By Design: A Perfectly Natural Thanksgiving

I admire lovely tablescapes and the experience of celebrating time-honored traditions.

Thanksgiving is a favorite for me, in the theme of gathering with those dear, and sharing in gratitude and thankfulness. As a designer, I am keenly aware of the importance of the atmosphere and setting of the Thanksgiving banquet. The décor and arrangements are backdrops for the people and the food, while adding to the memory as a time that is set apart from the other 364 days of the year.

I’ve experienced a gamut of Thanksgivings that could be termed non-conventional, but with each, it’s been about the people, some traveling great distances to be together:

Youngest sister Beth, flying from New York. Or November, 1976, as newlyweds, a snowy train ride across the country, to my husband’s hometown in Kokomo, Indiana.

There was the year of the Picnic Thanksgiving, in our front yard; an idea of my mother-in-law, who maintains that food always tastes better when sitting on a blanket outdoors.

There was a Thanksgiving in a Stanford hospital oncology ward, where my son, Matt, was fighting for his life. I recall that Thanksgiving as bearing the purist essence of the holiday, where Matt’s family — parents, brother, aunts, uncle and cousins — crammed into that hospital room, sadness overshadowed by great appreciation and thankfulness for life and family.

Each year, as I look at the faces of those around the table, I think of those here, and those who are not, and how easy it is to take one another for granted. I’ve learned too well that there are no guarantees, based on age or condition, of who will be here tomorrow.

It is important that I honor the Thanksgiving celebration with intentional planning of every detail. For many, the joy of decorating for the holiday is the tradition, year after year, of careful repetition of décor and food. It could be the heirloom white tablecloth and napkins, silver candlesticks and fine tableware reserved for special occasions.

For others, given large numbers of guests, it could be Thanksgiving-themed paper plates and matching napkins, with cored apples holding taper candles. There is no right or wrong;  just various ways to create a setting that will enhance the time together.

This year, I am inspired by Redding’s spectacular unseasonably warm and colorful autumn. Morning walks on the Sacramento River Trail with my sister, Doni, is a time of exclamation of the vivid display of red-orange-yellow-browns. We agree, many times, of how blessed we are to live in such a glorious place, and also, in how thankful we are for life.

This year’s Thanksgiving theme is one of casual, natural elegance; bringing autumn indoors, while accessorizing with a balance of textures and colors.

The Thanksgiving tablescape begins with heavy brown contractor paper, which evokes the color and texture of the brown oak leaves covering the ground in Redding autumn. As if meant to be, the paper fit exactly to the width of the table, and the cut ends curled up nicely under each end’s edge.

I like the simplicity of the brown paper, knowing full well that this will not be a brown bag table, but complete with festive and personal touches.

The next layer of this table is a large old branch, extending the entire length of the table, with huge sycamore leaves and pomegranates, arranged under and over the branch.

To balance all this nature is the antique brass candelabra, with white candles, to go with the white oval dinner plates. Keeping with the casual feel, I deliberately used un-ironed white linen napkins, folded on the plate, topped by Doni’s sweet vintage glass squirrel place card holders. I wrote each person’s name in my own “twig” font.

Glassware is a collection of art-deco etched tumblers Doni bought years ago at Morrison’s. Antique silverware compliments the balance of nature, as well as collaborating with the brass candelabra.

This table will be complete as each person takes his or her seat and we share in a meal prepared together, in thankfulness and gratitude for those we love, and the great beauty and blessing of life, as I hope it will be for you and yours this Thanksgiving.

Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is IRDN (Interior -Re-design Network) certified.  Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior “re-design” – where she transforms and refreshes clients’ living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator and muralist.  To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at  530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com

Shelly Shively
Shelly Shively lives in Redding. She is Interior re-design network certified. Among her specialties are real estate staging, furnishing vacation and new homes, and the art of interior re-design where she transforms and refreshes clients living spaces using their existing belongings. Shelly is also a freelance artist, illustrator, muralist, Whiskeytown kayak volunteer and curator at O Street Gallery. To inquire about a consultation, she may be reached at 530-276-4656 or leinanishively@gmail.com
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6 Responses

  1. BarbaraRice BarbaraRice says:

    "Each year, as I look at the faces of those around the table, I think of those here, and those who are not, and how easy it is to take one another for granted. I’ve learned too well that there are no guarantees, based on age or condition, of who will be here tomorrow."

    I hope this poem isn't too long to share. I read it every year and it helps get through some of the sad feelings we all have.

    For That, I Am Thankful
    By Darcie D. Sims

    It doesn't seem to get any better, but it doesn't get any worse either. For that, I am thankful.
    There are no more pictures to be taken, but there are memories to be cherished. For that, I am thankful.
    There is a missing chair at the table, but the circle of family gathers close. For that, I am thankful.
    The turkey is smaller, but there is still stuffing. For that, I am thankful.
    The days are shorter, but the nights are softer. For that I am thankful.
    The pain is still there, but it lasts only moments. For that, I am thankful.
    The calendar still turns, the holidays still appear and they still cost too much, but I am still here. For that, I am thankful.
    The room is still empty, the soul still aches, but the heart remembers,. For that, I am thankful.
    The guests still come, the dishes pile up, but the dishwasher works. For that, I am thankful.
    The name is still missing, the words still unspoken, but the silence is shared. For that, I am thankful.
    The snow still falls, the sled still waits, and the spirit still wants too.. For that, I am thankful.
    The stillness remains, but the sadness is still smaller. For that, I am thankful.
    The moment is gone, but the love is forever. For that, I am blessed. For that, I am grateful.
    Love was once (and still is) a part of my being. For that, I am thankful.
    I am living, and for that, I am thankful.
    May your holidays be filled with reasons to be thankful. Having loved and having been loved is perhaps the most wondrous reason of all.

  2. Doni Chamberlain Doni Chamberlain says:

    Beautiful poem, Barbara. So touching. Thank you.

  3. Avatar Shelly Shively says:

    Barbara, I appreciate you posting this poem…perfect expression of the quandary of living fully in spite of the pain in loss of loved ones.
    I have found that thankfulness & gratitude is a life saver.
    Thanks so much!

  4. Avatar Kimberly R. says:

    All so beautiful. Thank you!

  5. Avatar jaonnesnyder says:

    What a beautiful article. I'm beginning to believe that women create all of the holiday traditions and memories in all cultures. My mother was a extraordinary cook who put together perfect Thanksgiving dinners when my dads few family members would visit us in the canyon at this time of year. It was the only time we used the "good" china. Some one person has to decide that this is a gift they are going to give to their family.

  6. thank you for the inspiration…I decorated my table w/clusters of acorns/pomegranite/little acorn squash/persimmons…….colorful w/a tan linen tablecloth backdrop. I made 3 candleholders by filling vases from the dollar store w/acorns, putting a candle in it, and festive ribbon tied around them. acorns are everywhere I had to put them to use 🙂 Your table was the perfect inspiration, thank you.