A special gathering calls for a fabulous table. So just in time for Thanksgiving, we asked four champion entertainers to share their best ideas for creating a warm, inviting space.

Photo: Quentin Bacon

Lela Rose
Designer of her namesake fashion label, author of Prêt-à-Party: Great Ideas for Good Times and Creative Entertaining

Her Tabletop
I'm always thinking up new ways to do place cards since they're personalized and special. Every Thanksgiving, I embroider each guest's name on a linen napkin, adding it above a previous visitor's. Seeing who's been at past dinners is a lot of fun, and it's a creative alternative to a guest book. But if sewing isn't your strong suit, you can use a piece of mottled yarn to create the initial of each guest as a place card. I love mixing textures, patterns, and colors whenever I can. I try to blend fashion and food.

Entertaining Tips
  • Repetition equals good design. Line up several small bowls or vases to make a pretty centerpiece. If you're on a budget, use empty clear wine bottles as candlestick holders. Easy and cheap!
  • Fall vegetables have rich colors and textures and are a wonderful alternative to flowers.
  • Branches are a mainstay of my tabletop decor. I'll even wrap parts of them with metallic or colored thread.
  • No time to craft place cards? Use Scrabble letters to spell out guests' names.
  • Photo: Richard Clark/Getty Images

    Ann Mashburn
    Designer of Ann Mashburn ready-to-wear and accessories, owner of Ann Mashburn stores

    Her Tabletop
    Candles and good music are the key to any great party. I have a mix of old and new candlesticks, and I set up some tall candles in the center of the table and smaller votives all around. I let my husband handle the music. He has an amazing album collection and makesa mean playlist. We're very ad hoc. Less is more. People should just enjoy the holiday and cook together.

    Entertaining Tips
  • If there are kids in your family, have the youngest write out place cards. You can reuse them for repeat guests, and they're adorable in a child's handwriting! My littlest even drew a tiny picture on each one.
  • In the morning, I send the kids into the yard to snip some greens: holly, something waxy, whatever's handy. Then I round up some julep cups to use as vases and create an easy centerpiece, either clustered together or lined up along the center of the table.
  • Do a group activity. Set up a craft table so kids can make friendship bracelets (they double as favors!).
  • Serve something different before the main event. We've started shucking and eating oysters midday instead of having a big lunch. It makes the day more memorable—especially the year my husband cut himself and we rushed him to urgent care!
  • Photo: Michael Bennett/Offset

    Merle Dandridge
    Stage and screen actress, star of OWN's Greenleaf

    Her Tabletop
    Think rustic fall colors. I love going to the grocery store, grabbing an armful of flowers, and mixing and matching them in several small bouquets in lowball glasses. Choose a colorful cocktail you can make in a huge batch and let guests help themselves. You can even scatter clear Christmas lights and a few mini pumpkins for a fast and fabulous table. Decorating doesn't have to be expensive. Use your imagination...and maybe Pinterest!

    Entertaining Tips
  • One year my sister made a beautiful tablescape with tulips, gourds, and rocks. It was so simple yet so effective.
  • Pull out all your clear vases and fill them with water. Float some tea lights and cranberries in them for a quick centerpiece.
  • A surprise touch for the bathroom: Remove the stems from a bunch of flowers. Fill the bathtub just enough so the tops of the blooms can float freely (I like peonies or gerbera daisies). Then, when guests are arriving, light a dozen or so tea lights and add them in. It makes the room a zen escape if the festivities become overwhelming.
  • I like to give favors to guests. Whenever I travel, I stock up on beautiful, small gifts, like locally handmade candles or soaps. I wrap them in metallic mesh fabric and tie with a ribbon—beautiful and easy!
  • Photo: Travis Magee

    Darcy Miller
    Illustrator and author of the new book Celebrate Everything! Fun Ideas to Bring Your Parties to Life

    Her Tabletop
    Gold is always my palette of choice. It works so well with everything, as either the main focus or just an accent. A touch of gold paint can go a long way. I'll use it on pumpkins, branches, or even smaller, unexpected things like walnuts. Not only do we DIY, but we also DIT (do it together), which is the most important part.

    Entertaining Tips
  • Everything looks great under glass cloches, from a gourd to a chocolate turkey. You can put them anywhere— on your mantel or lined up on your dining room table.
  • Bring in objects found in nature to decorate. Try individual flowers—people can even take them home! Or get crafty and spray-paint branches or leaves.
  • There's so much you can do with scissors and paper. You don't have to be an artist to trace a leaf-shaped cookie cutter. String the cutouts together in a garland, or just sprinkle them down the table.
  • In a pinch, place tiny bowls of nuts, dried fruits and candy along the table.