Whether you're sitting down with your family for an intimate dinner or hosting an elaborate buffet for friends, creating a beautifully decorated table sets the mood for festive holiday gatherings. And you don't have to break Santa's piggy bank to transform your tabletops. It can be as easy as walking outside your front door.
"Just go outside in your yard and cut large branches of leaves," says Sabrina Soto, interior designer and host of HGTV's "Get It Sold." Soto has spent years staging homes for real estate clients. "One of the easiest ways you can decorate your home without spending any money is to take a look at the things around you," she says.
"Take your clippers and scout out things in your yard. You'll be amazed at what you can come up with. You can make a wreath out of pine cones. I made my mom one nine years ago, and she still uses it on her front door every year. You can use one on your table, too."
Here are some more tabletop decorating ideas from Soto:
--Recycle. "I see people using the same holiday decorations from one season to the next because of tight budgets," Soto says. She suggests filling clear vases with pumpkins or gourds for fall centerpieces and then switching them out with cranberries for December.
--Go for sparkle. "The metallics are really big this year," Soto says. Matte gold and copper, she notes, will be shining the brightest this holiday season. "Just take a can of spray paint and have at it. Pomegranates look great when they are painted and piled up in a container in the middle of a table."
--Tie it up. Get creative with tablecloths. "Table coverings are getting much more casual," Soto says. "Plaid tablecloths are really hot this year." One of her favorite ideas for giving a table holiday flair is to wrap it in fabric and use a big bow as the centerpiece. "It makes it look like a present," she says.
--Don't fake it. Though Soto admits that silk flowers are "looking better," she still maintains that fresh is best when it comes to creating centerpieces. "I just really don't like using fake flowers. They just never look quite right," she says. However, rather than buy a typical "grocery bouquet," stick to a large bunch of one kind of flower. "It's just so much more impressive," she says.
--Pot it. Fresh potted plants, such as rosemary topiaries or blooming paper whites and amaryllis, are also great centerpiece ideas, according to Soto. "People are always dropping in during the holidays," she says, "and if you have several potted plants blooming around the house, you will always have an instant centerpiece for your dining table. Plus they make great gifts."
--Light it up. Candles are another way to add glitter to your holiday tabletop. "I don't really like to use tapered candles very much," says the interior designer. "They just drip all over the place." Instead, she wraps glass hurricane holders with fabric and puts votive candles inside. One word of caution from Soto: "Save your scented candles to light after dinner, when everything winds down. They are definitely not for the dinner table."
--Go ornamental. Christmas ornaments aren't just hanging around the tree anymore. They can be delightful when hung from the chandelier over the dining table or tied around napkins with a ribbon or made into place card holders. Soto likes to dress up a table by filling clear glass vases with colorful ornaments.
--Get crafty. You don't have to use antique silver to create a fun holiday centerpiece. Soto likes to think outside the wooden box. "I love to use wooden boxes wrapped with wire ribbon," she says. She also suggests using copper wire to tie up evergreen branches for a Christmas setting. "These are very easy ideas but very elegant."