This holiday season, you don’t have to live in Downton Abbey to sup in a dining room that’s fit for nobility. When I decorated my dining room for my annual Holiday Open House, I followed seven simple steps to infuse the space with the feel of an English manor house.
1. Classic Yet Simple Place Settings
When I decorate my dining room for the holidays or for each new season, I pick a theme and bring it to life, starting with the place settings. While I knew I wanted this year’s table to be a nod to English style, I also wanted it to be edited, approachable. So I started simply, using a wool Tartan throw blanket as my tablecloth, instead of a more formal white tablecloth. I will never, ever grow tired of Tartan plaid. Especially during the holidays. Especially in my dining room, which, with its masculine moorings, Twilight blue walls and traditional furnishings, just screams to be accented in this timeless fabric.
Since the plaid table topper was rich with color and pattern, I went with a simple, classic set of dishes so the table wouldn’t feel busy or overdone. One of our techniques at Nell Hill’s is to mix formal and informal together, so these unassuming placemats were a great pick to pair with this brand new Spode china pattern, which features iconic images like pheasants and deer.
2. A Lavish but Livable Centerpiece
If you know me, you know my history of going BIG when it comes to creating centerpieces for my holiday table. This year, I restrained myself a bit. I wanted a centerpiece that flowed throughout the table space, was loaded with drama yet loose enough to allow for cross-table conversation. I went “shopping” in my home for pieces to use in the centerpiece, and zeroed in on the gold altar sticks I always keep on my fireplace mantel. I think they look sublime atop my red plaid cloth. The soft shimmer of the sticks was echoed in the etched silver ball we placed on an iron urn, resting on a nest of a pine wreath. The silver deer, tucked into the scene, were the perfect finish.
I used these gorgeous balls in displays all over my home this year – they are so elegant and unassuming, all you have to do is place them on a bed of pine.
3. A Chandelier that Lightens the Spirits
A decorated chandelier takes a beautifully appointed room to the next level. We kept this treatment tightly tucked to the center of the chandelier, compact and powerful. We started with a mix of faux pine picks. I like how the different tones of green set each other off. The more you mix the colors in faux arrangements like these, the more lifelike they look. The frost-covered sticks give the arrangement a wilder feel, while the symmetrical strands of ribbon keep it civil.
4. Chairs that Won’t be Upstaged
While I don’t change out my dining chairs with each season, I do swap out custom seat covers when the weather turns cold, replacing the linen seats with covers made of yummy plaid. This simple switcheroo makes my dining room feel new, and it allows the chairs to do their part to contribute to the overall splendor of the room. When I entertain, I love to decorate the backs of the dining chairs with some intriguing element that will make guests smile. This year, I picked stockings we custom designed to benefit Haitian orphans served by The Global Orphan Project. I inserted a bottle of wine in each stocking, a gift of holiday cheer for guests. These stockings are fabulous decorating tools and also make perfect gifts. And every penny of profit from their sale is used by The GO Project to help orphaned and abandoned kids in Haiti.
5. Service Tables that Shine
When you decorate your dining room, don’t stop at your table. Dress the service tables as well. I just added this three-tiered server to my dining room, in the corner usual reserved for a Christmas tree. I liked the idea of filling it full of food we couldn’t fit on the table, saving us trips to the kitchen.
This silver set holds court on this table year round, so to give it a holiday feel, I just added greens.
Normally, a piece of contemporary artwork hangs over my buffet. But I switched it with this pastoral painting from the upstairs hallway. I thought it did a marvelous job of contributing to my English manor theme.
6. Gobs of Gorgeous Garland
All great holiday displays start with gorgeous greens. In my book, high quality, lifelike garland is one of the smartest places to invest your holiday decorating dollars because it can be used year after year in myriad ways. For my open house this year, I went crazy with garland, using thick ropes of faux pine to crown the tops of my interior doors, trace the lines of my banister and accent the windows in my dining room.
