Special/Signature Issues » Belle

Take It From the Top

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No matter what kind of entertaining you like to do for the holidays, setting a festive table is one of the season's gracious pleasures. Tom Binns of Tom French Flowers created three tablescapes to reflect a range of budget possibilities.

Two tips: Mixing inexpensive elements with flowers gives bang for the buck, and giving yourself permission to get creative makes it festive.

Binns presents these ideas on an inlaid mahogany Duncan Phyfe dining table from Owen Suter's Fine Furniture in Carytown, which also provided the setting and tableware.





Modest

Choose flowers of one type and color, and group them in julep cups or inexpensive vases. Fill in with greenery from the yard, and add candles, ornaments collected at discount houses or decorative objects from around the house.





Moderate

For an elegant look, let the table centerpiece be the star. This arrangement of white roses, hydrangea, lilies, gerberas, stock and pittosporum is dramatic and low so that guests can see across the table.





Magnificent

Deck the buffet table with a show-stopper for New Year's, using a silver urn, tall white flowers like amaryllis, lilies and roses, and filling in with silver sticks and greenery. Binns tosses in lightweight silver balls to make the look even merrier.





Creative License



Tom Binns' tips for achieving the wow factor.

Forget matchy-matchy. Instead, go for contrast or a pleasant color blend. "God made everything go together," Binns says. "Sometimes it's your personal taste that gets in the way." Binns laughs, but he's often surprised when people worry too much about clashing colors.

Flowers pack a punch. "It's the thing that guests talk about after a party," Binns says of a striking table arrangement. "People don't always realize how important flowers are until the guests start to rave. It brings the beauty of nature inside." Expect to pay for quality and freshness -- flower costs are up, but well-chosen stems can provide several days of elegance.

Accessorize. Discount stores and department stores carry seasonal accessories in all price ranges. Binns combines low-cost but glitzy ornaments with more precious pieces, and collects things within his preferred palette all year long.

Light up the night. Candles are a must, and Binns also likes to add silver lighted trees to the table for height and drama. Mylar confetti, crunched into glass containers or laid on the table, reflects light for a festive look, as do mirrors, silver tableware and crystal.

Borrow from elsewhere. Scour the yard for pine cones and natural objects. Many things around the house (scarves, art objects, vases) can be collected on the table for a no-cost, personal statement and an instant change.

Water flowers daily. Some flower industry sprays and preservatives work well too, and keeping flowers away from sun and heat sources makes a big difference in their longevity.

Get out the clippers. Shrubbery from the yard is a great, free filler for arrangements. Binns likes pittosporum for its Southern character and acuba for its color. Boxwood and magnolia are traditional favorites, but you might have something unusual to try.

Symmetry can be overrated. "Don't be too symmetrical when designing at table," Binns says. "Have fun with it and don't be nervous about your creation. It's the time of year for glimmer and glitz because it catches the light, it's wonderful and you can't use it all the time."

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