Dressing up holiday tables

Designers offer advice to create a festive decor

Entertaining at the holidays, from Thanksgiving through New Year's, is an opportunity to introduce seasonal themes, colors and materials into one's home.

More than two dozen designers, florists and interior designers came together last month, putting their heads together to produce "tablescapes" at the Holidays on a High Note fundraiser for the Family Service Agency of San Mateo County.

A key theme this year was use of natural materials, including succulents.

"You don't need to set up a fancy table, you just need to know how to use natural resources," Jenna Bayer, of Jenna Bayer Garden Design in Mountain View, said. Bayer's table used imported vegetation, fresh produce and trimmings from her own garden.

The best way to approach home decoration is to start indexing early, Bayer said. "Create an inventory over the year of what grows best in your area and what you like the most. Use those plants next year for a more intimate setting."

Bayer also chose her materials based on color. The fall season works around a lot of reds, greens, yellow and browns. Many of the trees in this season are naturally going through these colors and can be used to accent the d├ęcor, she said. "A good part about these plants is that they are basically zero-care and have such magnificent color," Bayer said, pointing to her green cascade myrtle.

Also important are the senses other than sight. "Smells, textures and even taste are important. Use fruits and vegetables whenever you can," Bayer said. Bayer purchases many of her flowers in San Francisco, but also spoke highly of Boring, Ore., the city from which she imports many of her trees. "The quality is astoundingly better," she said.

Her floral arrangement, including dahlias, barberries and pheasant feathers, was collected from cuttings of her own garden, minus the feathers. The apples used were also imported from Oregon.

A year-long inventory isn't possible for many who are expecting the holidays in a matter of weeks. Kris Forbes, event chair and designer for Pomegranate Designs, Woodside, had a different approach, with similar ideologies.

"Always forage," she said, adding that the materials necessary for in-home design can be found from friends, family and neighbors. Forbes recalled a story in which she needed branch trimmings for an upcoming piece, and simply asked her neighbors for any materials. They were glad to help, she said, and it was entirely free of cost.

Forbes noted that, due to the fast expiration date on many floral arrangements, a good approach is to have decorations that can be switched out every few weeks around a central element. "Every few days the flowers around it will die, but you can replace it one week with mini-poinsettias, the next week with pinecones," she said.

Indelisa Montoro, of Royal Bloom in Menlo Park, focuses heavily on monochromatic decorations. Her table, a stark silver winter set complete with a 2.5-foot conical Christmas tree and assorted baubles of white and polished silver, stood out with its reliance on one color. The materials are easy to find, she said, and can be purchased at her store in the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park. Montoro finds some of her other materials, such as fake snow, Christmas lights and plastic cones, at Target.

"Vintage is still popular; people like those old-world touches," Montoro said, surrounded by repurposed bracelets, salvaged silver and ornaments of mercury glass hung in her shop.

Montoro said that monochromatic sets work well because small moments of color can gain more prominence. "Bouquets stand out beautifully," she said. For her floral arrangements, Montoro shops at wholesale markets in San Francisco that are not typically open to the public, though she does take orders. Besides those San Francisco markets Forbes suggested that individuals go to their local Trader Joe's or Safeway to look at their cactus selection. "They've really increased their selection this year, people seem to really like them," Forbes said.

Each designer agreed on the idea of using natural resources for decoration at home. The increased popularity in cacti and other succulents reflects the sustainable aspects of using natural resources.

"Right now you can see people either going for a modern, sleek look or a more natural, organic one," Christine Le of Magnolia Floral Design, Palo Alto, said. Le pointed to a table with rectangular, purple vases filled with water lilies as an example of modern decoration. She hopes the flowers are home grown, she said.

"It's best to go local," Le said, mentioning Roger Reynolds Nursery in Menlo Park as a good resource. Much like Forbes, Le said that arrangements can be switched every few weeks by using flowers that bloom naturally throughout each season.

Elegance and simplicity also rang brightly. "You can't enjoy anything if you have a house full of everything," Montoro said.

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