Timeless Techniques for Christmas

While down in my basement trying to prepare for Christmas (but of course getting sidetracked in that rabbit warren of memories), I came across an old article, circa 2002, where I was suggesting table designs incorporating geographical influences. These seem as relevant now, as they were then….so I’ve decided to share with you.

Because we don’t all enjoy a holiday-card-worthy backdrop of glistening snow and evergreens, these four different tables, are based on the real, wonderful regions of this country. Despite our world getting smaller and smaller, we can still delight in our regional differences, and even more so, in borrowing from other’s traditions, and changing things up a little for the holidays!

I’m preparing for a Charleston Christmas, but will be going mainly with a mix of the Eastern and Southern themes (as defined below), interspersed with some CT and the Midwest, because you know I’m faithful to my roots! I will of course share some pictures after the big day.

Wishing you all peace and love in the lead up to the 25th,



Above: a close up of the Eastern fruit and flowers

An Eastern Christmas to me can be a more formal occasion, with cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and New York having their history of entertaining more closely tied to Europe, rather than the rugged frontier further west.  My table for the buffet in Charleston will be red, gold and silver with carnations, roses and red fruits (from Trader Joe’s of course!) I have used fruit forever in my table-scapes, first inspired from 17th c. Dutch flower paintings and an old book from Colonial Williamsburg.

Carnations have also been a Christmas staple for me since I featured  them in my first book A Passion for Flowers, published in 1997.  As an aside: the beautiful carnation had been much maligned in America as a cheap flower. After living in France I learned to love this beautiful, clove scented bloom.  When I returned to the States I decided to campaign on behalf of this flower, starting with my first book. Happy to see that 20 years later it no longer has the stigma it did have.

Elements : red grapes, Red Delicious apples, red plums, floral clay, red roses and mini carnations, string.

How To : Pile fruit, in containers of your choice, and hold together with floral clay – draping the grapes over the sides of the container is a nice touch.  Make small nosegays out of red spray roses and mini carnations (I tie the nosegays with string to hold together.)


Above: a photo from my first book 20 years ago celebrating carnations. As I have always said, “There are no bad flowers, only people who make bad arrangements.”



Above: a photo of  a detail of the table

Inspired by snow and pine forests, this northern setting is affordable and east to make. I love the scent of pine in the house at Christmas!

Elements : Seckel pears, grapes, apples, crabapples, limes, pinecones, wooden or metal picks for pinecones, evergreen boughs, Oasis, floral clay, floral tape, white spray snow.

How To : Spray the fruit with a heavy coat of white snow.  Spray a lighter coating of snow, on the  evergreen boughs and pinecones. Put a chunk of Oasis into a compote and affix with floral tape and clay as necessary to secure to bowl. Arrange sprayed greens around perimeter of compote and pile fruits in center, using floral clay to anchor them. Put metal or wooden picks in pinecones and affix them to Oasis core, interspersing them throughout centerpiece.



Above : a close up of the table – the menu cards and place cards carry on the pineapple motif

The pineapple, sourced in the west, (think Hawaii, California and the islands) is a symbolic sign of hospitality all over the States and takes one away from the traditional red and green.

Elements : Boxwood, Oasis, large and miniature pineapples, dried sheet moss, dowels or pencils, decorative baskets, plastic liners for baskets, scissors.

How To : Line baskets with moss and put a plastic liner inside each one. Fill liner with a piece of Oasis that has been soaked in water. Cut sprigs of Boxwood and stick them into Oasis, creating a topiary form. Clip to shape. Insert a wooden dowel or skewer into bottom of each pineapple and then push them into Oasis.

I have made these boxwood topiaries for years and years, and now you can buy the fake ones everywhere. As they are time consuming to make you could buy the fake ones and glue gun a pineapple to the top.

Below: one of my water colors was inspired by both the pineapple and oranges  shaped into a bowl combing the Southern and Western table-scapes. Constant themes and reinterpretations are fun see how things repeat them selves over and over in one’s work.





Above: a detail of table with a topiary motif in a Versailles box on the menu card

A warmer, Southern climate is reflected in topiaries of kumquats, lemons and limes. A fresh setting that works equally well in or outdoors.

