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The Vintage-Inspired Southern Thanksgiving Table

Nov 7, 2012

by Jessica Mischner handmade and vintage goods

Jessica Mischner joined the editorial staff of Garden and Gun as senior editor after stints at Food & Wine, Metropolitan Home, and Travel + Leisure. Jessica has appeared on The TODAY Show, Fox & Friends, CBS’s The Early Show, and Planet Green to discuss issues ranging from food to sustainable style and travel. A native of South Carolina, Jessica spent eight years in New York before moving to Charleston with her husband, Will, in 2011.

Long after the pies and sides have come and gone, the memories of Thanksgiving — family bonding in the kitchen, wine-fueled stories around the table, last-minute guests, and the inevitable flight delay — remain. It’s the sense of occasion and the experience of sharing the holiday together that make it such an enduring and beloved tradition.

Which is why it’s so important to carry out the whole thing in style. Down south, that means pulling out the good china, pressing the linens, and dusting off the silver. That’s not to say it has to be a stuffy affair. The trick is to make it look effortless, which is why a bit of patina and a few rustic elements aren’t just allowed — they’re essential. Like the holiday itself, you want your table to be a mix of the old, the new, and the unexpected.

[Clockwise from top left: Pheasant salt and pepper shakers from criminytriplet; Tri-compartment serving tray from goodsfromtheatticPie plate from PickerchicksSterling Duchin Candelabra from TrunkGypsiesWm. Rogers Flatware for 8 from MoseleyAndStokesVintage cranberry server from AJewelsQuest.]

No Southern table is complete without some shine, but silver doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to free this metal from its gone-era fussiness once and for all. A few key pieces are all you need for maximum effect, and limiting your numbers ensures you won’t be polishing the stuff for days before and after. Candlelight makes everyone look better, and a well-loved candelabrum with an air of faded-grandeur about it enhances the Southern gothic effect. Pheasant salt and pepper shakers are a substantial way to bring the outdoors inside (and besides, there’s always room for another bird on the table!). Accompanied by mismatched china and earthy florals, these pieces will elevate the everyday into something special, without rendering the whole arrangement too rarefied for comfort.

[Clockwise from top left: Vintage Limoges serving trays from myplace4tea; Gold leaf crystal wine glasses from 22BayRoad; Olive tray from joysofoldukFleur de Lis coasters from OlsenVintageMarket; Mother of pearl pickle fork from MamaBoisOrange square bowl from TheOtherLifeVintage.]

Another way to add luster to the table? Gold! Each of these pieces is holiday-worthy without feeling overly precious. A dash of mother of pearl on a pickle fork (a must for the pickle plate that will accompany any Southern buffet) here, a splash of gold leaf around the rim of a wine glass there and you’ve set a new standard for easy elegance. Throw in a hunt-inspired olive dish, a bold orange platter, and a fleur de lis motif, and you’ve got a city house/country house blend that’s equal parts understated yet refined. Now, in your most convincing voice, repeat after me, “What — this old thing?”

[Clockwise from top left: Rustic round cutting board from stilllifestyle; French linen tablecloth from FrenchCountryLivingWhite soup tureen from PeriodEleganceCotton stems from TALLCOTTONnPEASFrench oyster plate from RueDesLouves; Vintage cocktail napkins from SweetHistory; Duck casserole dish from VintageCleveland.]

At its core, Thanksgiving is a rustic, organic holiday in which nature is the centerpiece, which is why farmhouse elements that let the food stand out are as important as any silver or stemware. Whether you’re making roast duck or pumpkin soup, classic white dishes make any recipe look better. Sage and parsley brighten up a rugged round cutting board, and cotton stems situate the field feast vibe squarely in the South. Throw in a French linen tablecloth and a must-have oyster plate (bivalves are a Southern staple come fall), and you could be eating with sticks and still have one seriously stylish set-up. Dig in, pilgrims!

