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Secrets to a spectacular Thanksgiving centerpiece

By Danielle Claro, Real Simple
updated 12:05 PM EST, Wed November 21, 2012
  • Table design can make a meal more appetizing and elicit oohs and aahs from guests
  • Decorators came up with innovative table designs to spice up a meal's landscape
  • Create a horizontal bouquet by mixing blooms and branches lengthwise
  • Try not to block guests' view of one another with a centerpiece

(CNN) -- Just because the meal is traditional doesn't mean that your Thanksgiving table has to be. Real Simple asked three creative geniuses to come up with beautiful, unusual displays that anyone can successfully replicate.

David Meredith/Real Simple

Horizontal Bouquet by Nicolette Owen Low, lush, and loose, this cascade of harvest hues—featuring peach-toned amaryllis, arcing autumn branches, and a riot of ranunculus, mums, and roses—is celebratory, special, and just the right shape for dining. Explains floral designer Nicolette Owen: "Branches and stems that splay out to form a 'valley' in the center are really inviting on a table. Guests can look down into the arrangement and enjoy its depths, as opposed to having a big pyramid in front of them that blocks the view." In an oblong vessel (this one is about 12 inches wide and 6 inches deep), a bouquet is more two-sided than round—a great trick for a better fit on a rectangular table (get the how-tos).

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How To: Make Horizontal Bouquet The mix of blooms and branches is great inspiration, but you can easily replicate the effect with other flowers in the same color scheme. See what's available at your best local flower shop, and ask for help choosing alternatives. 1. Place a flower frog (find options at, which is one of those little devices with metal spikes for securing stems in a low, oblong urn. (An oval-shaped tureen would work, too.) Fill the urn about three-quarters of the way with water. 2. Create an asymmetrical foundation with a few woody stems, like crab apple, and berry-covered stems, like viburnum. If you can find a fruited branch, such as pomegranate, at the flower shop, place it so the fruit rests on the table. (You can even use red grapes.) For better hold, cut the ends of woody stems on an angle before inserting them into the frog. 3. Add large, showy face flowers, like amaryllis, to each side of the arrangement, low and off center. Use one bloom on one side and two, clustered close, on the other. It's OK if one slightly covers another—they should look natural, the way flowers grow.

The Healthy Secrets of Thanksgiving Foods 4. Fill in with medium-size flowers: roses, mums, ranunculus. Cluster similar flowers together, and place them in groups of two or three, at different levels, rather than making a mound shape. Cut some short to tuck into the low center of the bouquet, and leave others long and arcing toward the table. 5. Off to the side, weave in wispy flowers, like chocolate cosmos, plus a few pieces of grassy foliage, such as silver fox. 6. Step back and adjust. Push some blooms in and pull some out for a random, organic feel.

This and that
David Meredith/Real Simple

This-and-That Display by Olga Naiman With a marble slab as a base (a cheese board works), you can pull together a sculptural tableau using what you have around the house and the yard. The fun part is shopping your home, from the kitchen cupboards to the top of a dresser to the bookshelves, for striking treasures. Stylist and set designer Olga Naiman says: "Keep the emphasis on shapes and materials—marble, wood, horn, metal—anything natural, rich, and clean-lined. And stick to solid colors." Varied heights, graceful curves, and a little "overflow" (extending the arrangement to one side, off the slab) make this centerpiece arresting from across the room and intriguing up close. Opting for mostly browns, blacks, and grays gives pops of vibrant color extra impact (get the how-tos).

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How To: Make This-and-That Display A little "stage" of marble highlights your prettiest pieces. And the same design principles apply whether your props are edgy or classic. 1. Look over your shelves, dresser tops, and cupboards for unfussy, clean-lined vessels and accessories in organic materials and muted colors. Think wooden bowls, woven or stone boxes, ceramic pitchers, metallic vases. (If you need more to choose from, you can find inexpensive additions at sites like and—or scour thrift shops and tag sales for cool, one-off objects.) 2. Grab a long marble or slate cheese board (find options at and start experimenting. Position your tallest item first, off center, followed by your next tallest—a candlestick, perhaps. Add pieces one at a time, varying heights, noting depth, and juxtaposing angular and rounded items. 3. Cluster a few items of similar colors together, and include some low pieces, like a trivet, a small box, or a shallow bowl. 4. Clip a pretty sculptural branch from your yard (or buy one at a local flower shop) to extend the height of the tallest piece. Add a few leafless buds for color.

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David Meredith/Real Simple

Sprawling Cornucopia by Remco van Vliet

Edible and elegant, this stunning still life is far easier to achieve than it looks. Explains event designer and florist Remco van Vliet, just build from the highest point to the lowest and vary the density. A little breathing space is nice: "Start by establishing a peak in the center, then group fruit to create flowing waves of color—red grapes with dark pears and plums, for example." Ivy that seems to be growing from the table provides a magical quality. Candlesticks of different heights, plus a few stray pieces of citrus, help the setting feel friendly, not too formal. It all starts with ripe, gorgeous fruit carefully chosen and set to show off its best side (get the how-tos).

How To: Make Sprawling Cornucopia For this display, employ a few pro tools: green florist wire, water picks (if you want the ivy to last a few days), and floral sticks. 1. At a plant store, buy a hanging basket of miniature variegated ivy (the longer the better), plus green florist wire and floral sticks. Shop a nice supermarket or a specialty grocer for tangelos; green, red, and purple seedless grapes; Bosc and red Bartlett pears; red and black plums; and Meyer lemons. 2. Clip six long strands of ivy from your plant. Start in the center of your table and loosely lay three strands to the left and three strands to the right (like cat whiskers), extending all the way to the ends of the table. Place your simplest metal candlesticks near the heads of the table. If you have three, it's nice to group two on one side for a casual feel.

24 Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Recipes 3. Loosely wind ivy around each candlestick, keeping the leaves facing up. Secure with florist wire. 4. Heap clusters of grapes in the center of the table and around the base of each candlestick. 5. Cut floral sticks on an angle to about four inches in length. Poke them into tangelos to create two clusters of three. Tuck one tangelo trio near the center grape heap to add height, and place the other to one side. (You can use the same technique for plums if they're rolling away.) 6. Fill in gaps with pears, plums, and the remaining tangelos, allowing the arrangement to trail off at each end of the table. Leave some empty space here and there. Untuck a few sprigs of ivy so it appears to be meandering through the fruit.

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