I’m not the kind of person who eagerly looks forward to changing my décor with every season or holiday. Quite the opposite, actually. Because, let’s be honest here, updating accessories to go with every holiday can get to be rather expensive. But no matter how you feel about the subject, inevitably we all have events that require creating at least a holiday tablescape when we have family and friends gathering in our home. But where to start… especially on a tight budget?

Start by taking inventory

I start any seasonal decorating by taking inventory of what I own already… bowls, trays, candle holders, and other decorations. And I don’t necessarily mean holiday pieces, look at what your foundation is. A large plain silver, white, or glass bowl can be the perfect beginning to a holiday tablescape. Taking inventory helps me to formulate an idea of what I want the design to look like, and to see where the gaps are in my existing items. Going in with a plan also helps to keep me from getting distracted by everything that is new and shiny in the stores.

Foundation pieces (the core)

Much like designing a home, seasonal decorating should be built in layers starting with core pieces. So often I see people get overwhelmed because they think that the table cloth needs to match the plates, that need to match the centerpiece, that needs to match the napkins… and everything needs to be different for each holiday. To some extent this is true, but if you start with a solid timeless foundation this doesn’t need to be a major investment, because it doesn’t all need to change for every holiday.  For example, if you are throwing a Halloween party and you know you like to decorate with votive candleholders, buy a set of them in a silver or gold tone instead of orange, and then just sprinkle candy corns around them for a Halloween theme… that way you can use the votive candleholders again when you decorate for a different holiday.

Let’s look at the table. If you use a tablecloth, select a timeless color like winter white in a quality durable material… then as each holiday comes around you can simply add an inexpensive runner or piece of fabric from your local fabric shop that ties in with the holiday theme you are going for.

The same goes for plates. Every holiday tablescape I create has the same foundation pieces, basic white dinner plates and napkins, the colors and themes are added with fabric accents, smaller decorative accent plates, and by getting creative with napkin rings (like tying Christmas tree ornaments around the napkins, or simple twine with a floral fabric band for a BBQ theme dinner in the summer). It is also OK if you don’t have a full set of matching plates. Mixing and matching basic pieces with a common neutral color can work very well, and can add dimension to your design… this goes for glassware and flat-wear as well. If you still don’t have enough for a complete set, check out your local Goodwill or other thrift shops. Odds are you can build a full set of pieces that work well together in no time, and at minimal expense.

With a foundation in place, you can really get creative with inexpensive accessories (like setting your plates on wreaths during winter holidays).

Light it up

Candles add so much versatility to seasonal decorating! But how often do you find that you buy a candle, display it for a season, and then it gets damaged in storage or you simply never use it again? Or, you’ve gone to the effort of creating a beautiful display for a party on your patio only to have the wind blow all of the flames out before the guests even arrive? Personally, I love putting candle lanterns outside, but here in Colorado there are certain seasons when the wind makes it impossible to keep real candles lit. Because of this, I have become a big fan of the flameless flickering candles. But they aren’t inexpensive! I decided to go ahead and make the investment in plain ivory premium flameless candles, and when an event calls for a little color, I create sleeves using colored tissue paper or bands of decorative paper. It may be a bigger investment up front, but when you can use the same candles year after year the cost per use becomes very reasonable.

Accessories… what nature has to offer

When I’m creating my centerpieces, I love to go walk around our property for inspiration and materials. Fallen aspen leaves, branches, and pinecones in the fall and winter, and flowers, leaves, moss, etc. in the spring and summer are what make my designs come to life. They feel fresh, are always appropriate for the season, and guests often comment on how much they like that things are real. If you don’t have a yard or immediate access to open spaces, taking a walk around a local park should yield the same materials. It’s a wonderful, no-cost way to bring the season into your home for an event. Once I’ve selected the materials from outside, I like to visit my grocery store and supplement with seasonal fruit, vegetables, or extra branches, leaves, or flowers from their floral department. On occasion, I will buy a box of acorn vase fillers… because they’re perfect for fall decorating. But I do try to find what I need in nature first.

Regardless of whether you like to go all out each season, or you are subtler about seasonal décor, by keeping a few guidelines in mind, seasonal décor can be done well without a big investment each time.