There’s more to styling your holiday party than choosing decorations. “The whole thing with styling is it’s about making people feel something,” says Merivale’s event stylist Alisha Rich. “It’s a way to show people you love them. It transforms the whole day.”
Responsible for styling large-scale events and installations across Merivale’s establishments, from the Ivy precinct to The Newport, Rich is an expert when it comes to artistic installations and themed set-ups. As a general rule, she believes less is more when it comes to getting it right (although come Christmas time, we can all be guilty of assembling a tinsel explosion in our living rooms).
“There’s definitely an element of restraint involved,” Rich says. “Keeping it simple, having fresh elements, and trying to find things people haven’t necessarily seen before will add a surprise element to their experience.”
Putting in thought and effort is key but, as Rich explains, it is possible to go too far with that approach. “When styling is very stiff, rigid and overdone, when there’s too much plastic, too much colour, it detracts from the effort that’s gone into preparing the meal, and the food should be the hero,” she says.
You can avoid a styling blunder by ditching the commercial Christmas vibe and anything that doesn’t have sentimental value. “Less is more in terms of gimmicky ornamentals,” Rich says. Instead, incorporate a scavenger hunt or encourage each guest to bring along an old photo to reminisce over after lunch. “Anything that can be handmade or handwritten – it’s that extra element of atmosphere around what you’ve done.”
Here are some more tips for achieving picture-perfect Christmas lunch styling (and if you want to avoid the hassle at your events throughout the year, let Merivale take care of it for you.
Think outside the box
Don’t be afraid to do things a little differently than you have in previous years. “If every Christmas you have your dining table in the same space I think the most surprising element for your guests could be to take your dining table out into your backyard or your garden,” Rich says. “Then, 70 per cent of your visual is completed. You’re using the trees and the garden around that table as your visual moment.”
That includes what you might use to dress the table, like railway sleepers to lift the food off the table. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or difficult to find,” she says. “It’s just about taking the time to look for things and putting them aside for a special time.”
Set the mood by turning the carols on, and take note of aromas to complement the food and the lighting. Tip: steer clear of harsh lighting. “If you’re outside, all your ambiance is catered for,” Rich says. “But then, if you’re inside, definitely having scented candles is something to think about in terms of bringing people into the Christmas atmosphere.”
Choose a tonal palette
For consistency, Rich suggests picking a tonal colour along with a highlight, such as hunter green and sage. “Make sure your tree and your table have some synergy,” Rich says. “Choose one set of colours to hero.”
Incorporate functional elements
Use ornaments that double as practical elements to help serve your table, like bowls of walnuts and figs. “The table at Christmas is so laid on and usually super full, so use elements that are visual but also functional,” Rich says. “So you could tear up the figs and have them with dessert, or with a cheese plate.”
Freshen with foliage
Fresh flowers and other plants are as important as layered linen this Christmas, so head to your local florist two weeks prior to order some holly, conifer or olive branches to arrange on your table, or go out and find some. “Do a little bit of foraging around your local area,” Rich says. “If you have a look around, your next-door neighbour might have a beautiful gum tree that he won’t mind you snipping off a branch of.”
“If you have to be inside a room, maybe do something hanging from the ceiling or on your credenza against the wall,” Rich says. “As opposed to having everything on the table itself.”
You can ensure you’ll be ready before guests arrive by trialling your ideas with a test run. “Do a trial set-up without the food,” Rich says. “That takes all the stress of being flustered on the day away and trying to work out something creative when you’re under time pressure.”
And, remember to appease the little ones. “Think about having the kids or any younger children on a separate table and offering something especially for them; something they can gravitate to and that’s entertaining as well.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Merivale. For more tips, follow along at Meritales.