Local Designer Shares Top Tips for Festive Holiday Entertaining

November 11, 2021

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Text by Kristin Amico

This year, the holidays will sparkle a little brighter with the return of in-person gatherings. Whether you are hosting an intimate get-together or a large fête, deck the halls (and dining room) with this year’s top design trends.

Diana James, designer and proprietor of the Marblehead, Massachusetts shop Living Swell, offers design and entertaining tips to create a festive and inviting gathering space.

Create a Dramatic Focal Point

“Go big with one oversized tablescape or centerpiece,” says James. “That makes a more significant impact rather than having lots of objects spread out across a room.”

To create a central focus, style objects at the center of a large table, buffet, or countertop alongside a selection of snacks and cocktails to draw people to selected areas of your home.

Pro tip: Embrace this year’s maximalist trend to create the sense of overabundance we are all craving. Use oversized objects or large clusters of similar objects—like an entire tray of candles instead of just one.

Showcase the Bar

“Go for glamour in the bar area. Use your best silver and crystal to create a shimmering display,” says James.

Even if you don’t have a dedicated bar at home, create an entertaining area that functions as the central bar location. Combine style and function when creating the space. Use reflective bar surfaces such as a mirror behind the bar area, or a mirrored tray to hold glasses and bottles. Help guests keep their drinks cold with stylish ice buckets, and for those who love mixed drinks, use a cocktail shaker that is as pretty as it is functional.

Pro tip: Bar carts are the must-have accessory of the year. Choose from minimalist midcentury options to gilded carts in gold or bronze. The carts add a pop of design flair, and they’ll also help you keep your cocktail station tidy.

Choose Natural Materials

Bring the outdoors inside for a cozy atmosphere. Decorate your entertaining space with plants or a large topiary display, which James recommends accessorizing with soft lighting to amp up the winter mood.

“Don’t be afraid to mix faux greenery with natural floral or botanical accessories to create an oversized display. Wherever you are, on the coast or in a more woodsy environment, incorporate the native shades of greenery to create a customized display that’s unique to your location,” explains James.

Pro tip: Go foraging in the yard (or a local farmers market) for accessories like decorative birch or fir branches, or bunches of willowy beach grass. Additionally, add a pop of color using seasonal elements like whole pomegranates or gourds into your displays.

Set the Mood with Lighting

“Soft lighting fosters an inviting space that makes your guests feel at home. It also creates an intimate atmosphere even with a larger group,” advises James.

To accomplish holiday mood lighting, choose warm-toned options. String golden-tinged fairy lights along windows or interweave them through topiary displays. Gather a grouping of pillar candles and place them on a mirrored tray for reflective sparkle. And if you have a fireplace, use it to keep the room warm and glowing in golden shades.

Pro tip: Take advantage of any available natural light and plan your mood lighting around that. For nighttime gatherings, use a dimmer switch or turn off bright home lights.

Pulling it All Together

While maximalism is on trend, you should still follow design principles to artfully tie everything together. James recommends adhering to a few pointers.

Use a limited color palette. While the size and abundance of objects may be big, balance it out with a handful of curated colors. If you like luxe, go with silver and gold, or choose jewel tones. If you prefer a more rustic vibe, incorporate browns, greens and neutrals into the decor.

Scale is key. Keep the size of your accessories and centerpieces relatively the same size, and style them in a room in a way that feels balanced to the overall proportion of your home.

“Most importantly, use holiday design to further complement your own style aesthetic. Entertaining should be fun, tying together people, food, and drink. You can use the right design elements to enhance a memorable atmosphere for your guests,” says James.

Living Swell, Marblehead, Mass., livingswell.com