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  • Annalogeu

    Annabel from SecondHandSandy said 6 years ago

    Ohhh I love vintage tableware! Often, it is of better quality than the new cheap stuff. If you are celebrating national history, why not celebrate the history of design in tableware at the same moment. And family pieces are often so underestimated, it is lovely, great, to keep your family heritage somewhere safe, even if you only use it once a year at thanksgiving. Nothing holds a good memory like a vintage casserole.

  • karenjones948

    Karen Jones from TheOtherLifeVintage said 6 years ago

    Wonderful picks for Thanksgiving!

  • accentonvintage

    accentonvintage from accentonvintage said 6 years ago

    Great blog! Love the casual elegant style!

  • MissHildebrandt

    Miss Hildebrandt from MissHildebrandt said 6 years ago

    One more post to get me in the 'mood'...the Thanksgiving mood... Can't wait to break out the silver! This year I am painting a huge turkey for our center piece this year. I figure I can use it as decor for the years following.

  • messinabella

    messinabella from BandBEstate said 6 years ago

    Great post & picks!

  • rosebudshome

    rosebudshome from rosebudshome said 6 years ago

    I will have Thanksgiving at my house this year, for the first time and I want to make it special, not only with all my fancy dishes and recipes but with love for the wonderful people in my life. I am very thankful!

  • UnionStudioMetals

    UnionStudioMetals from UnionStudioMetals said 6 years ago

    Can't wait for the holidays this year!! Thanks for the design inspiration!!

  • mazedasastoat

    mazedasastoat from mazedasastoat said 6 years ago

    A magazine called "Garden & Gun" & a featured item with a hunting scene... doesn't sound like much for animals to be thankful for...

  • Motleycouture

    Motleycouture from Motleycouture said 6 years ago

    Love Thanksgiving and all the fixings. Great post ! Happy Thanksgiving!

  • ShopRethink

    Joel and Erika Snayd from ShopRethink said 6 years ago

    Nice post! If you're looking for vintage serving ware with a modern twist, check out our shop!

  • GoldenDaysAntiques

    Nancy from GoldenDaysAntiques said 6 years ago

    Beautiful selections!

  • cottonbirddesigns

    Angela Cotton from CottonBirdDesigns said 6 years ago

    Beautiful finds!

  • EnglishTransferware

    Nancy Roberts from EnglishTransferware said 6 years ago

    I agree completely with the philosophy of mixing old and new. I've always loved to do that and think it gives such a warm, cozy feel to any setting. I want those pheasant salt and pepper shakers...but I'm too late! Great post! ~Nancy

  • ikabags

    IKA PARIS from ikabags said 6 years ago

    Formidable !

  • MagicMarkingsArt

    cathie carlson from MagicMarkingsArt said 6 years ago

    Our son gave my husband and me a subscription to Garden and Gun two years ago. At first I was like "What?! A gun magazine?!!" He - "Trust me mom, you're going to love this!" Needless to say, it is now our favorite read. Our son now lives in Charleston and we'll be celebrating Thanksgiving together in Savannah. Guess I better pack up the table decor! Thank you for the tips Jessica.

  • ebkriley

    EBK Riley from DeeAndFee said 6 years ago

    Thank you for featuring such lovely tableware. I love the old/new, high/low mix because it makes the setting so much more meaningful and interesting.

  • maggiemaevintage

    maggiemaevintage from maggiemaevintage said 6 years ago

    my favorite time of year

  • SimpleThymePrims

    ronda Tedder from simplethymeprims said 6 years ago

    Beautiful! much to be thankful for!

  • CoreandMantle

    Alayna from CoreandMantle said 6 years ago

    I like more color and warmth in my dining experience, but thanks for sharing. Interesting cultural piece on Tofurkey Day ;)

  • ThreeBarDGifts

    Monica from ThreeBarDGifts said 6 years ago

    Nice selections! I love Thanksgiving memories!

  • ThePattypanShop

    ThePattypanShop from ThePattypanShop said 6 years ago

    Simply beautiful items!! Thanks!

