Imperfectly Perfect Tabletops Boast Vintage Treasures

Vintage table settings spark joy and nostalgia

Photos by Ryan Dyer | Styling by Vintage Soirées and Lilacs & Lace Events
Antiques from Urban Squirrel and Mall of St. Paul | Menu design by Melissa Lage

For many, a pro forma table swathed in poinsettias, holly, and the once-a-year “good” china is a holiday tradition that never goes out of style. But for others who crave a more personal tableau, Tess Rockwood Hoag, owner of Vintage Soirées, recommends tossing aside convention. “Do what makes you happy. Perfectionism is overrated.”

For the past seven years, Hoag has specialized in eclectic tablescapes for weddings, parties, and showers using her collection of vintage china, glassware, and tabletop items. Each of her designs is unique and rarely do two dishes match. That’s the charm. “Guests share memories triggered by certain vintage pieces. I see a sparkle in their eyes reflecting on the past, which creates new memories,” she says.

Few times of year are more evocative than the holidays, so why not tap into it and gather things that spark joy or nostalgia for you and your guests? Hoag offers a few of her best tips.

Hunt year-round   Vintage is both a good value and an environmental impact win. Hoag recommends shopping throughout the year and keeping finds in a designated box in the basement. “When the holidays roll around, you can unpack the treasures that inspired you throughout the year, and it’s like a big box of presents for you,” she says.

Set the course   For those who have a matching set of china or glassware, Hoag suggests playing with them—mixing and matching elegant crystal and china with kitschy dishes adorned with bears, snowmen, or Snoopy. “Don’t be afraid to be whimsical and pick out what makes your heart full.” And although she loves chargers and layering dishes, she’s careful to keep it practical, so guests know where to put things and how to use them.

Make room for dessert  Treat dessert spreads like decor and display them throughout the party on a table with vintage pedestal cake stands and mirrored filigree trays for height variety and a bit of glamour.

Illuminate  Hoag recommends a variety of lighting to set the mood and favors real candles, which she often finds for a bargain at thrift stores—especially pillars of varying heights and textured types.

Fancy ice, ice baby  “Last holiday, I started doing ‘fancy ice,’ which is freezing rosemary, pomegranate seeds, or cranberries into cubes for drinks.” She places the cubes in water glasses to set a fun tone for the meal.

That’s a (no) wrap   Vintage tins are sustainable and functional vessels for gifts. Hoag also keeps her eyes open for vintage cardboard boxes and wrapping paper. “How thrilled would your grandma be to receive a gift in an old Dayton’s box?” Ditto vintage thermoses, which she fills with yuletide beverages or hot chocolate for friends. “They can reuse the tin, box, or thermos again—so it’s just winning all around.”

Refined Rustic

Vintage stadium blankets, harvest candles, amber glassware, and honey locust chargers create a colorful and cozy table. Good conversation is premeditated with a thoughtful seating arrangement marked by custom wood laser-cut names from Etsy that also serve as party favors.

Winter Wonderland

A table that reflects the color and delicacy of snowflakes includes a lace tablecloth, assorted blue and white china, milk glass vases, antique ornaments, and textured candles.

Rad Plaid

A traditionalist’s dream with mix-and-match holiday plates, lustrous gold flatware, vintage red and green goblets, and a plaid tablecloth.

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