Inspiration for Thanksgiving and Fall Dinners

There’s the Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving. Beautiful, perfect. Then … there is the Garrity Thanksgiving. Not so beautiful, not so perfect. In fact, after the last friends and relatives wobble out our door after a raucous day of thanks, my home is more fit for a hazmat unit than a photo shoot. I guess that’s what happens when you pack 30 loud and fun-loving Irish Catholics into a small cottage, open lots of bottles of wine and unleash the blarney.

So, needless to say, my home was not my first choice for a blog on setting a beautiful table for Thanksgiving. But my friend Lisa’s home is. The day we invited ourselves over to photograph her home, Lisa’s dining room was so lovely, I knew we had to do one last blog about it this fall. Her table is great inspiration for a fall or Thanksgiving dinner.

My favorite thing about Lisa’s dining room is how gracious, yet intimate, it is. It’s the kind of room you want to linger in. One of her secrets is to mix together interesting furnishings and accents, including great antiques she’s discovered on her treasure hunts. One wall of her dining room is filled with a stunning antique cabinet that is packed full of her enviable collection of dishes. I wish Lisa would set up a dish lending library, because I would be one of her most earnest patrons, showing up with my library card to check out stacks of dishes on a regular basis.

Thanksgiving at Lisa’s house is a time for family. Lisa’s husband Jon is the chef for the day, preparing rotisserie grilled beef tenderloin, smoked turkey breast and smoked mashed potatoes. While Jon focuses on the feast, Lisa creates a visually stunning table, one of her favorite things to do. That’s where you see her art director skills at their finest.

On the main level of her home, Lisa has stayed true to a warm color palette that blends shades of brown. For her fall table, she starts with a rust colored plaid blanket as a table topper, then layers up with wicker chargers and a mix of dishes.

Lisa is a fanatic about details, and she has an exquisite eye, instinctively knowing how much to add and when to stop. In her dining room, your eye dances from place to place, as you try to drink it all in.

Back in the day, I used to set a beautiful table for Thanksgiving, too. (The photos above and below are of my home in Atchison, from my book, Entertaining in Style.) Dan was busy in the kitchen, using every pot and pan we owned to create a traditional feast, and a mess. I unleashed my creativity on the table. But then, as our family grew, so did the number of folks around our table. I wanted everyone to be seated together, because that’s when the magic happens, so we had to abandon our dining room because we couldn’t all fit. We moved the celebration to our living room, pushing all the furniture against the walls to make room for an ad hock banquet table that stretched down the center of the room.

Today, we have the same number of guests, but in a much smaller space at the lake. We’ll gather again this year in the cottage next door, where my mom lived at the end of her life, now lovingly called Mary Lou’s Cottage. I have long since given up on attempting a picture-perfect Thanksgivings for our crew. We purchase a pre-cooked turkey and everyone brings a dish to share. I make beautiful centerpieces, but cheat on the place settings. This year, I’m looking into attractive disposable plates so we don’t have to do all those dishes. Despite the compromises in style, the heart of our celebration will still be the same. And, when my crazy family leaves, I will still need to hose down the room!

Next Week … We’re heading out to the country to peek in on my friend Linda’s barn, dressed for a farm-to-table dinner party.