easy and understandable steps. Using cloches, shopping for things from your own home, and mindfully looking for inexpensive china, linens and glassware are such a great and realistic idea. Some of my prettiest things are from GW.

    And your step by step prep and serve ideas are perfect!!!!! Great tips, but I bet these came from years of honing your company skills!!!

    This should be printed out in booklet form and given to every young woman who starts her own household!!! Can you imagine the headaches it would advert!
    This is a one-in-a million post, my dear! Thank you so much.

  3. Oh Marty- your table is absolutely amazingly beautiful! That china is delightful! The cloche's, the candles, the color palette- perfect! I so appreciate all your tips too! I love to host a party and to be honest- spend a bit of time wandering around with my apron on while entertaining! Your steps are invaluable and I will definitely be reviewing them for my next party! Thank you so much! Always so much inspiration and beauty over here!! :)

  4. Marty, I love the idea of "shopping around home". Its amazing exactly what we have if we just open our minds to something other than matchy matchy. This table is proof of a beautiful eye by you. Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial and for giving validation to all who don't have the most perfect china, crystal, and sterling. Love this!

  5. What great tips, Marty! I always remember getting tense when I would be hosting a dinner or event at my house. I have since relaxed a bit, but I think that has come with age! I love your table. Those larger ornaments from DT are great; I used some on my staircase garland last year. Glass always helps make for a sparkly table.

  6. First of all, your table is absolutely breathtaking!

    Thank you for this helpful advice! I just found out today that I get to host my family's annual Thanksgiving brunch this year...for the first time! I feel like such a grown-up!


  7. Thank you for such a wonderful post! The etiquette books teach how to set a table but rarely discuss in detail how to actually serve the meal. I plan to use your tips my next party. :)

  8. Marty,

    Your tablescape is wonderful!!! I love the cloches.

    I have a large selection of angels. This inspires me to use them in my tablescapes.

    Have a great weekend!

  9. Hi Marty, Your tablescape looks so beautiful.


  10. Works for me Marty. Every Thanksgiving we seat the grandsons in the eat-in kitchen area. My daughter and daughter-in-law help serve the children first. We all stand around the childrens table, hold hands, and say Grace over our family meal. Then everyone says alittle something about what they are grateful for.

    The adults do buffet style just as you discribed. It's so much easier that way.

    I just need to work on arranging the center piece. Mine seems to be the basic floral arrangement and two candles. I think I'll put your tutorial to good use. Thanks for sharing! ~Ames

  11. Marty, you sure know how to set a lovely table! I love your step by step instructions too. Great inspiration for a dinner party; thank you.


  12. Marty, your Christmas tablescape is absolutely stunning! I love your mix of cream and gold ... so elegant! Your tips are fantastic, too ... we're big fans of buffet style dining, as well; however, I can guarantee that any meal I prepare can't hold a candle to your, undoubtedly, fabulous menu! Thanks for sharing such a gorgeous dining table! *Becca*

  13. Wonderful advice Marty. It makes the dinner party more enjoyable and less stressful


  14. I love this!!!! Not only did you give some wonderful tips on the table, but the tips on execution were great too.

    I'm saving this.
    I can't figure out what file to put it in so I might just try to print it out.

    This is wonderful.

  15. Hi Marty, what a beautiful table setting. I'm always so stressed out preparing Thanksgiving Dinner, I'm going to try some of your tips. To be honest I have wondered also if you really used your table settings. I must say you have my admiration...your amazing.
    I wish I could come to dinner with you! Have a great weekend.
    Hugs, Sue

  16. Hi Marty!
    You are such a pro when it comes to setting a magnificent tablescape! This is a wonderful post and your tips are very helpful. It's amazing what a little thrifty shopping can do to help create such loveliness.
    You always make everything so lovely.


  17. Hi Marty!

    I love this post! I just wrote about getting things ready for the holidays. Since we host an elaborate Christmas meal each year, I do several of these steps. I want the meal to be special but, special for me too, so prep work is vital!
    A tip I would add that has seriously helped me is to make sure your dishwasher is emptied before your meal starts. I like to rinse and load up the dishwasher between courses to keep everything neat. You can see our kitchen from the dining area and it is a small space.

