Thanksgiving, with all of its focus on basting a bird and prepping a pie, doesn’t always encourage us to go all-out with the Thanksgiving table. Yet exercising a festive hand when setting the Thanksgiving dinner table can make all the difference. In fact, a fabulously festooned table can instantly transform Thanksgiving from a day dedicated to gorging and imbibing into a proper, buttoned-up holiday. If you’re looking to execute a Thanksgiving dinner table setting that will impress your guests, but won’t rival that time suck of a twenty-pound turkey, we’ve got you covered. Using a tastemaker table designed by style-setter Athena Calderone, we’ll guide you through setting an easy Thanksgiving table that pays homage to the holiday while retaining a refreshing sense of modernity.

Tablescape with pink wine glasses, floral centerpieces, and wood farmhouse chairs.

A New Way to Holiday 

With a website dubbed “EyeSwoon,” there’s no question that domestic do-it-all-er Athena Calderone knows how to set a stunning table. To inspire our own Thanksgiving table, we’re pulling ideas from the dreamy, fall-inspired table that Athena cued up for her Cook Beautiful release bash thrown in conjunction with Chairish at jewelry designer (and forever gal pal) Irene Neuwirth’s L.A. store. Whether you’re looking for a fresh-feeling take on the Thanksgiving table, or you’re merely in the camp of those looking for easy Thanksgiving table decorations, Athena’s table is chock full of steal-worthy ideas to elevate any table.

Calligraphy dinner menus and place cards on peach velvet.

Color Cheery

Rule number one when looking to outfit a modern Thanksgiving table? Don’t feel hemmed in by traditional hues like brown or green. Athena opted for a tonal palette accented with an out-of-the-box color combo: navy and pink. If you’re tempted to employ an unorthodox color pairing of your own for your Thanksgiving table, consider choosing at least one color that nods to the season, preferably something dark and moody like a burgundy, smoke gray, or forest green. With the foundational color set, go as rouge as you like with your complementary hue, whether that be a pastel or even neon. The trick to making such renegade color work? A unifying base layer in a neutral color. For her table, Athena opted for a burlap-colored table cloth. Choosing a Thanksgiving table runner or Thanksgiving table cloth in a tonal hue will effortlessly tie your color palette (no matter how disparate) together succinctly. 

Table setting with rose gold utensils, white plates and floral bouquet.

Power Plates

When most of us consider how to set a table for Thanksgiving, it’s the place settings that take precedence over everything else. And with good reason. A spirited place setting can enchant even the most staunch holiday naysayers on your guest list, while also providing family members with conversation starters that don’t involve a lick of politics.

To continue channeling Athena’s liberated fall tablescape, opt for plain white dinner and appetizer plates. There’s of course no rule against deploying Grandma’s china here, but opting for all-white plates ensures that your Thanksgiving table will maintain a feeling of effortless modernity. For those of us who don’t set tables as our day job, it also greatly minimizes the possibilities of making styling mistakes. 

Bucking tradition, Athena chose appetizer-sized plates—rather than salad-sized plates—to layer over the dinner dishes. The smaller plates allowed Athena to offset the two plates just a smidge, furthering that all-coveted modern mood. Since layers always dial up the festive feel, Athena also opted to top the plates with floral sprigs that have a foraged feel. Tied with a ribbon that’s artfully knotted, but not bowed, extends the table’s casually collected feel.

Place cards, layered on top of the plates and floral sprays, add the final layer of dimension. With the place cards, Athena made the call to embrace the navy blue part of her color theme. Simple navy blue cardstock cards with gold-penned calligraphy on top thoughtfully welcome each guest. While the cards might seemingly be a minor detail, their presence (and color) pack a punch, making Athena’s color theme unmistakable.

Platter with beats and grapefruit dish and pink swirled wine glass.

It’s All in the Details

Even when you’re setting a modern table, Thanksgiving, with all of its heirloom silver connotations, encourages a nod to tradition. Vintage glassware can be an easy way to inject a bit of that traditional charm into your Thanksgiving table. Whether you opt for coupes, goblets, or even snifters, an easy trick to making vintage glassware blend seamlessly with modern elements is to look for colored glasses. Athena opted for shapely pink goblets, but blue, green, or purple glassware could also be used as vintage Thanksgiving decor. Colors that may feel more dated include amber glass, ruby glass, or carnival glass. Save those for more formal-feeling affairs. 

Given that Thanksgiving is the gateway to the holidays, a bit of metallic is always a good idea. For her table, Athena selected metallic flatware in a rosy-pink hue. The color reinforces the pink in her color scheme and complements the pink glassware. When selecting metallics for your Thanksgiving table, heed Athena’s lead, and choose a color that sits on the same end of the spectrum as your theme colors. Blues and grays work in perfect tandem with silver or mercury metallics, while warmer tones like yellow, orange, or red are offset beautifully by gold. Flatware isn’t the only opportunity to embrace metallics, of course. Votive holders and candle holders are also easy Thanksgiving table decorations that can be readily procured in metallic hues. 

Last but not least, Thanksgiving is about eating, so consider giving your serving plates an upgraded touch, if not exactly the Midas touch (leave that task to the deep-fried turkey). For her tablescape, Athena plated home-cooked confections on pretty white plates with a scalloped edge detail. 

Close up on ferns, roses, and eucalyptus in stone basin.

Frosted-Feeling Florals

In the world of design, florals are a magician’s sleight of hand. Plunk an arrangement on any Thanksgiving table and you’ve instantly elevated its status from Thanksgiving kid’s table to an adults-only affair. Taking cues from Athena’s table, consider floral arrangements in a neutral color field, which can be an easy way to tie flowers into Thanksgiving table linens. Athena’s arrangements took on a wintry, ice-tipped feel thanks to a combination of white astilbe flower, gum eucalyptus (which naturally has a frosted look), white roses, and lion-headed mums. While some might be inclined to call such a wintry arrangement premature, the chill palette can be a nice way to segway from Thanksgiving into the official Christmas season.

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Photos by Jenna Peffley

November 8, 2020

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