Our Favorite Thanksgiving Table Setting Ideas

A beautifully set table makes any meal a special occasion — and what dinner could be more important than Thanksgiving? Pull out all the stops and set a table that's dressed to impress.

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November 06, 2019

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Danielle Daly/Studio D

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Marian Parsons

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Danielle Daly/Studio D

Photo By: Danielle Daly/Studio D

Photo By: Hortus Ltd.

Photo By: Jason Kisner © 2013, HGTV/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Shain Rievley

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Sarah Busby; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Marian Parsons, Mustard Seed Interiors

Photo By: Erika LaPresto

Photo By: Cassidy Garcia; Styling by H. Camille Smith

Photo By: Hortus Ltd.

Photo By: GettyImages/Melnikof

Photo By: Mark Fonville/Hortus Ltd.

Photo By: Stacey Brandford Photography

©Rustic White Photography

Photo By: Jason Kisner © 2013, DIY Network/Scripps Networks, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

©Rustic White Photography

Go Mad for Plaid

Fall's favorite fabric is an easy way to cozy up your Thanksgiving table. No need to buy a new tablecloth — wardrobe essentials like a plaid blanket scarf or even a throw are perfect stand-ins for more traditional table linens.

Put Fall's Bounty on Display

Fall is traditionally synonymous with the harvest. For a show-stopping table setting that honors tradition, fill the center of your table with a colorful display of pumpkins, gourds, nuts, fruits, veggies and seasonal blooms. Carry the bountiful theme to each place setting with an artichoke place card holder.

See More Photos: Create a Harvest-Inspired Thanksgiving Centerpiece

Always Include a Centerpiece

What would a beautifully set table be without the star of the show: the centerpiece?! Crafting one doesn't have to be hard or expensive; check out our 50+ centerpieces, below, for DIY tips and inspo.

See More Photos: Our 60 Fave Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Cue the Copper

Copper tape, that is. Can you believe these gorgeous, expensive-looking votives are just inexpensive glass cylinders wrapped in bands of copper tape? To complete this stunning setting, the editors at HGTV Magazine surrounded the candles with a lush spread of seeded eucalyptus, topped by gilded acorns and assorted fruits and veggies.

More Tips From HGTV Magazine: 14 Ways to Get Your Holiday Tablescape All Set For Guests

Use the Good China

Thanksgiving is the time to dust off those hand-me-down or thrifted beauties and put them to work. Setting the table with vintage dishes and glassware (especially if they're family heirlooms) is a sure way to make the meal feel even more special. (Your grandmother will be so proud!)

See More Photos: Love Wins: Wow Guests With a Rainbow-Themed Vintage Table Setting

Kick Up the Drama

Designer Erinn Valencich sets the stage for an oh-so-chic fall get-together by layering rustic elements with glamorous touches like gold-rimmed crystal plates, gilt-lined votives and an antique French settee. Low centerpieces of tightly bunched burgundy and chartreuse flowers pop against the room's rich aubergine palette.

Or, Make It Cozy

Faux fur throws are a great choice for cozying up hard surfaces, like this long wooden bench, while complementing the table setting's warm color palette and woodsy vibe.

See More Photos: Rustic + Refined: Set a Stunning Fall or Winter Table Setting

Dress Up Everyday Essentials

Elevate your everyday white china by topping it with your favorite family hand-me-down (or thrifted) bread plates or berry bowls. And, no need to stick to just one pattern, set the table with a mix of your favorite pieces for a colorful, collected-over-time look.

Don't Forget the Kids' Table

Almost as necessary as the turkey itself, giving your littlest guests a space of their own to catch up with cousins and friends at a separate kids' table has become a favorite Thanksgiving tradition.

Get the How-To: Set a Turkey-Tastic Thanksgiving Kids' Table

And, Add Surprises to the Adults' Table

Every table setting needs a touch of the unexpected. For this rustic-chic table, we added a vintage brass peacock, found for a steal at an estate sale, to complement the table's theme while adding a bit of golden glam.