    Really enjoyed this post! Have a wonderful day!

  18. Thanks bunches Marty. Your table is lovely and your tips are practical and useful. hugs♥olive

  19. Absolutely beautiful table. Thanks for stopping by my blog today. Yours is amazing. I'm your latest follower.

  20. Superb table Marty. Can't name a favourite - it's all so great!
    Appreciate your helpful guidelines :o) Even thought we frequently have friends over for dinner I often end up feeling slightly frazzled...even though I do try and be organised and I always take time the night before to spend time setting the table.
    Hope you have a great weekend!

  21. Well Marty I really don't know how you do all that you do and it always comes out so Beautiful my Dear friend...Don't you love the DT and all the fun things you find there...another GREAT Marty table..I pray you have a GREAT weekend my friend...Hugs and smiles Gl♥ria

  22. Even though I've been hosting dinner parties for years and have learned quite a few tricks, I still found your tips very helpful! I haven't tried the combo thing but I like the idea of serving SOME of the food but then having buffet for the rest - easier on the cook/server! Your Christmas tablescape is lovely and I enjoyed reading the step by step process and I'm sure it is helpful to beginning hostesses. Thanks for this!


  23. Oh Marty,
    What an elegant and gorgeous table you have set! And the tutorial is just soo good!
    Really and truly that table is outstanding!!!
    Thanks girlfriend, I love your ideas and creativity!

  24. Marty! This was such an amazing post and I think you should get the prize for being the first Christmas tablescape I have seen in blogland! :-) It is all so gorgeous and absolutely love the color pallette and those wonderful tips! I think you should plan on reposting this one as the Holidays get deserves to be seen over and over!!!

  25. What a pretty holiday table. I have not been to DT in a while - Think I might need to go.
    Have a great weekend.

  26. You are one of those people who could take a few dust bunnies and a paper sack and make something pretty! Your table is gorgeous...and it's wonderful to know it doesn't have to cost a tone of money!

  27. What a fantastic post, Marty...I can't tell you how all of your tips will help me this holiday season. Seeing your tutorial is also so much better than just the written words. I love all of your accessories and how you find them at such thrifty places, they really make the table come alive. Thanks so much! Your table is lovely!


  28. Wow! Your table is amazing! I was just at DT yesterday & saw some of the ornaments & such. Snag a couple of items & have my "List" ready to go back for some other things. Thank you for sharing.

  29. Wonderful tips, Marty! Thanks. And your table is glorious and so elegant...Christine

  30. Wow, only you could pull that together. Love it! Gives me some good ideas.

  31. Marty, I love the words of wisdom! And your table, gorgeous. I entertain a lot but always have a simple, boring table and I'd love to set a pretty, at least interesting, table.

  32. Marty...may I call you Marty? The tablescape is so pretty. I love shopping GW for pretty things. YOu did an amazing job making it look elegant on the cheap. So cool!

  33. Gorgeous table and great tips. Now all I need to do is follow them. I am glad I don't have to prepare the holiday meals this year.

  34. Your table is beautiful and I'm glad you gave a tutorial too

  35. Oh my WORD!!!! You share all this WONDERFUL information with us... all for free!! We couldn't buy a book that gives us any better of a tutorial on putting together a tablescape or give us directions when entertaining. Thank you so much for your willingness to share with all of us!! Can't believe that so many of those things came from the DT!!!! Guess where I'm going tomorrow!!! LOL Thanks again!

  36. Aamzing table! I love the gold and white colors paired with the delicate pale green hues of the china! Beautiful, and budget-friendly, table! And thanks for all the dinner party tips!

  37. Lovely table! And such terrific tips too! Thanks!

  38. Thank you for this timely post, Marty. Your table is gorgeous, as usual, and I appreciate you mentioning that many if not all of these lovely decorative elements can be purchased at dollar stores or thrift stores. I have noticed that many beautiful homes are the result of sly (in a good way!) shopping.

    I really appreciate your tips on hosting the dinner party this table was set for. I actually was wondering, while admiring your table, if people cleared off much of the centerpiece to put the serving dishes on the table, or had the food off on another table or sideboard or what? This is all wonderful advice.

