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The art of festive dining: give your table a rustic feel with soft linens and seasonal sprigs

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Francesca Brown
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Get inspiration from our Scandinavian cousins and discover the rules for transforming your dining table into a hub of happiness this Christmas

Leave the novelty tablecloth in the loft, ditch the formal place cards and ban all plastic trinkets; a hygge Christmas dinner setting needs only essential tableware, beloved family ornaments and a few tasteful sprigs of greenery. Here, experts reveal the simplest ways to achieve a cosy, elegant atmosphere for one of the most celebrated meals of the year.

1. The more, the merrier

The more guests you invite for a meal the better, so find the biggest dining table available and add chairs from wherever you can find – matching sets are the antithesis of hygge. Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark and author of The Little Book Of Hygge, explains, “The art of hygge is also the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people. Eating together is key as long you’re socialising in a relaxed, informal way.” Narrow tables work well – if your friends don’t have to reach far as they hand round the sharing plates, you’ve got the right idea.

2. Get tactile

With hundreds of years’ experience of long, cold nights (in Denmark it’s dark between 4pm and 9am every day in winter), you’d be wise to emulate the Danes’ love of soft, natural textiles. Surround your dining area with lambswool, cashmere and soft linens in the form of cushions, rugs and throws but avoid tablecloths and show off the natural wood of your table instead. Drape sheepskins across benches and seats for added cosiness.

3. Bring the outside in

In the depths of winter, natural greenery is ideal for adding some life to the gloom. Arrange sprigs of seasonal spruce and pine sourced from your garden or local florist across your table or, in true hygge style, hang branches from the ceiling and mix in pinecones and holly for a festive feel. Similarly, look for natural stone and marble materials when choosing candle holders, bowls and vases.

4. Illuminate the room

The soft, natural light provided by candles is an integral part to creating a comforting mood – Denmark burns more candles than any other European country. Mix tea lights with tapers, pillars with containers and spread them around in clusters. Place in wooden or stone candle holders or in copper candelabras to capture the flickering light bouncing off the surface.

5. Embrace a rustic feel

This is not the time to perfect Le Cordon Bleu recipes. Instead, create slow-cooked soups and stews followed by homemade cakes. “The rule of thumb is the longer a dish takes to cook, surrounded by friends and family, the more enjoyable it is,” says Wiking. Tableware should reflect the food. Use sharing plates, mismatched chunky china and let guests grab what they need, when they need it. 

  • Cover star

    This soft throw is 100% cotton and has an inverted print so you can mix things up depending on your mood (£92, fermliving.com).

  • Sit down

    In need of a rustic dining setting to seat everyone? Look no further than the extendable Norden birch wood table (£170, ikea.com).

  • Serving time

    Whether showing off savoury masterpieces or sweet treats, the Ines cake stand makes an inspired centrepiece (£29, oliverbonas.com).

  • In bloom

    Designed in Sweden by Eva Levin, Barnaby & Co’s ceramic and copper bud vases come in four chic shades (£10, barnabyco.com).

  • Make a toast

    Iittala’s Kastehelmi droplet tumblers bring sheer delight whether used for water or wine (£11.25, trouva.com).

  • Welcome sign

    For natural decoration, this beautiful eucalyptus and winterberry wreath is hard to beat (£50, thewhitecompany.com).

  • One-pot wonder

    The Halo cast iron casserole dish is all you need to create some seriously comforting winter meals (£76, denby.co.uk).

  • Hand hold

    Channelling festive vibes, the matte gold of the 16-piece Newberg cutlery set is also a strong trend for 2017 (£119, made.com).

  • Pile it high

    This eye-catching new marbled mugs-and-plate collection is hand made in Istanbul by Bornn Enamelware (from £14, futureandfound.com).

  • Snuggle up

    This super soft cushion is knitted in Scotland by acclaimed knitwear brand Eribé using 100% merino lambswool (£72, heals.com).

  • Shine on

    The perfect place for displaying a candle or serving moreish pre-dinner snacks is this small hammered copper plate (£6, johnlewis.com).

  • Happy feet

    Whether it’s under the table or thrown over a chair, Toast’s Gotland sheepskin rug is a key ingredient for hygge happiness (£395, toa.st).

Table, stylist’s own; large plate, £30; dinner plate, £15; bowl, £12; cutlery set (24 piece), £200; wine glass, £10; champagne flute; £10; marble candlesticks, £57.50 (for set of three); silver candlestick, from £149 each; goat skin bench, £379; Austrian sheepskin rug, £137.50 (all available at amara.com)

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Francesca Brown

Francesca Brown is books editor for Stylist magazine and Emerald Street; she also compiles the Style List on a weekly basis. She is a self-confessed HBO abuser and has a wide selection of grey sweatshirts. Honestly, you just can’t have enough. @franabouttown

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