Design Expert Lori Sperling’s Advice on How to Make Your Holiday Gatherings Special

Lori Sperling and Ashley Ruiz of The Still Collective (Photo by Public Three Eleven Design)

If you are like us, planning a gathering starts with the initial elation of decor choices, elaborate menu design and unexpected touches that get the imagination going. And then comes the overwhelm. But it doesn’t have to be that way — a little strategic forethought and calculated creativity goes a long way, according to local design expert and founder of The Still Collective Lori Sperling. We sat down with Sperling to talk about how to make deciding on the details fun and where you can add special accents to make this year’s holiday gathering shine.

Choosing a Theme

While not every gathering needs a theme, it certainly is fun to have one. “Your theme should be geared around the holiday and what is seasonably available. While you want your space to feel balanced and harmonious, it’s also interesting to add some whimsy and a little unexpected,” Sperling says. “Take a look around your home and consider the color palette and ways to bring in a few of the hues to tie things together.”

You know that old adage about taking off one accessory before you leave the house? The same is true of party decor. “We believe in ‘less is more.’ On your table use pieces that feel intentional and purposeful. That could mean not having all of your water glasses match or your cloth napkins can each be different (they should just have one common element that ties them together). Once your table is decorated and you’re feeling good about it, walk away for a bit. Let it marinate and see how you feel about it with fresh eyes. Perfectly imperfect is OK,” she says.

And throwing a dinner party doesn’t have to break the bank or send you on an endless scavenger hunt to buy all new everything (and then find a place to store it all later). Sperling adds, “Always try and use what you have first. Gather any potential pieces you might want to use — dishes, silverware, glassware, pitchers, candles, etc. — and put them all together in one place, then start to play. You will be surprised by what you find hidden in your cabinets, storage and linen closets.”

 Designing Your Tablescape

“For this tablescape we went with a “foraged-and-found” theme. It originated from our love of clay pottery and wanting our dinner table to feel earthy, organic and rich in textures. We chose a charcoal clay pitcher from Oaxaca, Mexico, as our inspiration piece and built around that,” Sperling explains. “Pick one or two items that you love and start to build. Think about the different textures and elements that can be added that will complement your inspiration pieces. Here, we added brass silverware and picked three different types of water glasses with varying heights and styles. While all the candles have brass holders, they are different heights and styles. Again, mixing it up while maintaining a common thread. We felt the table needed a bit more color so we went to a local fabric store and found the perfect runner.”

Sperling admits that flowers and candles are a tried-and-true staple — and for good reason. Lit candles on a table add beauty and warmth, while florals create an earthiness. She says a great insider tip is to take a look outside your own front door and see what you can find to incorporate into your design. “Grab your garden shears and take them with you while you are out hiking on the beautiful Marin trails. Add a fresh sprig of mint or rosemary to your napkins tied with twine or ribbon. And look at what you have in your gift-wrapping bin before heading out to purchase anything,” she advises.

 Add Thoughtful Touches

If there will be kids attending your gathering, do something special for them, too — after all, seeing the joy in their faces only adds to the festive holiday feeling. Sperling points out that including an activity on the kids’ table is a great way to start. She also suggests keeping the decor similar to the adults’ table but making it a little more playful. And of course, you can never go wrong with dessert. “We love sweet little individual cupcakes or a personalized bag filled with candy,” she says.

It is gift-giving season, so consider putting together a little something to give to each of your guests as they depart. “Think of something they can use or display,” Sperling says. “A small candle, a bundle of fresh veggies or fruit from your garden, or even a small vase with fresh or dried florals. While gifts are not necessary, it can be a small reminder of a great time with a thoughtful host.”

Visit The Still Collective’s new retail store STILL, 562 San Anselmo Avenue, San Anselmo.


an autumnal table setting
Courtesy of The Still Collective