Elements : Kumquats, lemons and lemon leaves, limes, dried sheet moss, spray adhesive, glue, styrofoam balls, floral wire, straight branches.

How To : Spray styrofoam balls with adhesive and cover with moss (the reason I do this is so you won’t see the white or green styrofoam between the kumquats.) Poke a hole in each ball, push in a branch that resembles the trunk of the topiary and glue gun to stabilize (the branch is about 1 inch in diameter and straight). Insert wire into kumquats to hold  them while the glue drys. Affix kumquats to ball and add in lemon leaves for an accent. Anchor topiaries in smaller moss-covered styrofoam ball and place in cachepots. Follow similar procedure for a centerpiece of stacked limes and lemons.



46 thoughts on “Timeless Techniques for Christmas

  1. Your post could not have come at a better time.. We will be hosting our first formal Christmas dinner in our new MO home. I started going through some of your books to get ideas for menus and table settings. I love all of them, of course and never though of fruit, I always have flowers for my centerpieces, and I do as well love carnations. Thanks for the inspiration and Merry Christmas.

    • Thanks Peter, and Merry Christmas to you. You really can’t beat a formal Christmas dinner! cr

    • Thank you Cynthia. Depends on the number of guests – I will do smaller dinners myself, but for anything larger I usually get a calligrapher. cr

  2. Hi Carolyne,

    I’ve been excited and waiting, certain you would give us table designs just before the X-mas holiday. I’ve followed you long enough to know that you regularly search antique stores and markets as part of your design work. Inspired by that, I practically exhausted myself trying to find the appropriate center piece container for flowers and fruit, which turned out to be a classically shaped pedestal brass bowl with lion-heads handles, inscribed 1942. Not part of the plan was an antique dealer accepting my cash offer for his 1880s cast seated Venus holding Cupid, an exquisitely rendered sculpture now on my marble stand. Honey child, you do cause trouble! Thanks so much – Virginia Billeaud Anderson

    • Dear Virginia—You made me laugh! Both centerpiece and the sculpture sound wonderful so enjoy them and use them often we must enjoy our beautiful things-we only have one life. I love looking for things and had hoped to go this week to Atlanta for the Scott’s antique fair which is supposed to be great fun! It apparently has lots of “stuff and junk,” but also there are wonderful things to find as well! Life was just too busy in this holiday season! Hope you table is a grand success! cr bye y’all!!!!

      • Hi Carolyne,

        I just published my new essay (short) inspired by our museum’s Degas exhibition, and think you might enjoy it. You can view it “shared” on the top of my facebook (Virginia Billeaud Anderson) or I could send you the link to the on-line article, which I won’t do without your permission.

        wishing you health and happiness as we enter the holidays – Virginia Billeaud Anderson

        • Virginia I shall most definitely look up! Thank you for sharing that info with me and congratulations! cr

  3. I love the carnations as well! The flowers were kept in every room in my grandfather’s house on the French Riviera. I buy them weekly here in Texas…

    • Glad there are other fans out there…..and what a beautiful memory from France for you! cr

  4. These lovely pictures bring back almost twenty-year old memories of seeing you in Grosse Pointe when I was active
    in GCA and flower arranging judging. I can still see you onstage wrestling with a very large pumpkin that was not cooperating with your efforts to insert some very nice chrysanthemums in it! You won;-) Your book is a classic.

  5. Beautiful table settings. You continue to inspire us all! Thank you! Wishing you a Beautiful Holiday Season!

  6. Promptly fainted after seeing those pictures,
    I’ll be copying some of your tablescapes to the best of my ability. I don’t have the tools or toys you do, so it will be a very paired down version. The fruit centerpiecees I can manage and the rest I’ll do with my “stuff”.
    Happy Christmas Carolyne. With you in mind I always keep happy. I’m forever reading your books. I have them all.
    Nobody inspires like Carolyne Rhoem. Thank you for this years blogs.

