How to Dress the Perfect Thanksgiving & Christmas Table

For many people Thanksgiving and Christmas is a time when family gather around the table to enjoy good food and conversation. And what better way to get the conversation flowing than with a beautifully laid tabletop?

We love to work with Gemma Martinez de Ana, founder of Bonadea to create beautiful tablescapes in our Chelsea Harbour showroom. Like DAVIDSON, Bonadea prides itself on working with talented artisans, hand-picking beautiful pieces of tableware and object d’art from some of the finest heritage brands and contemporary designers.

Gemma has been back into the showroom to dress two of our tables – the Elystan Dining Table and the Howes Dining Table – for the festive season. So, our managing director, Alexandra Davidson, took the opportunity to sit down with Gemma and find out a bit more about her passion for tableware, along with her top tips for a perfectly balanced holiday tablescape.

Alexandra Davidson: We’re thrilled to have you back in the DAVIDSON showroom!

Gemma Martinez de Ana: Thank you for having me, it’s always a pleasure to come and dress your tables – they make the perfect backdrop for our pieces.

AD: Tell us a bit about you, first. Have you always loved tableware?

GM: I have. I used to play with my grandmother’s collection and particularly loved her porcelain. I was fascinated by the patterns and details and spent hours looking at them. My childhood was also full of big family lunches, which instilled a love of entertaining and storytelling. But it wasn’t my career initially. I ended up working in London, in technology, but a few years ago I decided I wanted to do something I was passionate about and Bonadea was born.

AD: Can you tell me about the new collections that you’ve brought into the DAVIDSON showroom for our winter tables?

GM: So, for your Elystan dining table I’ve gone for the Histoires d’Orchidées dinner plates from Alberto Pinto. They’re in our Winter Blooms Christmas edit and are part of a limited edition series. They’re made in France and crafted from Limoges porcelain. They have the most extraordinary hand-painted detailing and this lovely scalloped silhouette picked out in 24k gold. They’re definitely on my Christmas list! Then, to complement them, I’ve chosen the Schubert Indian purple charger plate from Augarten Wien 1718. They’re more of a lilac colour, which beautifully picks out the pinks in the orchids. 

Bonadea’s Histoires d’Orchidées dinner plates, from the Winter Blooms collection.

For your Howes dining table, I’ve chosen pieces from Fuerstenberg’s Auréole Dorée collection (also in Opulent Gold Christmas edit). This is gorgeous white porcelain with a tessellating 24-carat gold pattern. I love the combination of the delicate patterns with a bold colour. These pieces are a seamless blend of Asian porcelain tradition and modern European craftsmanship.

The Howes Table is dressed with Fuerstenberg’s Auréole Dorée dinner plates.

AD: I notice that your Christmas edits are not overtly Christmassy.

GM: No, that was a conscious decision. Not everyone wants to go down the traditional red and green route. Gold is so versatile – it’s quite a neutral colour and yet it adds warmth to a table in any season, and you can’t beat it for an extra dash of Christmas luxury. So, you will see that running through a lot of our edits. For example, in our Bamboo Garden edit, I’ve paired golden pagoda place card holders with bamboo cutlery. It creates a rich feel to a table without being stiff or overly formal. Cutlery is such an important part of the overall look and I always encourage people to invest in a good quality set.

AD: What trends are you seeing this season?

GM: At Bonadea we try not to follow trends too rigidly – beautiful tableware is an investment and I want people to choose timeless pieces that they’ll want to show off time and again. For example, to go back to the Bamboo edit, we’ve layered charger and dinner plates from different collections. You can also dress it up or down depending on the occasion and season. The Schubert Chestnut charger plate, for example, would look just as beautiful on a table laid for afternoon tea in spring.

But to go back to your question about trends, we’re still in a very maximalist period – that idea of ‘more is more’, strong patterns and layering, so we have some of that in our Christmas edits. I think people are starting to play with rich colours, bold textures – something we’ve explored in the An Escape to the Cotswolds collection, where you have horn cutlery sitting alongside textured crystal and highly decorated soup plates.

It’s all about mixing and matching. Traditionally, for Christmas we’d all get our very best china out and it would all match beautifully. But tablescapes are becoming more relaxed and playful. It’s all about letting your imagination loose. Dessert plates are a great place to experiment – a slice of chocolate cake will look good on just about anything! And napkins and runners are the easiest way to add colour, texture and pattern.

AD: One of the reasons we love to work with you is because of your passion for working with artisans, is that important to your clients?

GM: Yes, I think it is. People are more interested in provenance and finding something unique – be it a hand-painted plate or a bespoke Murano glass. People are looking for pieces that have a story. I think that’s why we’re also seeing a return to pieces that feel quite homely. For example, you might love very contemporary dinnerware but bring out your grandmother’s teapot with its old English rose pattern. It has a tale to tell.

The Howes Dining Table Dressed by Bonadea.

AD: So, for anyone thinking about how they’re going to dress their Christmas table this year, what two or three things would you say a well-dressed table should always have?

GM: Whatever the season, I’d say a charger or service plate is a must – it elevates the feel of a table and creates that layering effect I mentioned. If you’re planning something more informal, though, you can create the same effect with a well-chosen place mat. Personally, I would suggest sticking to a maximum of two patterns and alternating them. With colour, you can be a bit more flexible and go to three.

For Christmas specifically, I would always recommend candlelight and a nice centrepiece. Choose something that works with the shape of your table. All too often people put something in the middle of a long table and forget about the guests at either end. It might be something as simple as a brightly coloured runner, or you could have a series of wreaths running along the length. And, again, unusual cutlery can add a sense of drama.

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