  39. Christmas? I just had a moment of panic! Seriously, this is a wonderful post. I think new readers tend to think that those of us who tablescape buy all new things each week. I love to shop the house or find a bargain and work things I have around it. This is one of those posts that people should bookmark for future reference!

  40. Marty, I love what you have done and said....I love buffet style serving, it frees up the table for a great tablescape, and guests like to move around a bit anyway.....great advice.....and I always use the sideboard for coffee and dessert set up, and yes, let them help themselves, it creates a more festive atmosphere for all....hugs...cleo

  41. So gorgeous setting! Thanks for those great tips!


  42. Hi Marty...

    Ohhh my...this Christmas table is each and every way, Marty! Everything just's so magical! I especially enjoyed your candlelight photos...all that white and gold...and sparkly crystal..ahhh! Well my friend, this is one of my most favorite posts!!! So many think that you have to spend alot of money to set a beautiful table! The main ingredient to a fabulous table is creativity!!! As you have certainly proved by this beautiful table! You did a marvelous job...breaking down the steps to decorating the table...and your tips for hosting the dinner party...the meal, etc. are invaluable! Thank you so much for sharing this great post with us, my friend! I love, love, LOVE IT!!! This Christmas table is SPLENDID indeed!!!

    Warmest wishes,
    Chari @Happy To Design

  43. Great tips! Your friends must love to receive a dinner party invitation from you.

  44. Wonderful post and beautiful table, Marty!

  45. Hi Marty, It is amazing what we can do on a budget these days! These hard times have taught us how to stretch that dollar. Your green dishes are beautiful. But one of my favorite things on this post is your advice to guests to stay out of the kitchen if the hostess declines your offer for help! I so agree with this!! Thank you for mentioning it! Have a great weekend. Linda

  46. I learned so much from this post, particularly the last part with the tips for serving. I have always looked at tablescapes wondering where all the food would be placed and of course...on the buffet, island or counter. That makes complete sense...don't I sound like I've never entertained!!

  47. What a blessing you are, Marty & a woman after my own ♥, using all that glittery gold!!! :D Your table is just luscious with color & texture & this post is so full on wonderful information. Thanks so much for sharing with us all.

  48. This tablescape is beautiful, Marty! Isn't it amazing how a DollarTree item can look so much more expensive in the right setting? You did a great job!

  49. Hi Marty!

    Now, that was an awesome tutorial from start to finish... :-)

    And, as always, you are the QUEEN of the pretty tablescape. This one is soooo pretty and I love it that you have shown you don't need to give up your firstborn for a stunning table.

    I'll bet EVERYBODY loves coming to your home for yummy dining.


  50. Thank you for this lovely and highly encouraging post, Marty. I have a huge desire to do lovely tablescapes, but I always feel I have to have tons of expensive dishes and linens in order to accomplish that desire. And since our family has been hugely negatively affected by the economic downturn, buying new or namebrand things is totally out of the question. (Actually, sometimes, even Goodwill items are out of the question.) So, it's encouraging to see a beautiful table that has been created with second hand or Dollar Tree items.


  51. Fantastic tablescape! It is just stunning. Thanks for all the very helpful hints.
    Love the way you displayed the cloches.

  52. Breath taking table Marty, and your tips are excellent! I love the one about "get out of the kitchen if the hostess declines your help". It is impossible for me to think about what I'm doing if someone stays in the kitchen making conversation with me. I wish my guests would read your post, because they seem to feel obligated to converse with me while I'm preparing to serve dinner! I think it is so funny that I talked in my Fav. Things post about your love of cloches, Kim's love of demijohns, and Bill's beautiful crystal, and all 3 of you have a current post that includes those items! laurie

  53. Your table looks like a million bucks! Thank you for all the good tips. You can always learn something new, and a better way to do something from your blog friends!

  54. What a gorgeous tablescape! Love all the gold!

    Thanks for the tips! You are so organized! We are having Christmas dinner this year so I'll have to print them out!


