Holiday tablescaping

Holiday tablescaping

Lima woman shares ideas for your gathering

By Adrienne McGee Sterrett

Kathryn Yingst can point to an episode in the past that influences yet today. She was a young wife with little children, in an era when people would often go to each other’s homes for dinner after church. She remembers her husband invited over a visiting family from Greece. They were well to do and owned a restaurant.

The dinner she had prepared was simple — meatloaf and baked potatoes. And she realized at the last minute that she was out of paper napkins. Instead of sobbing in the corner, she improvised.

“I had nothing but washcloths to put on the table,” she said, laughing. “I was never going to be without napkins again.”

She met up with that Greek family years later, and they had no memory of her faux pas and expressed gratitude for the meal.

“That’s part of being a good guest and being a good hostess,” she said.

The Miami County native now has an extensive collection of tableware.

“I’ve always loved dishes,” she said. “If we ever downsize, my tablescaping days may be over.”

A late aunt’s collection recently added about five sets to her stash, and that’s not to mention the tablecloths and napkin rings and glassware and decor. But don’t be fooled — she enjoys thrift stores, dollar stores and garage sales, eager to pick up that just-right item to set the perfect table. (And yes, she has paper plates in her cupboard, too.)

“I feel like just having a pretty table makes people feel special,” she said. “It’s a satisfaction from that. You have created something that people enjoy.”

The holidays bring that urge — as well as cooking her family’s traditional favorites — to the forefront.

“People tend to have more company during the holidays,” she said. “People are busy but yet they make time for family and friends, especially.

“Have a welcoming spirit.”


• Consider formal versus informal.

“I think the first thing you need to do is think about your guests,” she said.

Not everyone is comfortable at an extremely formal table. Will there be young children in attendance? While she believes young people should be exposed to formal dinners for good life training, the maturity level does matter.

She likes cloth napkins for a formal setting and paper napkins for an informal setting, but do what you enjoy. (Look online for how to fold napkins, paper or cloth.)

Match the food to the setting.

Fancy plates deserve fancy food. Save the tacos for another meal. And vice versa.

Take stock of what you own.

Do you have enough plates to set the table for a large party? Do you have a coordinating tablecloth? Do you need to borrow items from a friend?

There is no shame in any of that. For the formal, classic Christmas table photographed for this story, she began with the china.

“This green china was something that was given to me as a graduation present from my grandparents,” she said.

Next, she set out several tablecloths before she found one that inspired her on the look she was picturing. Then, she asked a friend if she could borrow the gold reindeer and mini lanterns to make a centerpiece decoration on a runner. She cut a few branches of greenery for filler from her yard.

Have a rectangular tablecloth but need it to be square? Fold it, tucking the extra under.

Think about trends.

Chargers are very in and can be found at low prices. She suggested spray painting them to dial in the exact color you need. Or, explore the internet for various painting techniques. She recently tried painting a vase in a mercury glass look with great results.

Mismatched everything is also very on trend. This can help a host to stretch the dinnerware already owned, if nothing really “has” to match.

Centerpieces can be tricky.

The first thing to decide is if you’re going to serve food family style or if you’re doing a buffet style. If the serving dishes are not going to be on the table, there is more room for decor. One caution: the decor should not be too high and impede the view. Feel free to put the tall decor over on the side table.

Etiquette is important.

In the past, Yingst was taught candles do not belong on the dining room table until after 4 p.m.

“But I think it probably went out with the white shoes after Labor Day kind of thing,” she said, laughing.

Not sure how to set silverware properly? Google it. The knife blade goes toward the plate, for instance. Dessert spoon and coffee spoon are above the plate.

She jokes with her grandchildren about setting the table: “This is the groom,” pointing to the knife, “this is the bride,” pointing to the spoon, and “this is the mother in law,” pointing to the fork on the opposite side of the plate.

And something that surprised even her? Dessert plates are not to be set on the charger. Chargers are removed from the table with the dinner plate when it is cleared.

Contrast is your friend.

A basic white or cream plate looks rather boring against a white tablecloth. But placed on a dark charger and a bright placemat, the contrast is visually pleasing.

“I feel like (a placemat) frames the plate, especially if you have a patterned tablecloth,” she said.


A few of Kathryn Yingst’s favorite holiday recipes:



1 1/2 cups butter

8 ounces cream cheese

2 1/3 cups sugar

6 eggs, room temperature

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon vanilla


Cream butter and cream cheese. Gradually add sugar, beating until light and fluffy — 5 to 7 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually add flour, beating just until blended. Pour into a greased and floured 10-inch tube pan. Bake at 300 F for 1 1/2 hours. Cool 15 minutes before removing from pan.


Servings: 15


8 pounds beef brisket

Garlic cloves, sliced, to taste

1 small bottle Italian dressing

Salt and pepper

Worcestershire sauce, to taste

Chili powder, to taste

Tony Chachere’s Creole Gumbo File, optional

Barbecue sauce, KC Masterpiece preferred


Make slices in beef brisket and poke in sliced garlic cloves about every 1 to 1 1/2 inches. Pour Italian dressing over and marinate overnight. Leave dressing on and sprinkle the Worcestershire sauce, chili powder and gumbo file on meat. Bake covered at 300 F for 5 to 6 hours. Let cool; drain and slice. This may be shredded if the meat becomes too tender. Pour barbecue sauce over the sliced meat and return to 300 F oven for about 1 hour or until heated through just prior to serving.


Servings: 12


3 medium grapefruits

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup orange marmalade

2 cups fresh cranberries

3 medium bananas, sliced


Cut a thick slice from the end of each grapefruit. Using a serrated knife and cutting from the top of the fruit down, cut off the grapefruit peel and the white membrane. Working over a bowl to catch the juices, cut between one fruit section and the membrane. Cut to the center of the fruit. Turn the knife and slide it up the other side of the section next to the membrane; repeat to make sections. Remove any seeds from the fruit sections. Set aside. There should be about 3 cups.

Add enough water to the reserved grapefruit juice to measure 1 cup. In a medium saucepan, combine the juice, sugar and marmalade. Heat to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add cranberries; cook and stir for 5 to 8 minutes or until skins pop. Remove from heat and cool. Stir grapefruit into cranberry mixture. Cover and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, stir sliced bananas in.


Kathryn Yingst has entered the Tablescapes class at the Allen County Fair in Lima for several years. She is a longtime entrant of baked goods, and this newer class intrigued her. The themed competition entails bringing a card table or a long table and setting it for a meal or buffet. A menu card must be included with the entry and is also part of the judging.

Department head Terry Acheson said Yingst always draws a crowd.

“Her ideas are just like ‘Wow,’” he said. “When she brings it in, everyone just stands and watches her and says, ‘What is she going to do next?’”

Tablescapes has been offered at the fair for five years, and both Acheson and Yingst expressed their excitement about it.

“I love to help people,” Yingst said, explaining she enjoys talking with people about ideas. She encouraged everyone to give it a try. “You don’t have to be like me and enter eight tables. I find there’s a lot of people who like to decorate.”

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