While gathering around the table with friends and family is an occasion many look forward to during the holiday season, these rare meals can also be a bit unnerving. Perhaps your uncle is fed up with the “OK, boomer” memes you’ve been circulating on the internet. Or your parents are still skeptical about your sister’s decision to get a liberal arts degree. Or a guest brings up a really fun and festive topic, like political gerrymandering.
Some of these phenomena might be an inevitable part — even a staple — of the holiday experience. However, when we sit down to a meal, we’re affected, at least to some degree, by the surrounding atmosphere. To that end, the way one sets a table has the potential to be a secret weapon in defusing discomfort and cultivating a sense of warmth and intimacy. With that idyllic scenario in mind, here’s a crash guide for finding Asheville shops offering jazzy table goods and, with the help of local interior designer Amber Baxley, ideas for arranging them properly.
“I think [table design] sets the mood for the entire dinner. When people see a really beautiful setting, it makes them feel good,” asserts Baxley, who works at ID.ology Interiors & Design. “I definitely think it’s fun to mix it up every year. It’s a way to have a creative outlet and a way to have fun during the holidays. Every year guests will wonder what the table will look like this year.”
While one can never go wrong with classic color schemes such as dark red, green and gold, Baxley says the hot trends this year include the color cayenne (a bright red-orange) and incorporating pops of neon into the design. “It’s also very important to mix materials. A lot of people like to incorporate burlap. But if you’re going to have naturally textured materials, be sure to also incorporate items that are smooth or metallic in order to create depth and texture,” she says.
Find your center
When it comes to encouraging conversation, one of the most important factors to consider is the centerpiece, says Baxley. “You can create an intimate space by incorporating something that sparks a conversation — a collection of vintage holiday ornaments or holiday snow globes. Incorporating things like that into a tablescape gives it a really personal touch.”
But don’t forget to consider the height of the centerpiece, Baxley advises. “You don’t want it to be more than 18 inches, because you don’t want to block anyone’s eye line,” she explains. She also recommends asking guests to place cellphones in a basket at the door.
If you recently Marie Kondoed your knickknack collection, no worries. Head over to Sunnyside Trading Co. at the Foundation Building in the River Arts District. With one glance into this warehouse of wonders, visitors quickly realize that behind every curious-looking object is a story with a good bit of mileage.
“I don’t deal in products that a normal store would sell, like dishes, napkins and glassware,” explains owner Stuart Hough, who has spent the last 40 years of his life traveling the world and collecting furniture, rugs, textiles and other curiosities from places like India, Morocco and Turkey. “We specialize in what we think are very interesting objects.”
That can mean anything from a batik indigo table runner handmade by the Hmong people of Vietnam, to antique wooden toys from Rajasthan, India, to a vintage Chinese rice carrier.
“I like the stories behind all these pieces. They’re what I find fascinating,” Hough says. While there’s no guarantee what goods might be available on a given day, he says the shop’s array of specialty baskets and vases can make for great centerpiece options. For a special occasion, Hough also points to his collections of marble trivets, vintage wooden spice holders and table-sized sculptures of everything from horses to Indian deities to masks.
Liven it up
Once you know the main elements of your centerpiece, the next step is to enliven the design with some greenery. “Really, any plant — whether it’s real or synthetic — gives you an opportunity to layer different colors so that the table doesn’t look stale,” says Baxley. “Even if you’re going for a monochromatic look, it’s important to incorporate different color tones.”
Flora, a botanical boutique in West Asheville, stocks options for a truly local floral finish. The full-service floral shop, which closely resembles a fairy home, offers customized centerpiece designs, simple hand-tied bouquets and a plethora of other plant decor.
“We like to do a lot of foraging. This year is perfect because evergreen has been really abundant,” says shop manager Tyler Rogero, noting that the plants are not only great for decorating but are also safe to display with food.
“Our aesthetic is definitely really garden-y,” she adds. “We have a variety of interesting flowers, ones you can’t find at a grocery store, like hellebores, amaryllis bulbs, ginestras and garden roses. I’m partial to the garden roses because they smell fantastic and open differently than other roses.”
Another plus to visiting Flora: Its whimsical in-house cafe, aptly named Forage, serves coffee, small-batch beer and cider and baked goods from The Rhu.
Lights, camera, mealtime
A final make-or-break when it comes to mealtime ambiance is lighting. “You don’t want your overhead lighting to be too harsh, but you also want people to be able to see what they’re eating,” says Baxley.
Candles, she says, are great for setting the mood, but it’s best to steer clear of the scented variety. “The whole point is for people to smell the good food you’re making,” she points out. “I wouldn’t want to cut into turkey and smell Hawaiian breeze.”
If your overhead lighting is hopelessly bright (think interrogation scene) or nonexistent (e.g., occult seance vibes), it might be worth taking a trip to Lexington Glassworks. This walk-in studio, located in a former full-service garage on South Lexington Avenue, was founded by artists Billy Guilford and Geoff Koslow in 2015. In addition to offering hand-blown cups, bowls, vases and other accent pieces, the shop also sells custom traditional and cluster chandeliers that artfully intertwine playful spherical, tapered and tulip shapes with luminous colors like manganese blue, honey gold and sap green.
If you’ve been reading this story and thinking to yourself, “Ain’t nobody got money for that,” or “Shoot, I don’t even have matching dishware or silverware,” do not pass go, just immediately visit The Regeneration Station off Thompson Street. You’re going to want to give yourself at least an hour (or three) to pick through this eclectic, 36,000-square-foot treasure trove of upcycled, repurposed, salvaged and consigned goodies.
While this secondhand bazaar is known for its funky furniture and artwork, you can find plenty of vintage dishware, silverware, tablecloths, wine glass sets, napkin ring holders and beyond — some proudly on display and others hiding in the nooks and crannies of the more than 70 permanent vendor booths that occupy the space. Pro tip: If the item is priced over $100, haggling and negotiating are welcome.