Kelly Wearstler Shares Her Top Tips for Creating a Dramatic Winter Tablescape

·4-min read
Photo credit:  Joyce Park
Photo credit: Joyce Park

For designer Kelly Wearstler, holiday decor is more than just about decking out a tree or a holiday table. It’s about really going for it and setting a scene. Not surprisingly, the L.A. design superstar has a knack for creating unique, trend-forward holiday schemes (just see her abstract Christmas tree idea). This year, in lieu of a traditional evergreen woodland, Wearstler conjured a moody black forest that is striking in appearance yet deviously simple in its execution. Below, this consummate host breaks down the look for us and shares her top tips for creating a memorable meal for the holidays and beyond.

Photo credit:  Joyce Park
Photo credit: Joyce Park

Do: Ditch the Red and Green

Tables this time of year tend to rely on yuletide’s time-honored palette. And while there’s nothing wrong with the nostalgic color combo, Wearstler challenges hosts to be creative and do something unique. “I steer away from tradition and common notions of holiday tablescapes,” she says. “When I host dinner parties this time of year, I hope to surprise my guests and give them a new experience.” This season, she dreamed up a refreshingly icy-cool twist on a wintery theme using a crackled glass table and bold black and white accessories.

Do: Select Striking Pieces

For this particular tablescape, Wearstler drew inspiration from a Black Forest–themed table setting from the German company Dibbern. “The striking branches of the barren trees immediately placed me in the winter season,” she says. “I kept the overall table setting minimal, with no tablecloth and lots of black accents to echo the tree.”

Photo credit:  Joyce Park
Photo credit: Joyce Park

She built her place settings from there, stacking the plates to build dimension and framing them with matte black cutlery. The graphic look continues from the minimal glassware to the Biedermeier candlesticks, which, per Wearstler, “feel both antique and modern at the same time. They’re timeless. I love those paired with the dark charcoal taper candles.”

Do: Use What You Have

Just because you want to do something different doesn’t mean you need to run out and buy all-new everything. Wearstler recommends using what you have, both inside and outside. “Think outside of the box,” she advises. “I’m often just pulling things from around my house when I’m entertaining and want to create an interesting table. Whether it’s an interesting vessel, a small sculpture, or plants from the garden, we often have so much at our fingertips that we don’t necessarily think would be tabletop decor.”

Photo credit:  Joyce Park
Photo credit: Joyce Park

Don’t: Try to Match Everything

It may seem counterintuitive, but a bit of contrast helps to produce a unified scheme; you don’t want to be too matchy-matchy. Though Wearstler’s holiday decor is largely black, white, and contemporary, she made sure to bring in a touch of warmth through details like the cream-colored napkins and the textured candlesticks, and to mix materials like glass and ceramic “so it doesn’t feel too planned.”

She adds: “I’m always finding ways to incorporate something old with something new and to add beautiful plants or flowers.”

Do: Map Out Your Elements

Before you put everything in its place on a holiday table, figure out a practical layout. That starts with the design of the centerpiece (in this case, Wearstler chose bare branches) and then the individual place settings. “Once all of those are placed around the table, you can build out—place the flatware, glasses, and then the napkins on the outside of the fork,” she explains. “Then you can pepper the candlesticks around the table as a single stick or in small groups.”

Photo credit:  Joyce Park
Photo credit: Joyce Park

There are no hard and fast rules for centerpieces, according to the designer, but remember that it is the element that will make your scheme feel cohesive. “I am often opting for height to bring a note of drama, which also creates some intimacy at a larger table,” Wearstler notes.

Don’t: Banish the Kids

While the most fastidious of holiday hosts might resort to a separate kids’ table, Wearstler encourages adults to include younger guests in the main dining experience. “Bringing family together is what the holidays are about! It should not be too precious,” she says. “Invite them to help by writing name tags or assisting with the floral installation.”

Wearstler, for her part, is planning this year to enjoy a relaxing holiday season at home with her family. And get excited, dinner guests: “I’ll definitely be making my cacio e pepe canapés, a recipe I created as part of my Pinterest series with legendary pizza-maker Daniele Uditi.”

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