  • SuzisPillowStudio

    Suzi from ThePillowStudioShop said 6 years ago

    Wonderfully festive! Thanks for the inspiration.

  • PattiTrostle

    Patti Trostle from PattiTrostle said 6 years ago

    Great items! I remember how my Mother and Grandmothers always made the table very special on holidays. I still have some of the things they used. It brings back great memories every time I bring them out for a holiday now!

  • postmanlily

    sun li from lililililili said 6 years ago

    Love this! Thank you!

  • LeasaMarie

    Leasa from LeasaDesigns said 6 years ago

    I love the table and chairs - a very inviting place to have T-giving! Warm and wonderful~ I can almost smell the turkey!

  • savanahm

    Savanah Macaulay from MyHandmadeHappies said 6 years ago

    I hope this is an open invitation for us all to enjoy your effortlessly elegant Thanksgiving day dinner :)

  • QueenBeeVintiques

    Kim from RiverHomeVintage said 6 years ago

    Thank you for the wonderful inspiration...I am looking so forward to adding some of that vintage fabulous southern style to my table this Thanksgiving!

  • gilstrapdesigns

    Debra Gilstrap from gilstrapdesigns said 6 years ago

    So beautiful and as usual I'm ready for us to get to eat on my mother's china and of course that's also when we get to use the silver. This is such a tradition in my family and we look forward to it all each and every year oh and I can't forget about my mother's homemade dinner rolls I can't wait!!!

  • AgelessThings

    AgelessThings from VintageAgelessThings said 6 years ago

    Your ideas are inspiring! This is one holiday that brings back memories of family, good food and lots of laughter. Got to go polish those silver pieces and I think I will just keep using them all year long!

  • amusebeads

    amusebeads from amusebeads said 6 years ago

    I love the candelabra... but where is the gravy boat? You know it's an essential part of every Thanksgiving table!

  • campbell732

    campbell732 from Pickerchicks said 6 years ago

    Thanks for featuring our pie plate, the pickerchicks!

  • ThatFrenchLook

    Suzy Meek from FrenchCountryLiving said 6 years ago

    So beautifully put together a real country look,my own cupboards heave with old French linens. Heirlooms are made of beauty and family memories.

  • seanmoseley

    Sean Moseley from MoseleyAndStokes said 6 years ago

    Jessica, what a fantastic post! Thank you so much for featuring Moseley & Stokes. The Rogers Bros. flatware has sold, but there is another wonderful set available and so many other one-of-a-kind silver items for the perfect vintage holiday tabletop in the Moseley & Stokes Silver Chest:

  • VintageMarketPlace

    VintageMarketPlace from VintageMarketPlace said 6 years ago

    it is sad that Thanksgiving is overlooked these days. I am so glad you did a lovely piece for us all to remember this special day.

  • eclecticintuition

    Denise & Lizzie from ClassicTableware said 6 years ago

    Beautiful! Thank you for keeping elegant simple!

  • TheSilverPlatter

    Denise from TheSilverPlatter said 6 years ago

    You've presented an excellent Thanksgiving Table. Just my style!

  • rivahside

    rivahside said 6 years ago

    You've really captured the Southern Thanksgiving table. Refined and elegant, but subtle. And yes, oysters are a staple on my table-fried with House Autry Seafood Breader, and also a good country salt ham.

  • TheBeautyofBoredom

    Gracie from TheBeautyofBoredom said 6 years ago

    Cool! I am excited for Thanksgiving this year! Not living at home makes it a different experience, I now look forward to family gatherings and other such events. The last two years, we have had home made pizzas. It's not traditional at all, but it works for us. Being a vegetarian who doesn't really appreciate tofurkey, I find it to be a good substitute. Everyone else seems to like it as well, and since we are able to make about 5 different pizzas, everyone gets what they want. Thanks for sharing your story as well.

  • peshka

    Peshka from Peshka said 6 years ago

    Beautiful selections!

  • riricreations

    riricreations from riricreations said 6 years ago

    Love that cotton!