    • It is my pleasure Kem – thanks for your kind words….and I’m sure you will do a wonderful job of whichever setting you choose! cr

  7. “clove scented bloom” – who knew! Thank you for the timeless tips Carolyne. Peace and love to you.

  8. They are all beautiful, elegant tables but being from the Great White north, I would have to say the greenery with snow sprayed fruit is my favourite. I had never thought to spray fruit but will being doing so for my Christmas centrepiece this year.
    Have a wonderful Christmas, Carolyne!

  9. Lovely to see the carnations. Do you also wear the Caron perfume ‘Bellodgia’- take that divine smell with you. Wishing you the happiest of holidays!

    • Hi Alison—I had forgotten that wonderful old classic–you have inspired me to look for it!!! happy holidays cr

  10. Your tablescapes remind me of the joy and creativity of designing my Christmas tables with luscious fruit and flowers and candles and choosing which china and crystal to use. I haven’t done that since my husband died, unexpectedly, Christmas Day, soon-to-be six years ago. For the last few years my things have been in storage. A few months ago I bought a home I’ve been renovating. Construction tarps are everywhere, and it feels a bit like a war zone with berms made of sawhorses and stacks of limestone and marble. When it’s all done, I look forward to unpacking my things, setting a beautiful table and inviting my friends to dinner. I wish you a glorious Christmas filled with love. Brenda

    • Dear Brenda,
      I am sorry to hear about your husband. I realize the pain lessens but one carries that loss forever. I am happy to hear that you are now able to move forward with your life in a positive way….when your home is ready– enjoy, invite and use your lovely things—I am sure your husband would want that for you and your family. Merry Christmas. carolyne–

  11. I love all of the table settings you shared but specially Celebration in the East. I will be donig my best to recreate this setting. Thank you for sharing your talents. May you find great joy with your family and friends this

  12. Dear Carolyn,
    Thank you for so many beautiful pictures. Each one inspires me to do everything a little better and with more care and flair. Thank you. Kate

    • Kate, I couldn’t have put the reason I do this blog into better words than you have! Thank you, cr

  13. Dear Carolyne,

    How fabulous is the red and gold together. You have just solved my problem of which colour to have with my gold table decorations this year. I will use potted red poinsettias with tall gold candelabras entwined with gold leaves and pine cones.
    Can’t wait!!!

    Wishing you and your loved ones a merry Christmas and lots of wonderful happenings in the New Year.

    🎄🎄🎄 Marie 🎄🎄🎄

    • Dear Marie,
      Happy the post helped. I wish you and all of your family and friends the exact things!!!!!! You are so sweet to stay in touch–it mans a lot
      hug to you!!!!! carolyne

  14. All of your photos were beautiful. I would like to try using fruit, but I am afraid it will spoil quickly, any tips to keeping it fresh.
    Thank you for a year of beauty. I am looking forward to your new book.
    Merry Christmas, Lillie

    • Hi Lillie,
      To avoid fruit flies and decay I try and buy fruit that is not too ripe– the harder the better. Also keep the fruit out of the sunlight and try to not put in where it is too hot. Sometimes I even set the arrangement in a cool place at night. Hope this helps cr

  15. Dear Carolyne

    A few days ago I lost my beautiful Border Collie Nickie, she was 16 years old. It was a great loss not only for me and my family but for my seventh grade students, past and present, who knew her and of her. They have all overwhelmed me with their love and sympathy but this morning I decided to brighten my day but turning to your blog. Of course , as usual, I was inspired by your elegance and style and your photos have given me an idea. I am going to give a dinner in honor of Nickie for my friends and family. Thank you so much for that! A friend gave me a card that said ” Every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them and every time a new dog comes into my life they give me a piece of their heart and if I live long enough all of the components of my heart will be dog. Then I will become as generous and loving as they are.” It is so true!

