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Posted on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 : 8:02 a.m.

Use the good dishes for an exquisite holiday tablescape

By Judy DiForte

christmas table sxc.jpg
In my time at The Betty Brigade, I've been in many a home in which the kitchen cabinets house the chipped and cracked "everyday dishes," while the fine china sits in dusty boxes in the attic, flawless and unused.

I've seen this situation enough that I'm now a "use-the-good-stuff" advocate. Why should my good china outlive me? Same goes for silverware, although that's more likely to see the turn of the century than the good china.

Point is, these beautiful things were made to be enjoyed, and what better time to use the special dishes than the holidays?

My other concern is that no one seems to know how to set a table anymore. I know I sound old... but I must be getting old enough that I don't care how old I sound. (Now that's OLD.)

Even in the fanciest restaurants, the flatware often sits rolled up inside a cloth napkin, either on the plate or to one side. No wonder no one knows where the fork goes! It may seem like a mystery, but I can vouch for one thing: It's not that hard.

With more holidays coming and special meals planned, why not make the table a little fancier? Unpack Grandma's china, use the real silverware and the crystal wine glasses, if you have them.

Here are a few tips for setting a table:

* The fork goes to the left of the plate. The knife, then the spoon go to the right, with the knife's sharp edge facing the plate. Memory tip: "fork" and "left" both have four letters, while "knife," "spoon" and "right" all have five letters. Also, utensils are placed in alphabetical order, from left to right — thus, F (fork), K (knife), then S (spoon). If you want to serve salad, you’ll need a salad fork, as well. This smaller fork goes to the left of the dinner fork.

* The bread and butter plate goes to the left, above the fork(s), while the water glass goes to the right, above the tip of the knife.

* The centerpiece should be low enough for guests to see each other across the table. If the meal is served family style (with serving vessels on the table), keep the centerpiece small and candles close to the centerpiece to avoid accidents when passing dishes.

* For a holiday meal, resist the temptation to place a plastic cover over the tablecloth. If you’re lucky enough to have a beautiful tablecloth or runner, use and enjoy it for your holiday meal. Few stains are permanent nowadays.

* Nothing makes a meal more special than candlelight. When you have guests, make sure the candles are lit before they enter the dining room, and don't blow them out until all guests have left the room.

* And finally — Happy Holidays!

Judy DiForte is a professional organizer and marketing manager at The Betty Brigade, a relocation and organizing company based in Ann Arbor. Click here to sign up for their newsletter.