Getting ready to deck the halls? Aren’t we all — as we collectively, but oh-so-cheerfully, lose our minds in the process. Fear not, weary revelers. To help get you started, we asked Emmy-nominated television host, bestselling author and lifestyle expert extraordinaire Mar Jennings of Westport for his take on trends to consider when decorating that one element in your home everyone is bound to gather round: the holiday table. Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Everything! Now, would you please pass those cookies?

We’re bringing back the centerpiece

Once upon a time it might have been OK to “plop some flowers in a vase and call it a day,” Jennings says. These are not those days. Today, centerpieces “are a focal point as opposed to an afterthought.” A well-appointed centerpiece, he adds, should be a “reflection” of your personality. “Be creative, be resourceful and let the opportunity empower you.” Let that centerpiece say, “This is my table; this is who I am.”

Nurture nature

So, you’ve ditched the vase. Please don’t start thinking about a compact arrangement of flowers. “Tabletop décor is becoming much more creative.” Yes, Mother Nature is still our No. 1 resource, but it’s all about what Jennings calls “the magic of the mix.” We’re talking organic elements like acorns, richly textured branches laden with lichen, a striking piece of driftwood, boxwood trim, even pinecones and loose evergreen boughs.

The layered look

A holiday feast is “more of an ‘experience’ than just a meal.” One that contains myriad layers — as should your tablescape. First off, “a traditional white cloth does not need to be the standard.” It could be a bold color you bring in, a comfy texture like burlap or perhaps something unexpected like a runner fashioned from vintage wallpaper. And then you build your layers from there: placemats, chargers, perhaps a new set of salad plates to liven things up. ... “Don’t be afraid to grab your guests’ attention.”

It’s the little things

There are two “musts” for the tabletop, according to Jennings: that aforementioned centerpiece and the accessories (think place cards, napkin rings …) to complement said pièce de résistance. “People want to be told where to sit.” Place cards, which are “coming back in fun and creative ways,” are a “fantastic way to bring a little surprise to the table.” Consider terra-cotta pots, wine corks, handsome leaves or even tiny frames with a sketch of each guest (which went over big at a recent Jennings soirée).


Little touches like hand-drawn sketches for seat assignments can make all the difference.

Past perfect

“Breaking bread together ties the past to the present. How wonderful to have things on your table that reflect that journey.” Yes, that could mean taking the time to pull out your (or maybe even grandma’s) wedding china, but this is the time to “dig deep.” Dad’s toy soldiers, seashells from that family trip to the Hamptons, your vintage Matchbox cars ... when it comes to holiday tabletop décor, “the only rule is that there are no rules.”

Keep it cas’

“People are uncomfortable with formality.” His goal is what he calls “casual luxury,” which personalizes and lightens the formality of yesterday. “You want people to enjoy themselves.” So, yes, use the “good stuff,” but don’t be afraid to mix and match. “Together, it tells a wonderful story.”

Color us happy

“We steered away from the reds and greens for a while, but color is coming back to the table.” What color? “It’s almost a ‘parade’ of color.” Reds and greens, silvers and golds … even more important is the shimmer. “People are embracing light and reflection,” and we’re not just talking candlelight. One of Jennings’ favorite dinners featured a “forest” of green lit with tiny twinkle lights that offered what he calls “a whole different look and illumination.”

This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get the latest and greatest content from Connecticut Magazine delivered right to your inbox. Got a question or comment? Email, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.