  55. WOW,WOW,WOW! What an awesome post. I don't think I have ever seen a match.
    You first wowed us with a fabulous tablescape and detailed instructions on how to recreate it. Then you bowled us over with so much essential information.
    Everyone, young and old can benefit from these suggestions. If we already knew this we certainly needed to be reminded. If we didn't know, we are grateful for the time and effort you have expended in order to provide this information. Thank you, Thank you. Ginger

  56. What a beautiful table, Marty! You make it all sound so easy.
    Thanks for all the helpfull info.

  57. What a fantastic post Marty, and the timing is perfect. I love that you have shown that we can have an elegant and beautiful table without spending a fortune (of course, it helps if you have a great GW like you do!) And your entertaining and serving tips are perfect. It's important that we enjoy the efforts of our labor and enjoy our company too! Hugs, Kat

  58. What great tips! The art of hostess and genuine hospitality is being kept alive by posts like this! How wonderful that so many beautiful treasures came from thrift stores. Another gorgeous table from the cloche queen! Have a lovely day Marty, thanks for stopping by today.

  59. Marty, now that is stunning and truly, there are not enough adjectives to say how it really looks, but it's truly out of this world gorgeous!

    Now, I have to get back to unpacking!!

    Hugs, Nancy

  60. OMGosh! Did I die or go to dinner ... Marty, this is over the top GORGEOUS! You are one amazing table designer ...

    Now, what time is dinner? Chuckle!

    Have a beautiful day ~
    TTFN ~ Hugs, Marydon

  61. Gorgeous golds, Marty! Thanks for all the tips, too!


  62. And who gets to enjoy this lovely dinner setting with you? Very, very pretty. Cheryl

  63. Marty this post is Brilliant with a capital B! I love your tablescape but I also love the great ideas you shared too. I hope you don't mind if I add a link to this post on the sidebar of my Christmas blog?

    Best wishes always,

  64. This is just gorgeous, I absolutely love it.Thanks for sharing this post with all of us.
    I am new to the blogworls and just started my blog ,
    Pop by if you have the time and let me know what you think!!!!
    Thanks again for showing us this lovely tablescape.

  65. Beautiful table, Marty and a great tutorial. This should be required reading for all newlyweds. i picked up some good hints and I've been entertaining and doing tablescapes since before I knew they were called tablescapes.LOL (That would be over 40 yrs.)
    You are the best.

  66. Marty, love, if anyone can put something together and make it look fantastic, it's you!! What a glorious table that is! A reminder that the season is coming and quickly!
    You remind me of a math teacher I had once. This is true.
    Anyway, this math teacher just got impatient with me because I couldn't seem to grasp, to him, the simplist of mathematical concepts. I struggled and I tried and would end up in tears.
    Now I realize that some things just come easier to some than to others. You could put me in the middle of Harrod's department store..with all the most gorgeous goodies on earth...and I would not be able to make it come out like you do with the simplist and most inexpensive of things.
    However.. thanks for trying. I love you for that. I also think it takes lots and lots of practice..
    Many of us need people like you to give us idea's and simple have that touch..that talent.
    So...there you have it... :)

  67. That is absolutely breath taking! Just beautiful!


  68. Your table is as beautiful as always, and the most important thing were your tips, thanks a lot for them specially.
    Love your plate mats and napkins very much, they are so delicate and decent... Very beautiful Marty

  69. Hi Marty,

    Your table is beautiful and inspiring! I also have learned a few things from the tutorial, thank you. I think it is inspiring that you say most things are thrift store finds, it shows you don't need a big budget to create a lovely, elegant table.

  70. This is such an elegant tablescape, yet it is still warm and cozy. I would love to have dinner at your table :)

  71. These are wonderful tips, Marty! I can just imagine that having dinner at your house would be lots of fun. Thanks for the encouragement to spend a little time and a tiny bit of money to make the table look so special. . . and then mostly to spend the time with our guests!

  72. Beautiful, beautiful table! It is totally georgous.(-:

  73. You table is absolutely beautiful! Thank you for the tips, you did answer a couple of questions I had.

  74. Thank you so much for sharing this Marty. I am DEFINITELY going to use this as inspiration! :)