Holiday ribbon is another smart investment. It provides a lovely finish to any display, whether it’s threaded through holiday greens, tied around the top of a lantern or holding a wreath in place on your front door. And when the season is over, roll it up and reuse it next year.
7. Beautiful Details Finish the Design
Sometimes when you are designing a room, it’s the last little details that provide the exclamation point, driving the space up the drama scale. Instead of just lining up bottles of wine on the buffet, we decided to let them contribute to the beauty of this room by inserting them into a blue and white cachepot holding a simple arrangement of pine picks.
Who can resist the allure of a wrapped gift? I know I can’t! That’s why I like to include small take-home gifts when I decorate my dining room for entertaining. This simply wrapped gift holds chocolate dipped candy cane stirrers, perfect for a steaming cup of coffee. Take home gifts don’t cost much, but they are a delight for guests.
Next Week … Plaid isn’t just for the holiday season. You can use this classic pattern to warm up your home decor all winter long.
Lisa Fernandez saysDecember 16, 2013 at 1:57 pm
Mary Carol, this has to be the most beautiful post of your Dinning table and Dinning room I have seend. Stunning. I bought that same ribbon when I visited you last year. Oh I love it so and used it all over my home, something about plaid that just says Christmas doesn’t it? I love it. And my silver balls outdoor were a hit at my party on Saturday. We had a storm but everyone came and almost everyone slept over. Ahhhhh! But the entire time they were commenting on my trees and where i got my ideas from, and my lanterns and decor and all I said was “Nell Hill”.
You are a blessing.
Happy Christmas lovely lady!
Peace love and joy be with you and your family and the entire Nell Hill group.
Ramon saysDecember 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm
This was my ultimate favorite room this year, I remember I ran true the house to get to the dining room, after what they had done for fall I was not sure how you would top that off but when I stepped thru the door I could not believe my eyes, words can’t describe the beauty of those greens adorning the windows and side boards, just stunning,
I have been telling everyone that will hear about the garlands I bought on my last visit to nell hills , the make a huge difference from having a flat tree or a more realistic tree.
I can not thank you and your team enough for keeping me inspired.
Diane Chapman saysDecember 16, 2013 at 3:37 pm
I love everything that you do but this is by far the most beautiful, elegant and simple. Have you written a book just for Christmas decorating or am I so new to your blog that I am unaware.
Again, thank you and Merry Christmas!!
Joan saysDecember 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm
Her book, O Christmas Tree, is the centerpiece of the Christmas arrangment on our secretary each year.
franki saysDecember 16, 2013 at 5:37 pm
It is beautiful, beautiful! We’ve lived in our English Tudor 42 years and it has been a “treat” to entertain. Soon, we move, downsizing, etc. Good times to ALL! franki
Diane Oster saysDecember 16, 2013 at 6:02 pm
I loved the tartan plaid throw in the middle of the table. Where oh
where did it come from ?
Bobbie Pullen saysDecember 17, 2013 at 12:14 am
The room is festive and lovely. It puts me in the mood for season 4 of Downton Abbey. Thank you.
Joyce McNabb saysDecember 17, 2013 at 7:50 am
Yikes! Something has happened in this week’s transmission. The photos do not come up with the captions. I could only see them by bringing them up one-by-one, and then I was missing the text. Is this just my computer acting up, or is something different in the transmission on your end? I love the column, and hate to miss it in its usual format. –Joyce
Joyce McNabb saysDecember 17, 2013 at 7:54 am
Yikes! Something has gone wrong in the transmission of this week’s blog. The photos do not come up with the text and had to be retrieved one-by-one, sans text. Is this my computer acting up, or is something different in the transmission on your end? I love the column, and hate missing its usual format. — Joyce
Joyce McNabb saysDecember 17, 2013 at 7:57 am
Yikes! Something has gone wrong with the transmission of this week’s blog. The photos did not come up with the text. Is this my computer acting up, or is something different in the transmission on your end? I love the column, and hate missing its usual format. — Joyce
Mary Carol saysDecember 17, 2013 at 8:52 am
Thanks, everyone, for the kind comments. We had lots of fun decorating this room this year – it’s always fun to think of what new to do in the dining room for an open house! Diane, as Joan noted, I’ve done two holiday decorating books: O Christmas Tree and Nell Hill’s: Christmas at Home. You can find them online or, definitely, at Nell Hill’s! Diane O., the plaid throws are from Nell Hill’s. We have quite a selection – you’ve got to come see, or call and we can ship, 877-746-4320.
