Formal dining is an elegant tradition for the holidays, but it tends to abandon intrigue in favor of stoic, well-pressed conventions. A themed table is usually one trinket away from overreach; an elaborately fashioned table wreaks havoc on the host—is there no way to marry an elegant spread with the tipsy, loosened tie pleasures of a really good time?
Maybe it’s best not to overthink it. This year’s Host Guide proposes another kind of entertaining. Summoning the mood of the moment—dark, pensive, and stylishly informal—we selected the best crystal, gold, silver, porcelain, and pewter tabletop with little interest in creating a seating chart. This is a different kind of party. Instead of creating full table service, we considered the feast and all of its immediate, take-what-you-wish gratifications. Inspired by the darker parts of the season’s palette, the move was obvious: Game of Thrones, Vikings, Winter Solstice, and everything that culminates in one grand, fire-lit night of celebration.
In pursuit of this decadent, slightly raucous spread, we turned to the country’s most exclusive purveyors, Mary Mahoney in Palm Beach, Mary Jeanne Kneen of Kneen & Co. in Chicago, and the Los Angeles boutique TableArt, who mined their collections to give us a sensual, layered take on the rougher, tougher precepts of a victory meal. The search brought us to quiet, elegant sources like Jung Lee, Airdelsur, and L’Objet for horn accessories and spiked objects and to luxury brands like Christofle, Saint-Louis, and Asprey. It also called us to Denmark, where Viking legend is very real, and where a small group of craftspeople—glass artists Andrew Brown and Nanna Backhaus Brown, cabinetmakers Egeværk Lasse Kristensen and Mette Bensen—create original wood and glass Viking ships, like the Night Sword, which landed a special place at our table. Given impending crush of holiday activity, it’s advisable to drop certain formalities at home this year and just follow the ancient wisdom of “Eat, drink and be merry.”