  • blueroompottery

    Marietta from blueroompottery said 6 years ago

    You are an excellent writer! mmm.... I can't wait now for the day to come, since I have invited many friends over and am planning a big party which will end up with some serious dancing (Greek and other, lol!!) And one more thing, it's not only "down south, that means pulling out the good china, pressing the linens, and dusting off the silver" as you mentioned, but also up here in the north, in snow country :) ...And it's followed by a whole load of washing tablecloths and towels the day after, lol! Have a beautiful holiday to all!! <3

  • slacey152

    Stacy from HappiestCrafts said 6 years ago

    My grandmother use to always put out the "good china" for the holiday dinners, I will be inheriting that "good china" and cant wait to carry on the tradition with my own twist of rustic and eco-friendly splashes :) Really enjoyed your read!

  • studiokgraphicdesign

    studiokgraphicdesign from studiokgraphicdesign said 6 years ago

    beautiful picks! I'm ready for the holiday now :)

  • Iammie

    iammie from iammie said 6 years ago

    Nice picks!

  • mattyhandmadecrafts

    Matejka Max from NattyMatty said 6 years ago


  • normaharrell

    Norma from CultOfChiffon said 6 years ago

    Garden and Gun magazine ROCKS! And I'm a vegetarian...and a yankee! It also has lots of great vegan recipes for cocktails, lol...

  • johnsonjem

    johnson jem from Worldoftradecom said 6 years ago

    rocking out of comments great shared .

  • DressyDollsCompany

    Leila from DressyDollsCompany said 6 years ago

    Looking forward to a great Thanksgiving!

  • MegansMenagerie

    Megan from MegansMenagerie said 6 years ago

    Beautiful picks! I would love to have some of these to put on my table for Thanksgiving dinner this year :)

  • 3sisterstreasures

    Diane, Lori and Jeri from 3sisterstreasures said 6 years ago

    I love to see the focus on vintage especially vintage tableware as it is my fav. My sisters and I have the honor to help my daughter design a tablescape for The Festival of Tables at her church tomorrow night. My daughter chose her theme to be "Vintage". Right up our alley! We have had a ball using our pieces both personal and some from our shops. It is the most beautiful tablescape and we are very excited. Vintage is best! In my book.

  • cberez

    CB DESIGN'S from CBDesignsPR said 6 years ago

    Very nice picks!!!!

  • LittleWrenPottery

    Victoria Baker from LittleWrenPottery said 6 years ago

    Beautiful finds, love the gold rimmed glasses vintage pieces often just have so much class to them!


    Julia from MASHUGANA said 6 years ago

    I love everything. I know it is southern inspired, but if you go up to Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, there are many of these finds there too. Love this, lovely article. Cheers!

  • justbuyin

    Michelle said 6 years ago

    Loved this post! Southern gentility is alive and well.

  • FranceGallery

    France Gallery from FranceGallery said 6 years ago

    Some lovely items here!

  • TheCottageCheese

    Marsi from TheCottageCheese said 6 years ago

    Wonderful post! As our families have grown and are spread out across the country, Thanksgiving day has become more and more casual so that we may spend more time visiting and less time fussing. My Mom, whose southern roots date back to the 1600's in Kentucky, has always loved the tradition of formal holiday meals. I don't think I truly appreciated that until the past few years. P.S. Garden & Gun rocks!

  • BlueMoonLights

    Alexandra Simons from BlueMoonLights said 6 years ago

    Great post & finds!

  • ShoeClipsOnly

    kathy johnson from ShoeClipsOnly said 6 years ago

    Beautiful pics!

  • katrinaalana

    Katrina Alana from KatrinaAlana said 6 years ago

    Gorgeous! Thanks for sharing!

  • susantique

    Susan from susantique said 6 years ago

    Such a lovely collection of finds for Thanksgiving. So classic and elegant, yet completely appropriate for today's aesthetics.