Joyce, we did everything the same on our end for this week’s blog, so I’m guessing it’s your computer?
Hope you all are having a blessed holiday season!
Marilyn saysDecember 17, 2013 at 9:49 am
Love the Twilight paint. It would be perfect in my dining room. Where can I purchase it? Thanks.
Pamela saysDecember 17, 2013 at 10:03 am
Your English dining room is gorgeous. The details give it the feel of an English manor with some simple changes. Love it!!
Michelle saysDecember 17, 2013 at 4:57 pm
I just love all your Christmas decorating tips, everything is so beautiful! The photo with the glass Christmas ball outside in the urn is lovely! I clicked on the picture to enlarge it & what to my wondering eyes should appear? A little magical photographer living inside the ball taking pictures of us all! 🙂 It sure made me laugh & I will have a huge smile on my face the rest of the day! I live in Texas & only get to visit the store several times a year but when we come to KC your store is the first thing on our list. Thank you so much for all you do & share! God bless & have a wonderful Christmas!
Donna Hennings saysDecember 17, 2013 at 9:25 pm
I would love to know the paint color of the blue walls in the dining room. Really pretty! Thanks
Mary Carol saysDecember 18, 2013 at 9:27 am
Donna and Marilyn, the paint in my dining room is “Twilight,” one of colors in my Mary Carol Artisan Paint line. You can purchase the paint at both Nell Hill’s locations, and we have little sample packs you can get to test the color first. Give us a call at 877-746-4320 for more information.
Marilyn McKenzie saysDecember 18, 2013 at 11:57 am
I’d love to be invited to your home for any meal. Definitely feel like a Princess. Your home is soooo beautiful !
Linda Alden saysDecember 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm
Oh my….your dining room made my heart beat fast! Much better than chocolate!!!
Bob Stewart saysDecember 19, 2013 at 1:52 pm
Great blog. You connected with me on several levels.
I am the National Sales Manager for Heritage Lace and the newest licensee of Downton Abbey products.(pillows, table linens, tea towels and runners, some apparel, curtains, etc.)
I loved what you said and how you said it.
Perhaps, if you have time when you are at the Atlanta Show, you will drop into our Heritage Lace / Downton Abbey Showroom. Building 1 – 9E1.
It’s the booth with butlers and maids in period costume.
Diane Stewart saysDecember 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm
How do you affix the faux greens to the chandelier without harming the surface?
Robin Frank saysDecember 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm
Been in the Nell Hills at Briarcliff store couple times this week and I haven’t seen it more beautiful !!! Girls you are missing the most fabulous store in the country !!!! Fly … Drive … But get there !!! MERRY CHRISTMAS to all and especially you dear Mary Carol . Thank you for signing the books for me …. Robin
susanbetweennapsontheporch saysJanuary 13, 2014 at 7:54 am
Hi Mary Carol,
Is there anyway posts could be created with larger photos? I love your style and would love to get a better view. The tiny pics are so hard to see. I tried clicking on the photos to enlarge them but when I clicked on the first photo in the post, it turned sideways. 🙁
Lucinda saysJanuary 18, 2014 at 8:05 pm
Love your blog but have trouble see the pictures and I can’t seem to enlarge them. I see Susan above me is having the same issue.
Mary Carol saysJanuary 20, 2014 at 1:00 pm
If you just double click on the picture it should enlarge it for you. Enjoy!
Janet saysFebruary 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm
Just love your style!! May I ask where you find jumbo sized mercury glass ornaments? I have looked everywhere without any luck. They are just perfect!