See More Photos: Rustic + Refined: Set a Stunning Fall or Winter Table Setting

Place Setting 101

Setting an impressive table for guests is easier than you may think. Start with the dinner plate, top it with a folded napkin and the salad plate. The knife and spoon go to the right of the plate, the fork on the left. Above the plate, wine and water glasses go on the right, a bread plate on the left with the dessert fork and spoon directly above the plate.

Or, Keep Settings Simple

For a casual get-together, simplify place settings and keep the focus on the day's festivities, by only setting out the utensils your guests will need — if the menu is fairly basic without a long succession of courses, a standard spoon and fork will do.

Go Fuss-Free With a Buffet

While no get-together is completely worry free for the host, serving buffet style certainly makes things easier. Just place a stack of plates, utensils and napkins at the start of the spread, then let guests help themselves.

See More Photos: 10 Tips for Setting Up an Easy + Elegant Thanksgiving Buffet

Or, Create a Guest-Impressing Setting

You can set a table that looks expensive without breaking the bank. Timelessly on-trend, blue and white transferware dishes are some of the most readily available on the market, making it easy to snap up these vintage beauties at estate or garage sales and thrift stores for a fraction of the cost of new dishware.

See More Photos: Luxe for Less: Set a Timeless Table That Only Looks Expensive

Think Beyond the Table

When decking out for Thanksgiving, don't stop at the table. Carry your table's hues into surrounding areas — like the mantel or a buffet — for a pulled-together look.

See More Photos: Our Favorite Fall Decorating Ideas

Pair High With Low

Take a cue from designer Sarah Richardson and pair high and low elements — the brass candlesticks are thrifty finds and the china is vintage Royal Doulton — to create a table setting that is beautiful, balanced and not-too-fussy.

And, Create Contrast

One rule that designers always follow: contrast is key. Mixing inexpensive (AKA free!), earthy elements, like this wood slice charger, with delicate, vintage china makes the woodsy element feel more organic while, by contrast, the hand-etched details and gilt edges of the heirloom dishes take on a new level of sophistication.

See More Photos: Rustic + Refined: Set a Stunning Fall or Winter Table Setting

Go Au Naturel

Make Mother Nature the star of your Thanksgiving table with a centerpiece composed of pumpkins, gourds, acorns, nuts and potted succulents and herbs. A blue-and-white plaid tablecloth and unadorned white dishes are a perfect fit for the table's earthy theme.

Get the How-To: Craft a Succulent-Topped Pumpkin Centerpiece

Or, Mix Fresh With Faux

Manufacturers have gotten so good at making realistic-looking silk blooms that it's difficult to tell the difference between fresh and faux. Combine the best of both worlds for a centerpiece that looks lush and — best of all — incorporates a few faux elements that can be used year after year.

See More Photos: Our 60 Fave Thanksgiving Centerpieces

Go Crazy for Color

Instead of limiting your table's palette to traditional fall colors, go for happy hues and mix and match pieces in any colors or patterns you like. Image courtesy of Target. 
From: Target

Or, Stick With Traditional Tones

Honor fall's seasonal shades with a palette pulled from nature. Colors we traditionally attribute to fall, like orange, gold, red, brown and dark green, are easy to incorporate via gourds, flowers, fall leaves and greenery. Reinforce the theme by choosing linens and dishware in the same warm color family.

Make It Easy to Munch

Small dishes filled with fresh fruit or nuts-in-shell not only add an organic accent to each place setting, they're also a healthy snack for Thanksgiving guests while they wait for dinner to begin. Tip: Keep a nutcracker and bowl for cracked shells handy.

And, Treat Guests to a Sweet Favor

Mini chocolate turkeys are a sweet way for guests to finish (or start — no judgements here!) their meal. Placed on a silk fall leaf, the wee gobblers are a bird that even vegetarians will welcome to the table.

Craft a Kid-Pleasing Place Card

Not only is this clever place card adorable, it's also a party favor your guests can nibble on during the Thanksgiving celebrations and (if there are any treats left) take home with them. Learn how to craft your own, below.

