By Wendy Mihm | Tuesday November 9, 2010
Recently, there was a frantic knocking on my front door. Annoyed, I yanked it open, expecting yet another salesperson imploring me to subscribe to the Los Angeles times.
It was my next door neighbor, whom I adore, and who is the well-respected head of a great little private school down the street. She was in a total panic, which was unusual.
“You’ve got to help me!”
Fortunately my husband was out with both kids, so I actually could just drop everything to help. She grabbed my elbow, and practically dragged me straight into her dining room. There were napkins, runners, flowers, branches, bowls, votives, and candles strewn about the dining room table. I could smell dinner simmering on the stove.
“You’ve got people coming over…?” I guessed.
“Work people. Six o’clock.” It was 5:40. She shrugged. “I have no idea what to do with the table!”
Fortunately she already had everything she needed. In fact, she had too much, which was the problem she didn’t recognize. We shoo’ed her curious kids back into the yard and got to work. I shared with her my three simple rules to quick, elegant and inexpensive centerpieces.
Rules for Inexpensive Elegant Centerpieces
1) Keep them low. Your guests will actually want to talk to each other while they eat, rather than awkwardly try to see around gigantic, expensive centerpieces.
2) Choose one or two colors that work well together and edit everything else out.
3) Repeat, repeat, repeat. You see this time and again with elegant designers. They pick one beautiful design element – apples, leaves, small pumpkins, one type of flower, old style milk jugs – and they repeat it. This creates a look of abundance and it can be stunning.
So my neighbor and I did this. We chose deep red and pink as our two colors for all the elements and then edited everything else out. We trimmed down a bunch of pink flowers from both of our gardens very low and put them in a low, square red vase. The key to making this centerpiece special was to trim the flowers so low that the buds barely peek out of the container itself. Voila! A gorgeous centerpiece!
Next, we focused on the napkins and runners. We edited down to our chosen color scheme of pink and red and used her plain white china plates and beautiful, simple silverware. Then we put a pink bloom on each guest’s plate, added a few low white tea light candles, turned down the lights and badda bing! The room was stunning!
I thought she was going to cry. But it was easy and fun to create the simple, elegant inexpensive centerpiece by following the three rules.
And after all the times I’d tapped her for child-reading advice, it was nice to return the favor.
Sure, you’re thinking, it was easy because she already had a vase, nice napkins and a table runner, and we both had flowers blooming in our gardens.
But just remember the three simple rules, then look at what you already have, and be creative with what you see at Trader Joe’s or Target. A big pile of green apples can look beautiful in that wooden salad bowl you already have. Or how about a bunch of giant candy canes (that you buy for a couple of bucks in the candy section) sticking out of a red or white container (stuffed on the inside with Styrofoam or play-doh so they stick up straight) that’s topped with torn cotton balls to look like snow? Poof! The North Pole on your dining room table. Then put one candy cane on each person’s plate, scatter a few tea light candles and call it a dinner party.
By following the three simple rules above, thinking carefully about what you already have, and being creative with basic, elements you can find at the store, you really can create inexpensive, simple centerpieces.
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