Wherever you look this holiday season, you will find a wealth of decorations inspired by nature. These offer irresistible opportunities for creating festive table settings that are as casual or elegant as your tastes.
Start with the place settings: Woodland motifs dress up the newest fine china and ceramics.
For example, Tiffany & Co.'s newest holiday pattern in bone china combines cherry-red ribbons with pine cones, acorns and pears. Herron Village Pottery has a stunning ceramic, hand-painted with a grapevine motif in rich yellow and purple.
Resist the urge to create all-of-one-kind settings from these designs. The trend is to mix and match to create an exciting, eclectic look.
Try setting a traditional floral-patterned salad plate atop a contemporary striped or banded dinner plate. Offset them with a larger solid or metallic service plate. Use the table linens and floral arrangement to tie the look together.
Combine heirlooms with contemporary pieces, "With the more casual dining of the '90s," says Liz Francheschini, vice president at Tiffany & Co., "people have been mixing the old with the new."
When mixing china patterns, use pieces that are of similar quality. Do not combine heavy ceramics or stoneware with fine porcelain, for example.
The easiest way to make an eclectic look work is to use a single color scheme for all elements of the table setting, suggests Don Ernstein, author of "The Complete Party Book."
Centerpieces chosen from nature make dramatic crowning touches.
Home-and-garden celebrity Martha Stewart says she's using found objects, "such as acorns, Osage oranges, seed pods from things like Siberian iris, dried rose buds" with metallic Christmas balls and ribbons.
Collect vines such as grape or honeysuckle, which can be displayed in their natural state or sprayed gold and then wound down the center of the table or the buffet, suggests Eleanor Oster of Whittin & Oster Floral Stylists in Baltimore.
Joseph Cunningham, director of San Francisco-based Atmospheres, an event styling company, finds inspiration in the garden. Last summer, he planted hydrangea bushes in his back yard; he uses the flowers, fresh or dried, natural or sprayed gold, for holiday decorations.
Let your holiday table be a festive place that brings together the beauty of the season with the bounty of nature.
JULIE ROTHMAN is a food stylist in Baltimore.
Guardino - Page 14: Dinner and salad plates in Giardino pattern by Deruta, and George Jensen hand-hammered silver flatware at Gallery 1330. Gold-stemmed flute and goblet at Pottery Barn. Mexican green water glass with butterfly; ceramic vegetables; gold-leaf candle holders; ceramic gourd salt and pepper shakers and tapestry runner at Gallery 1330.
WINTER GAME BIRDS - Page 14: Dinner and salad plates and cup and saucer by Lynn Chase, Winter Game Birds pattern, at Creative Specialties. Sterling silver flatware, Provence pattern, at Tiffany & Co. Crystal goblet, red wine glass and flute by Baccarat at Creative Specialties. White cut-work cloth available for rental at Party Cloths.
VINEYARD - Page 14: Dinner plate, cup and saucer in Vineyard pattern and salad plate in Crispin pattern, by Herend Village Pottery; and Italian green lace service plate; all at Gallery 1330. Hand-forged silver and bone flatware by Scoff at Gallery 1330. Green flute and goblet at Pier One. Crystal footed bowl (holding grapes) and gold-leaf place-card holder at Crate & Barrel. Lalique deer at Gallery 1330.
HOLIDAY - Page 15: Gold papier-mache service plate at The Hecht Co. Emerald-green dinner plate by Wedgwood, Royal Court pattern, at Creative Specialties. Salad plate by Tiffany, Holiday pattern, at Tiffany & Co. Silverplate flatware by Christofle, Rubans pattern, at Creative Specialties. Manhattan pattern ball goblets at Creative Specialties. White damask cloth and napkins available for rental at Party Cloths.
GOLD STARS - Page 15: Cobalt blue glass service platter and gold-rimmed, blue, glass salad plate at Crate & Barrel. Dinner and salad plates in white with gold stars, at Pier One. Nordika pattern flatware at Crate & Barrel. Orrefors red stars Champagne flute at Gallery 1330. Blue-stem goblet at Crate & Barrel. Cobalt blue votives at Crate & Barrel. Cobalt blue star and moon votives at Pier One. Blue glass bud vases at Crate & Barrel. Star garlands at Crate & Barrel.