Get the How-To: Thanksgiving Place Card and Party Favor

Or, Try a Sophisticated Spin

Personalize your table with DIY place cards that feature guests' silhouettes instead of their names. To create them, find photos that feature a strong head-and-shoulder outline of your guests. Print the photos onto regular printer paper, cut around their outline then use a black permanent marker to completely color over the photo. Glue the silhouette onto white card stock and place in a small gold mat.

Give Everyone Their Space

Get-togethers can sometimes feel a bit stuffy. Help your guests relax and avoid the question of, "Is this your fork or mine?" by giving each place setting a bit of breathing room.

See More Photos: Rustic + Refined: Set a Stunning Fall or Winter Table Setting

And, Think About Form + Function

Always be sure to equip guests with the right utensils — like a steak knife if you're serving any meats that will require cutting.

Keep It Farm(house) Fresh

Homey and relaxed, farmhouse-style is a natural fit for Thanksgiving celebrations. To create the look, mix rustic surfaces, like wood slices and birch vases, with vintage finds, like the old enamelware pitcher on the mantel.

Or, Go Boho

Take a cue from HGTV Magazine and make your table a blast from the past by rocking an oh-so-trendy '70s vibe with a graphic, global-inspired table runner and a line of cacti and succulents as a long, low centerpiece.

More Tips From HGTV Magazine: 14 Ways to Get Your Holiday Tablescape All Set For Guests

Select a Saturated Shade

A richly hued tablecloth, like this deep aubergine, is a foolproof way to disguise a past-its-prime dining table while creating a gorgeous backdrop that makes white dishes pop and gold flatware gleam.

More Tips From HGTV Magazine: 14 Ways to Get Your Holiday Tablescape All Set For Guests

Or, Pop for Pastels

For a pretty, desaturated spin on fall's traditional color palette, paint faux or fresh pumpkins with handy chalk paint, then line the center of your table for a colorful runner. The pastel pumpkins not only provide a colorful pop, the soft shades are reminiscent of heirloom pumpkin varieties — which can be tricky (and expensive) to find.

Stage an Outdoors-Inspired Thanksgiving Dinner

Get Back to Nature

Weather permitting, take your Thanksgiving celebration outdoors. After all, everything tastes better when enjoyed alfresco — plus, fall's changing scenery can't be beat. When setting the table, go with a rustic theme to match the setting. Fill hollowed-out butternut squash with fall blooms for a stunning centerpiece and top each plate with a tiny succulent-filled ghost pumpkin that does double-duty as a favor.

Get the How-To: Turn a Butternut Squash Into a Fall Centerpiece

Or, Bring the Outdoors In

Raid your backyard and local farmer's market for everything you need to create a gorgeous organic centerpiece and living runner. Mix seasonal elements, like pumpkins, gourds, seed pods, dried grasses and herbs, with candle lanterns and rustic, timeworn containers.

Pair Simple With Sophisticated

With a centerpiece this dramatic, keeping the rest of the table subdued was a no-brainer for designer Camille Styles. A weathered board, instead of a traditional fabric runner, was her inspiration for the table's rustic theme. Beeswax candles, gourds and dried wheat place cards keep with the theme while footed urns overflowing with blooms, a linen tablecloth and vintage gold-rimmed dishes add sophistication.

See More Photos: 10 Tips for a Simply Chic Thanksgiving

And, Incorporate Unexpected Elements

Does the small plate that's part of this place setting look familiar? If you have a green thumb, it should — it's actually an inexpensive terra cotta saucer which lends this farmhouse-style setting a cheery bit of color contrast.

See More Photos: 6 Place Settings Inspired by Today's Hottest Trends

Go for the Gold

Move over, stainless steel — it's gold's turn to shine. Gold has increasingly become designers' metal of choice for fancy flatware but, like anything that's trendy, new sets are pricey. Check estate sales, thrift stores and yard sales for vintage sets, many still in their original box, with the same golden gleam as new flatware but without the hefty price tag.

And, Bring On the Brass

Once considered dated, vintage brass trays have made a major comeback in recent years — sending prices up in pace with their rise in popularity. But, thankfully, these glittering goods can still be inexpensively found at yard sales, church bazaars and estate sales. Resist the urge to polish your newfound treasure; brass's glowing patina is key to the metal's timeless charm.

