While the thrill of standard gift giving and gift getting may have peaked years (decades) ago, the comfort of community has not. For the best, I think, our newly shortened days force us to make tough choices about our time: what we spend it on, and whom we spend it with. And how. Anything else becomes irrelevant.

I choose home with family, friends and that interesting person whom I happened to strike up a conversation with in the local grocery store. As my favorite writer and poet, Elizabeth Alexander said recently, “Family is porous. Family is accepting and welcoming. Family always has space and makes room for another.”

As a designer, I think that that feeling of inclusivity should be reflected not only in actions, but also in objects that create an environment for those actions to thrive.  Growing up, we rarely decorated for the holidays, with minimal decorations dwindling over the years to nothing. I don’t know if I ever really missed it though- our house was always alive with color, conversation and community.

While many things have changed for me in the last few decades- moving to the Bay Area, getting married, taking long hikes in the middle of the workday - my love of color has not. Perhaps it has something to do with my African American heritage and the long line of people before me making something wonderful out of disparate bits and pieces, but I am most at ease surrounded by vibrant splashes of color and patterns and textures of all sorts. I am energized by the polyrhythmic layering of tones, shapes and sensations. THIS is what excites me.

I believe holiday table setting should be as stimulating as the conversation you expect to flow above it, so I spend the night before every dinner party happily preparing for my guests. Each gathering is inspired by the guests themselves, but five elements remain a constant.

1. White tablecloths are jettisoned for fabrics I have found in my travels. Sometimes a soft cotton scarf, printed with shells that I brought back from Italy acts as backdrop, other times a shimmery green, gold flecked shawl from Delhi makes an appearance.

2. Sets dishes are mixed within one place setting, piling hue upon hue and housewarming presents with travel finds. Conversation starters to be sure, but also pragmatic. In this way, I can easily accommodate additional arrivals with the same level of casual elegance and exuberance that I do for expected guests.  Family always has space…

3. Candles dot the table. They are a cityscape of soft lights that create intimacy and a flattering glow.

4. An unusual centerpiece crowns the table. Sometimes it is a small scale, overlooked sculpture rescued  from a bookshelf that is given its star turn for the night, other times it is constructed just for the evening, using a glue gun and whatever is handy.

5. In low juice glasses (to encourage cross table chatting) I gather seasonal flowers from the local farmers market, and intersperse them with fragrant sprigs of rosemary cut from our hedges, or vibrant red stalks of protea to give a sense of moment and place. These small individualized bouquets are gifts to my dinner guests, as a small memento of our time together.

Wishing you a holiday season filled with color and creativity!

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