Skye McAlpine is a dear friend and an incredibly gifted photographer, writer and blogger ('From my dining table')... In the second instalment of Skye's exclusive Christmas special we are given an insight into the process behind creating an instagram-worthy Christmas table...
To talk about the ‘art of laying a table’ seems rather an extravagant way of describing the laying out of cutlery, crockery and food. But then extravagant, is just what a festive table should be. Christmas is the time for excess and opulence. And the ritual of setting the table, for me and for my family, is an important part of that. I take my inspiration for our festive table from those sumptuous scenes you might read about in Lampedusa’s Leopard - you know, with the plates upon plates of marzipan sweets and petits fours. And from old master paintings where the food, fruit and candles are piled so high, you can almost hear the table creak under the weight of it all. When it comes to Christmas, you see, I am a firm believer that more is absolutely more.
I like to start with a tablecloth, because nothing says ‘special occasion’ quite like fine linens. It somehow signals the table’s transition from everyday to Christmas Day, rather like putting on a cocktail dress and a slick of red lipstick. Keep it simple and white: I like vintage, embroidered white linen which I layer up over the length of the table. Otherwise, you can buy pretty linen cloths from here (Cologne and Cotton) - or even a plain white sheet will do nicely.
Plates and Glasses
I like a higgledy piggledy mix of plain white (dishwasher friendly) plates and glasses, with a few finer antique china or fine glass pieces mixed in to give the table that extra sense of occasion.
Once I have laid out everything that we strictly need on the table, I begin with the decoration. We always indulge in more than one dessert on Christmas Day, so I lay them all out now - mince pies, brandy butter, panettone, candied orange cake, Christmas cake, trifle, what have you. Somehow it sets the tone for a decadent meal before anyone has even begun eating.
When it comes to flowers, I take inspiration from a rough colour palette then source fruits and flowers around that. This year, I have gone for a very traditional red and green: so deep red roses, lots of greenery and sprigs of wild red berries. I like to keep flower arrangements low so that they don’t dominate the table and very simple, so they evoke homespun rather than formal. I cut my flowers short and arrange them loosely in tumblers, jam jars and small jugs. I prefer to create lots of small floral posies that I dot around the table than a single extravagant flower arrangement. I also like to add green leaves to plates.
So many beautiful fruits at this time of year, that it seems a shame not to find a place for them on the table. Pears, pomegranates, physalis - with their crinkly little wings, leafy clementines, grapes, vibrant cranberries, and earthy nuts - just to name a few. I lay fruit out in a variety of different sized and coloured dishes. Playing with heights creates a point of interest in the middle of the table, so I make use of cake stands to rest the fruit on, as well as saucers, ice cream bowls, side plates, serving platters, fruit bowls, and pretty much whatever I have to hand. You could even use tin foil trays for a little added sparkle, or just heap the fruits straight on to the table in abundant piles. Think about how the fruit looks when you choose it: pick the clementines with leaves, and if you have a bowl of pomegranates, perhaps cut a couple open and lay them out so that you can see their ruby red insides. I also like to add a few exotic touches, like lychees and baby pineapples - just because they exude ‘special treat’. Then at the end of the meal, we help ourselves to the fruits, as well as the cakes - we eat them with cheese.
A few small touches that make the table feel special: light plenty of candles (ideally a mix of tall table candles, tea lights and short, thicker ones) they add warmth and a sense of occasion to the scene. Use leaves and greenery to decorate the serving plates, then lay sweets, biscuits and mince pies on them And I like to add hand written name cards or crackers on each guest’s plate - it’s a small touch, but it makes the table feel welcoming.
All words and imagery courtesy of Skye McAlpine @skye_mcalpine Aeneas wears clothing by La Coqueta Kids Follow Skye’s blog 'From my dining table' here I think Skye’s table looks incredibly beautiful and cannot wait to prepare my own... I will be taking on board all the tips Skye has discussed and will share my pictures with you after Christmas, do you have any top tips on laying the perfect Christmas table?