Get Personal With Our (Free!) Place Cards

A printer, colorful card stock and a steady hand are all you need to turn our blank labels into a decorative way to save their seat. Get more free Turkey-Day printables, below.

See More Photos: 31 Printable (and Free!) Thanksgiving Templates

Rock a Rustic Look

Flannels are not only cozy to wear, they're also a trendy, laidback way to dress your fall table. Hit your local craft or fabric store and scour the remnants to find a large section of flannel fabric to use instead of a traditional tablecloth. Smaller flannel pieces work great as an extra cozy napkin.

See More Photos: Celebrate Fall With an Apple-Themed Outdoor Get-Together

Or, Try a Monochromatic Palette

Take a cue from our friends at HGTV Magazine and select one main color, then carry that hue through from the table linens to the plates, glassware and centerpiece. Sticking with that one color makes it easy to mix disparate patterns while still creating a cohesive look.

Get Fancy for Free

For an easy update, take a cue from Fixer Upper's Joanna Gaines and add an organic touch to each place setting with a bundle of clipped backyard vines, branches or grasses. The bundled clippings lend a rustic, designer look without the designer cost.

And, Make Budget-Savvy Swaps

Most often used for special occasions, chargers, also known as underplates or service plates, provide both a decorative and a functional purpose by catching errant spills and crumbs. For our budget table, we saved by using paper doilies (costing pennies each!) as a stand-in for much more costly porcelain or china chargers. Bonus: When the party's over, the paper can just be tossed — spills, crumbs and all.

See More Photos: Luxe for Less: Set a Timeless Table That Only Looks Expensive

Tie the Look Together

Designer Marian Parsons put her prized vintage dough bowl to good use as a rustic Thanksgiving centerpiece. Filled with fall favorites — gourds, acorns, apples and sprigs of goldenrod and berries — the centerpiece inspired the rest of the table's decoration. For a consistent look, Marian used the same natural materials to create mini arrangements for the buffet and as candle rings and plate toppers.

See More Photos: Create a Rustic Fall Centerpiece in a Dough Bowl

Opt for Organic Elegance

Rely on natural elements (and handy-dandy hot glue) to put the finishing touch on your fall table. Attach acorn caps to a basic napkin ring and disguise a past-its-prime charger with silk magnolia leaves.

Get the How-To: How to Make a Magnolia Leaf Charger

Pile on the Pumpkins

Assorted pumpkins in various shades lining the center of the table are an easy, earthy centerpiece. For added interest, gardening expert P. Allen Smith painted some of the pumpkins in metallic or matte pastel hues and topped each place setting with a diminutive ghost pumpkin.

Get the How-To: Stage an Outdoors-Inspired Thanksgiving Dinner

Cue the Candles

Whether brass, pewter or silver, vintage candlesticks and candelabra are easy to source at thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales. For a romantic, timeworn look, leave the metal's mellowed patina as-is or gently polish to restore a silvery or golden gleam.

Or, Add a Lantern

Creating a romantic vibe via candlelight makes any dinner feel more like a special occasion. Add a vintage or reproduction lantern to your table to lend a little extra sparkle and a more intimate feel. If kids will be present, swap in battery-operated candles for safety.

Rock a Collected-Over-Time Look

Designer Sarah Richardson makes setting a formal table look easy. For her signature collected-over-time look, she pulls together vintage china, silverware and linens. If you weren't lucky enough to inherit the makings of a stunning table, you can pick them up for bargain-basement prices at thrift stores, flea markets and estate sales.

Or, Play With Palettes

There are no hard-and-fast rules that mandate the use of traditional fall colors on your Thanksgiving table — mix it up and use whatever colors or patterns you like best.

Layer It Up

Layering plates in different finishes, colors or textures is an easy trick for setting an elegant table. Start with a charger, followed by a dinner plate, topped by a folded cloth napkin and small bread or dessert plate. Finish each place setting with a small trinket your guests can take home as a favor.

See More Photos: 13 Rustic Thanksgiving Table-Setting Ideas

Make Your Mark

Our step-by-step instructions, below, show you how to give inexpensive white plates a high-end, custom look with a stenciled design and ceramic paint.

