Contemporary Take on Holiday Traditions

By Rose Gilbert

November 25, 2013 5 min read

Q: We're doing Thanksgiving at my fiance's parents' house, which is very contemporary in style. His mother has asked me to decorate the table.

It would be fun to make it contemporary, too, but it's hard to find anything that's not all pilgrims and traditional. Any suggestions?

A: Here's something to be thankful for: Designers like Shawn Laughlin who also think out of the traditional box when it comes to Thanksgiving ... or other occasions when decorations can easily slip into the same-old-same-old cliches.

Laughlin is the creative force behind the 6-year-old company Caskata, which is all about being high-quality porcelain, hand-decorated and made in the U.S. Never mind survey-takers' insistence that young couples no longer want fine tableware, are buying whatever is dishwasher-safe and may be child-proof, and don't believe in setting a formal table in these time-pressured, eat-out-of-hand times we live in.

At the same time, other survey-takers assure us that those same young couples realize the importance of having family meals together, around an attractive table set with "good" china, perhaps even candlelight, providing ample time for each diner to talk over the events of the day.

Laughlin lands firmly in the second camp. But she adds another higher dimension to the cause: A native New Yorker who has already explored careers as a photographer, filmmaker and commercial ad producer, she now creates the stuff with which memorable tables are set.

And that includes Thanksgiving and other festive dinners when you want to set a table that's set apart by its creativity and originality.

You see her own Thanksgiving table in the photo we show here. Traditional cliches, be gone! The tablecloth is monastic gray, the china, more than a little noir with its vintage motifs surrounded by almost-old-fashioned borders. Bright orange napkins — the main concession to the season — provide the comic relief for a table setting that says "Happy Holidays," but in a sophisticated palette of gray, white and black.

Yet, for all her nose-thumbing at tradition, you'll note that Laughlin includes a turkey statue here and there on the table. Replace them with, say, a stylish reindeer figurine, change the napkins to evergreen or red, and your contemporary table is set for the next big event of the holiday season.

Q: We've just about finished furnishing our first apartment as a married couple. A lot of our furniture came from Ikea (our budget range), and some from hand-me-downs. I'm not happy with the results. It seems to lack what my mother would call "soul." Any suggestions?

A: Is there anything personal and meaningful to either of you? Decorating is a three-pronged process: one part comfort, one part color, one part individuality.

I'm a great fan of Ikea furniture ... it's perfect for certain times in our lives, such as now, when you're setting up your first apartment. However, to add "soul" to the scene, I suggest you plan to gradually move those standard-issue pieces into less prominent roles, perhaps into a bedroom, and slowly replace them with one-of-a-kinds you gather slowly in the coming years of your marriage.

 A gray tablecloth and dark china patterns make a holiday table contemporary and cool.
<p>Photo courtesy Caskata.
A gray tablecloth and dark china patterns make a holiday table contemporary and cool.

Photo courtesy Caskata.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Manhattan Style," and six other books on interior design. To find out more about Rose Bennett Gilbert and read features by Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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