Home blogger Bre Doucette had just propped the last mini pumpkin on her dining room table for her Thanksgiving-themed staging project, when a life-changing moment struck.
“My husband called just as I was getting ready to shoot photos,” said the creator of the Rooms for Rent blog. He asked what I was doing, and I blurted: ‘This is all I want to do for the rest of my life.’”
“You want to set tables for the rest of your life?” he asked to be sure he’d heard right.
“No!” she tried to explain. “Getting the table just right is about so much more.”
For Doucette, the moment sparked not only a professional epiphany but also a book: “The Gift of Gathering: Beautiful Tablescapes to Welcome and Celebrate Your Friends and Family.”
Out this month from Harvest House, just in time for Thanksgiving, the book features dining tables Doucette has dressed for every season. Alongside centerpieces and silverware, she dishes up heaping helpings of her philosophy.
“We have enough rushed meals throughout the year,” she said, when I called to talk about her book, and shamelessly get some ideas for my Thanksgiving table. “When you take the time to make the table special, you elevate the experience for everyone.”
Suffice it to say, she’s not a fan of eating dinner out of a Chinese takeout box in front of the television.
“I want the time we spend together during a meal to make everyone at the table feel as if they matter,” she said. “After all, the role of home is to build us up.”
Who can argue? After the hearth, the dining table is a home’s most symbolic feature. It’s where we eat, connect, celebrate, pray, toast, talk, bond, slip scraps to the dog, and, ideally, learn a few manners.
None of that is lost on Doucette.
As the year’s most symbolic dinner approaches, I thought it fitting to talk tables with someone who has given them a lot of thought. Here’s a snippet from our conversation:
Marni: What did you learn while writing this book?
Bre: How much I appreciated the lessons my Mom and Grandmother taught me growing up. When they asked me to help set the table, I used to roll my eyes. Now I understand the richness in that, and why we need to honor this act, because gathering around a table with family and friends is what we remember over a lifetime.
Marni: What do you wish more people knew or understood?
Bre: To those who say, “Why bother? That looks like a lot of work. What a waste of time,” I want to tell them that preparing a beautiful table is not a chore; it’s an act of love. You are showing those you care about that they’re welcome, and that there’s a place for them where they can slow down and fill their bellies and their souls.
Marni: One of my mantras is every day is all there is, so use the good stuff. What are your thoughts on using the good china and crystal often?
Bre: If we only take our fine china out for our guests, what message are we giving our family? On the other hand, my china, which was handed down to me, is not dishwasher safe. So I try to make meals special by using everyday white plates, because food looks better on them, and I will light candles, and serve drinks in stemware, which my kids (a son, 10, and a daughter, 8) think feels special.
Marni: When you set a table, how do you strike the right note between too fancy and too casual?
Bre: An overdressed table can make guests feel underdressed. To make sure my table doesn’t feel too elegant, I might use vintage glasses, pewter flatware, and casual cloth napkins. That’s not to say I won’t pull out the white faux fur runner on New Year’s Eve.
Marni: As a public service, would you please repeat your book’s message about putting food in pretty containers?
Bre: Certainly. Don’t put food on the table in the container it came in. Decant the jam into a jelly bowl. Take the berries out of their plastic cartons.
Marni: Did I miss something, or did you not use placemats in your book?
Bre: You’re right. I don’t have any placemats, but not because I don’t like them. I am drawn to the casualness of a bare exposed farmhouse table. If I want to add a layer, I pull in wood, stone, wicker or metal chargers, which add height, depth and texture.
Marni: Talk about the role skylines play in your tablescapes.
Bre: Centerpieces are more than a central detail. They should give the table depth and interest and keep the eye moving like a city skyline. Vary heights of candles, ornaments, florals and greenery to create an appealing silhouette.
Marni: How do you keep the table humble yet beautiful?
Bre: Mix the dishes. Putting a solid with a pattern, for instance, can make the table feel more accessible. When all the dishes match, the look can feel too stiff. And leave some tarnish. Don’t feel compelled to polish the brass or silver. Leaving some dirt on takes the pressure off.
Marni: What are your top Thanksgiving centerpiece tips?
Bre: Because it’s autumn, a bowl of apples with more apples spread across the table among bunched up burlap and greenery can work.
Or create a pumpkin patch and set muted orange, cream and white pumpkins around vases of mums, and tuck in some eucalyptus branches.
Marni: What is a successful table?
Bre: When everyone is sitting at the table well past when the meal is done because everything was so inviting. That is joy.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of five home and lifestyle books, including Downsizing the Family Home — What to Save, What to Let Go and the forthcoming — Downsizing the Blended Home — When Two Households Become One (Sterling Publishing, Dec. 2019). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.