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How to style your festive table on a budget

Dec 10, 2019 by carol adams.

With two weeks to go until Christmas, we’ve called in the experts to help make sure your set-up looks the part.

You’ll notice that at this time of year, there is an influx of Christmas-themed dinner paraphernalia in the shops. I don’t know about you, but I won’t get much use out of reindeer-adorned crockery in June. So, in the interest of buying consciously this year, if you do want to go big on your Christmas table, it makes more sense to buy pieces that will last all year round that you can style-up for Christmas, with a few inexpensive and versatile additions.

With that in mind, we asked two aficionados to give us their festive table-styling tips. Recipe writer Alexandra Dudley , by her own admission a “serial dinner-party host”, and author and food writer Anna Barnett.



The colours you choose for your Christmas table will, as ever, depend on personal taste. For something that works all year, “steer away from traditional reds, greens and tartans and opt for muted tones instead,” says Barnett. You could try a hessian table runner, as recommended by Topology’s Athina in our eco-friendly Christmas update , which will create a rustic-looking neutral base. If you do want to go for colour, Dudley suggests opting for a scheme that feels wintery rather than overtly festive: “I have a set of burnt-orange candlesticks that I always whip out at Christmastime,” she says. “I pair them with a set of rust-coloured napkins and a navy tablecloth. Then I make a centrepiece of pine or fir as well as lots of clementines to give it a Christmassy twist.”



Whatever colours you go for for a runner or cloth (see Linens below), both Barnett and Dudley say that it’s candles that will elevate a centrepiece. “Give atmosphere, drama and structure to your setting with candles of varying heights that will create a central focus for your table,” says Barnett. Dudley names Ikea as her go-to for good-value pillar candles. “I have them running all the way down the table as well as dotted about the room. Go for unscented, as 25 scented candles will definitely be overkill,” she says. Candlesticks will also help with the varying heights and add decoration. For a different take, Barnett suggests, “trying muted, matte greys, such as these from The White Company, or natural beeswax, which works especially well if you’re opting for a very organic and greenery-led table setting.”


“Sit any foliage, greenery, fruit, veg (pears and globe artichokes work well) or Christmas baubles around the candles,” says Barnett. Dudley opts for fruit among the candles running down the table, adding pine cones and more natural pieces: “Head to your local florist and pick up some greenery. You will get a decent amount for around £7. Eucalyptus is my favourite, and makes the room smell lovely, too.”


Both recommend adding Christmas lights into the mix. Try micro LED lights on bendable wire, such as copper, which you can shape to run down your centrepiece, or pop into a glass jar. I was at a Christmas dinner with friends last weekend and in lieu of anyone making a centrepiece, the lights wrapped around a few candles kept things looking festive.


Table linens, such as cloths and napkins, can be expensive – so if you are buying anything readymade, make sure it will work for other occasions. I’m continually impressed with H&M’s homes range, which includes washed-linen napkins in six muted shades. For a tablecloth, both Dudley and Barnett recommend buying a length of material from a local fabric shop. If you want it hemmed, Dudley suggests getting the tailor at your local dry cleaners to do it for you. Or you can leave the edges slightly frayed. Either way, a lower-cost cloth means you’ll be less precious about anyone spilling red wine on it.


Most of us don't have several sets of crockery to choose between, so use what you have – white is a safe and chic bet if you are in the market for a new set – but tie it into the rest of the table with a few simple touches. First, napkin rings: there are plenty of well-priced versions around: I like these hammered silver ones from John Lewis  that you will get good use of all-year-round, but still feel festive. Or these ceramic ones from La Redoute. For something economical, Dudley is a fan of making hers from thick velvet ribbon. “It gives a wonderful unwrapping present effect,” she says. “Ribbons also take very little storage room – so if, like me, you are constantly trying to declutter, they are ideal.” You can pick these up online, or at the likes of John Lewis. A sprig of holly or rosemary will add a finishing touch to your setting. Dudley also likes using seasonal fruits instead of place cards – you can write your guests’ names on them in silver or gold pen. Or The Pool’s Frankie Graddon is a big fan of an artichoke with a card place setting popped between the spikes or tied on like a label.


“I am a firm believer in investing in good glassware,” says Dudley. “I like a heavy crystal-style tumbler and good sturdy wine glasses,” she says and recommends investing in Royal Doulton in the sales or putting something from the Soho Home range on your Christmas list. Glasses are obviously pieces that you can bring out for dinner whenever, so if you do spend more on anything, I firmly agree, they are the way to go.