    • Dear Kevin,

      I am so very very sorry to hear about the passing of your beloved Nickie. I so understand your pain I have lost many dogs in my life and each time I think I shall die from grief. This last Friday I took my oldest baby, my west highland terrier,Lucky who is also 16, to the vet to see if there was anything we could do about his eyesight and hearing. The vet said no it is old age and there is nothing to be done. He has been my must loyal dog the oldest of the 6 I currently have. He is the one who has always loved me the most. He lies on the bathmat when I am taking a shower and follows me every where I go. His ability to climb steps is gone and I carry him up and down every day the stairs several times a day so he can be with me. I know the time is passing quickly and for that, I treasure him all the more.
      I have no children and no brothers or sisters and so my dogs are my family. The love we share,and the laughter they bring into my life is irreplaceable. On another note my grandmother had a border collie and I have another herding dog that is an Australian Kelpie. All of these types of dogs are soo… smart.
      I think it was a wonderful idea to celebrate Nickie’s life with the people that,you know, loved her.Bravo!
      I am sure you already know of this poem ,,The Rainbow Bridge,, but if not please look it up. It might make you cry but it is my greatest hope in life that this be true. That when I die I shall wake up in a garden with all my beautiful pups and my one cat together and that we shall love and laugh and cuddle together for ever after. fondly a fellow dog lover carolyne

    • Dear Carolyne, Thank you so much for your your comforting words and for sharing the information about your precious Lucky. I too went through all the vet visits with my Nickie, my heart goes out to you!

      I had not heard of the poem The Rainbow Bridge. I looked it up and you were right, it did make me cry. But it made me smile too and at least this time I was crying over a beautiful, hopeful vision. One of my little students told me that Nickie was probably already meeting Princess Diana. I had to smile, that was a beautiful vision too. Thank you so much again!

      • Dear Kevin—I am going to let all my pups know that at a certain time in their lives they will get to meet Princess Diana and that they, and I shall have to learn to bow or curtsy! Be well. cr

  16. Beautiful!! Love all the tablescapes and will definitely use your inspirations for my own decorating. Also, very glad you are the new 2017 “Artist in Residence ” for Victoria magazine.
    Many blessings to you! ❣️Judie

  17. Beautiful….the photos, designs, colors!
    So inspirational. I want them all! Just read in Victoria magazine that you are the 2017 “Artist in Residence “. Looking forward to seeing more of your art, through design to capturing the beauty of nature! Merry Christmas 🎄 and many blessings in the new year! Judie

  18. Absolutely beautiful! Love all of your venues!! Speaking of incorporating geographical influences, I just got back from our family ranch in Northern California with my car trunk loaded with wild holly berries from our local foothills. I arranged them in my collection of blue and white vases all around my house. We have a huge bay tree so I mixed some with that for the scent. Thanks for sharing your elegance of the season.
    Happy Holidays!

    • It sounds like you have a lot of elegance going on there already, and I love the idea of using the bay tree! cr

  19. Carolyne – Your eye for design and color always give me inspiration! Although I love to cook, I really think I enjoy setting the table and the creativity behind it more than anything! I know when I attend dinner parties at my friend’s homes, it’s a feast for the eye seeing their beautifully decorated and inviting tables. A blessed Christmas to you and yours!

    • Hi Elaine—I share your love for creating a beautiful setting—-a warm and wonderful Christmas and new year to you as well. cr

  20. Carolyne
    They are ALL glorious and give me so much inspiration! I too am all about a beautiful table setting for the holidays. This year is the first year I have not incorporated red in my tablescape and it feels a bit awkward. My only child/daughter became engaged in October so I wanted to do something more elegant with silver and gold………..however I feel like I need something to represent their engagement. Would silver or gold hearts incorporated into the theme seem appropriate for a Christmas tablescape…… or quite possibly sprinkling a few vintage cherubs about? Your thoughts please. Can’t wait to see your Charleston christmas! Adore what you have done with your home. I grew up in the Charleston area and know your home very well. What you have done with the place is absolutely splendid! Merry Christmas in Charleston!

    • Hi Cameo, I don’t think you can go wrong with silver and gold – hearts or cherubs would be a beautiful addition, and what a lovely way to celebrate the two occasions. Thanks for your kind words re Charleston, particularly as you know the area so well, it means even more. Happy Christmas, cr

  21. Merry Christmas, and I am looking forward to seeing your work in Victoria! Your books and website are inspiring.

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