SHERIDAN — Whether your decor is modern or natural, Victorian or chic, the most important thing when setting your holiday table is not how the table looks but how the people around it feel.

Experts from Martha Stewart to Barefoot Contessa say food and the table settings are tied when it comes to hosting holiday events, but local experts add that paying special attention to your guests is key.

“A beautiful table space is a full table surrounded by my friends and family smiling, laughing and loving one another, and it isn’t so much about the color of my table runner and place settings,” Kathy Bede, owner of Verdello Olive Oils and Fine Foods said.

That said, a beautiful space helps create a welcoming ambiance for your guests. Bede said that she chooses a theme and pays attention to the small details when developing a table space.

“Having one theme, whether it is traditional or taking a new twist on the traditional, creates consistency for the table space,” Bede said.

Taking the time to pay attention to small details can make a huge impact on your guests, she said. Details may come in the form of specializing a place setting for each guest, having a parting gift prepared or incorporating family pieces into your table setting.

At her own table, each family member has a painted wine glass that remains at Bede’s home. Over the years, her family members have chosen a wine glass that in some way represents a piece of who they are, she said.

“When they come over for family dinners or holidays, their wine glass is set out. It may seem like a small thing, but it has come to take on a special meaning for all of us when we get together,” Bede said.

Myca Sturtevant of Whirly Girl Flowers said that when she imagines her own holiday table, she thinks of beautiful but unobtrusive objects, with a touch of nature at every setting.

“Beautiful candlesticks don’t take up a lot of space, but they create an ambiance that is lost with an overhead light,” Sturtevant said.

She suggests incorporating a bit of greenery into each place setting.

“Pay attention to small things. If you’re using cloth napkins and you have your napkin set on your plate, add a small sprig of fresh rosemary next to it,” Sturtevant said — or use cuttings from your own plants.

“I have a Boston fern that lives in my house in winter and outside in the summer, and it would be really easy to nip off a couple of pieces and put one on everyone’s napkins,” she said.

The most important thing at any table is the people, she continued, so objects on the table should not distract from the people.

“If something on your table is going to distract (people), then it is probably too much,” Sturtevant said. “I always think about how people will interact with an object, and where people are going to be sitting in relation to it.”

“I wouldn’t create something that would be hard for people to see around or talk over,” she said. “Traditionally, if you’re going to have any sort of decorum, you want it to be low—with the exception of candles, which are low profile even if they’re tall. They don’t take a lot of visual space.”

Though it may seem obvious, this means keeping all flowers and plants from blocking people sitting across from one another.

Bede said the linchpin to every event she hosts is the food she brings to the table. That does not mean the food has to be extravagant.

“The simplest recipes are usually the ones that get devoured first,” she said.

Most of Bede’s favorite holiday recipes are family ones that she’s added to over the years.

“When I make these recipes and share them with my guests, I feel a small presence of those who aren’t with us any longer,” she said. “I’m lucky to have those family recipes, but I must emphasize, in my opinion, it is never too late to start new recipes and traditions with those around you.”

And after all the decorating, the table setting, the food prepping and the cooking, the most important moment of all is when the food is served.

“Seeing and smelling the food — it draws and pulls your guests to the table,” Bede said.

By Carrie Haderlie

news@thesheridanpress.com