Get the How-To: How to Make Hand-Painted Plates

Craft an Earthy Charger

Instead of a placemat, add a bit of fall color to each place setting with an easy-to-craft charger created by gluing silk (or real, if you prefer) leaves to a round piece of card stock that's slightly smaller than your dinner plate. 

Or, a (Nearly) Free Twig Table Runner

Bring an organic touch to your Thanksgiving table by creating a beautiful runner made out of twigs. Kids will love scavenging for twigs in the yard, and assembly is easy enough that they can help craft it, too.

Get the How-To: Make a Rustic Twig Table Runner

Pile On the Pinecones

Take a stroll outdoors to gather dropped pinecones but to prevent a sticky mess, before adding them to your table, bake them in a 200-degree oven for 1-2 hours. This kills off any possible hitchhikers and will dry the sap so they're not only safe to handle but the heat will also cause the pinecone's scales to open up more fully.

See More Photos: 13 Rustic Thanksgiving Table-Setting Ideas

Upgrade a Basic Tablecloth

Embellish a thrift store or hand-me-down tablecloth with strips of burlap or linen for a chic, budget-friendly update. Get started on your tablecloth transformation with our step-by-step instructions, below.

Get the How-To: Make a Rustic Tablecloth With Ruffled Burlap Trim

Or, Use Fabric Scraps Instead

Instead of tossing leftover fabric scraps, put them to use as narrow table runners you position across the table widthwise instead of lengthwise. For a no-sew solution, just slightly fray the runner's cut sides by pulling loose threads and leaving the unfinished selvage ends instead of hemming.

See More Photos: Steal Holiday Party Ideas From HGTV and DIY Network Editors

Pick a Theme

A sunflower theme, warm autumnal colors and a dessert buffet (yum!) get this dining room ready for a family-friendly feast.

See More Photos: Sunflower-Themed Thanksgiving Dessert Buffet

Or, Mix It Up

You don't have to own perfectly coordinating china to set a beautiful table, mismatched pieces look great together and give your table a welcoming, casual feel. To mix patterns like a pro, vary the scale using large, medium and small designs but repeat at least one color to tie the pieces together.

Rely on the Beauty of Birch

Rustic, natural elements continue to be a popular choice for setting your table setting apart from the pack. Shop online for birch bark sheets to use as a charger and cut birch rounds to top plates — or scavenge your own backyard to see what freebies Mother Nature is offering up.

See More Photos: Host a Wintertime Picnic in the Park

Craft Playful Place Cards

Mark guests' places with this cute place card idea that doubles as a party favor. Make one for each place setting so guests can take the mini succulent gardens home and watch them grow thru the winter.

See More Photos: Garden Place Cards

Or, Upcycle Fake Fruit

Avoid a game of Turkey Day musical chairs by setting out place cards for your guests. For a seasonal look, make these gilded place card holders by spraying pomegranates with metallic paint, then inserting a handwritten place card in the crown. Inexpensive and homemade, they're the perfect way to make your table feel extra special.

Get the How-To: How to Make Pomegranate Place-Card Holders

Add Some Sparkle

Designer Erinn Valencich relies on the shimmer of metallics for her Thanksgiving table. Bronze glass plates, golden glasses and beaded placemats bring on the glamour.

See More Photos: Glittering Fall Table Setting and Centerpiece Ideas

Put the Rule of Three to Work

Designers have long relied on the rule of three when creating a balanced interior but this rule works just as well when setting the table — and best of all, it's easy to follow. Pick one element and repeat it three times. Here, the same amber color is used in the placemats, napkin and centerpiece, creating a sophisticated, pulled-together look.

Show Off Your Travels

Gilt chargers and an exotic Kazakh tablecloth lend this table setting a sophisticated, globetrotting vibe. Put souvenirs from your favorite locales front and center by incorporating them into your table setting.

Print Pretty Place Cards

These oversized place cards look involved but our free printable templates make crafting them a snap. Just print out the flag and leaf templates, cut out, assemble and personalize.

Get the How-To + Template: Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Place Card

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