  • WhisperingOak

    Quality Handmade Items from WhisperingOak said 6 years ago

    ...and don't foget the centertable with lots of fresh picks from the farmers market

  • FreakyPeas

    FreakyPeas from FreakyPeas said 6 years ago

    nicely done!

  • BambuEarth

    Amber from BambuEarth said 6 years ago

    Almost makes me sad I'm not hosting Thanksgiving at my house. Love this! ♥

  • nowvintage

    Bobbie from nowvintage said 6 years ago

    I love this post and would love to see more like it on dressing holidays! fantastic!

  • allaboutshabbychic

    Lisa Allman from ThePinkToolBox said 6 years ago

    Absolutely love the set up!

  • myvintagecrush

    Kathleen from myvintagecrush said 6 years ago

    LOVE this!

  • byjodi

    byjodi from byjodi said 6 years ago


  • JennasRedRhino

    Jennifer Boaro from TheCatBall said 6 years ago

    I just can't identify with fancy tableware at all. I have strong memories of the brown, orange, yellow and avocado green Tupperware tumblers, and I always wished that our family had the really cool colored anodized aluminum cups that the neighbors had!

  • ka1231

    Kari from ThoughtofYouFabricAc said 6 years ago

    I love mixing old and new. I think it is a look that many people are enjoying, not just in interior decorating. I know I enjoy mixing a sophisticated old piece of clothing or jewelry with something casual or trendy.

  • thebrickkiln

    Karen Guethlein from thebrickkiln said 6 years ago

    any southern woman worth her salt knows that you cannot serve deviled eggs on thanksgiving day except in a oyster dish. the one i grew up with had a gold rim around the edges. oh what wonderful memories this has brought back for me. you nailed it perfectly. love your mag btw!

  • patsytaylor

    Pat from PataylaFloralDesigns said 6 years ago

    We seem to always mix the old with th

  • patsytaylor

    Pat from PataylaFloralDesigns said 6 years ago

    Well a blooper on my part as my computer went sliding and my comment was posted before I finished. Very sorry for that folks! As I was saying we always mix the old with the new! There is always about 30 of us so you can imagine what we all pull together! We seem to always have a lot of fun, hugs and good times as we visit all through the house! Designing florals as I do, I always make certain that each table has a centerpiece! Go figure!

  • LCooperDesigns

    LC Cooper from LeMaisonBelle said 6 years ago

    Beautiful items!

  • accessoryalamode

    Deborah McGovern from deborahmcgovern said 6 years ago

    love mixing the old with the new and I love how you said to make it look effortless. Nice article and it has me looking forward to family and thanksgiving!

  • dmtgun3

    Demet Gunuc from dmtgun3 said 6 years ago

    amazing table idea!!

  • theletterkdesign

    Kate Whyte from theletterkdesign said 6 years ago

    Every year I experience our Thanksgiving here in Canada. Just when I thought I had it all figured out I see something so imaginative and breathtaking from the American "version" that I just have to do it all over again. Two Thanksgivings in one year ... Priceless!

  • reflectionsjewelry

    Emily Delfin from reflectionsjewelry said 6 years ago

    I love it! Easy elegance....

  • homemadesweetheart

    sweet.heART Alkisti Rouggeri said 6 years ago

    very romantic...gets you back to the old innocent times....

  • hoarderrehab

    Kennedy Miranda from HoarderRehab said 6 years ago

    Thank you for the Thanksgiving inspiration from a Southern view! I like the part where Jessica points out that Thanksgiving dinner is part magic and comfort with it's seemingly effortless decor mixed with the unexpected, like a mop pickle fork! I also like her idea about taking the everyday and making it special. And what about the reverse? It's also fun to take the formal and special and make it everyday! Like the two different sets of my Grandmother's China. I really only need one, but can't part with either! Thank you Jessica and etsy for the interesting ideas!

  • PeriodElegance

    Julia Arndt from PeriodElegance said 5 years ago

    Simply beautiful! . . . the only thing missing is the warmth of family and friends to bring this gorgeous room to life!

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