Holiday Harvest
Use items, colors from nature to create a Thanksgiving tablescape

Christi Tullis has this Thanksgiving thing all figured out. Food on one table, decorations on another. Not only has she found this method keeps the food and conversation flowing seamlessly, it also keeps the turkey from stealing the show.

As owner of Ambiance Interiors in Suwanee, Tullis is on a roll creating ideal eating spaces for her clients, all centering on festive decorations and table settings. She spends the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas creating centerpieces, crafting the perfect table and otherwise advising hosts on how to compose an exquisite dining area. No way is she going to let a roasted bird steal her thunder.

"You work hard to make your table look good," she said. "You don't want to crowd it up with the food."

Her No. 2 table tip is to use what nature gives us. Instead of rushing out to the nearest craft store for fake leaves, opt instead for the foliage in your own yard.

Bright red, orange and yellow fallen leaves are classic and simple touches for the table. Tullis recommends filling the bottom of a clear vase with dried leaves, as well as placing leaves under plates, around the turkey platter and scattered randomly around the setting.

"That's such a wonderful trick, and all the great decorators I know love to use it," she said. "It's a clean, easy look, plus it's free."

Using unscented candles in a variety of heights also creates a welcoming table. Just remember to make sure the taller decorations don't block anyone's line of vision. For a more modern look, Tullis says to throw out the place mats, and use a runner instead.

"Runners are the new place mats," she said.

On her holiday table, Tullis incorporates framed family photos placed atop her collected leaves. Not only does this create a family-oriented table, it's also an ideal ice-breaker and conversation starter.

"When you don't see your family but once or twice a year, looking at pictures gets people talking and gives them common ground," she said. "It's a nice and simple touch. You don't need to spend a fortune, because when making a beautiful table, it's the small details that matter most."

Here are a few more tips to create a dazzling holiday table, offered by Tullis, local florist Ron Stewart and domestic diva Martha Stewart's Web site:

n Don't save the fruits and veggies for the meal. A hollowed-out pumpkin used as a vase makes a great centerpiece, and mini-pumpkins are ideal candle holders. Fill bowls with small pumpkins, squashes and nuts to create an almost-good-enough-to-eat decoration. Pears, mixed nuts and gourds lining the center of the table, or spilling from a cornucopia, are also colorful autumn touches.

n If you opt to forgo a buffet setup, let the meal speak for itself. You slaved all day for that beautiful turkey, and its elegance should be appreciated. Use the bird as the centerpiece, and match the golden hue of the roasted skin to a candle set, dinnerware, cutlery and spray-painted pine cones.

n Don't let the dinnerware go stale; mix and match plates of different fall colors. Use orange salad bowls, red bread plates and yellow dinner plates to add a dash of color to the table.

n Go ahead and play with your food. Carve - or draw with a marker - a silly face on the ends of turned-up radishes and turnips. Cut off the base evenly for solid standing, and place the smiling vegetable character on a plate or in a shallow basket in the center of the table.

n For a classic look, use plain, white linens and dinnerware, and add a punch of color with bunched-together yellow, orange and red roses in small white vases.

n Name tags are a friendly, thoughtful touch. Instead of plain, folded place cards, attach a card with gold string to a pine cone or arts-and-crafts turkey. To kick it up even further, include questions or Thanksgiving trivia on the name settings to break the ice and get the conversations started.