Following her beautiful tablescape for Free People’s ‘Friendsgiving’ at Kin House last month, we sat down with Kirthanaa to find out her expert styling tips for Christmas — from the most elegant candles to why you should choose herbs over flowers.
Q: How did you get into styling tables?
A: “I only started about two years ago, when I was on furlough (from my day job at a human rights organisation) during Covid and at home with a lot of free time. I’d always been into cooking and planned to do supperclubs, and at weekends I’d cook dinner parties for myself and my flat mates. They would be based around recent trips I’d taken — such as Mexico or Italy — and I’d set the table to evoke that place. It was a form of escapism, because we couldn’t go out or travel and it slowly developed from there…”
Q: Tell us a little about your inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner at Kin…
A: “I always try to draw on the colours of the season, so I wanted to give it an autumnal feel without it feeling too obvious, like pumpkins on the table. The terracotta tablecloth felt perfect, being warm, welcoming and cosy — and you rarely see that colour linen being used so it felt unique. I paired it with lovely white candleholders from Issy Granger, which make a statement but aren’t over the top, and Matilda Goad’s candles. I love using beeswax candles, especially when it’s such a long table and you’re using so many candles — they burn more cleanly and the colours feel more natural as well.”
Q: Do you have any signature table setting rules?
A: “In general, my style is on the simpler side of things. I like my tables to be inviting and welcoming; but if there is too much going on, it might look beautiful for a picture but you almost don’t want to ruin it. So I don’t use huge amounts of flowers or ribbons or extra details like that, as people need to feel comfortable and enjoy themselves. Another key thing, if it’s a sharing-style supper, is to leave space for the food. I cook and I set the table, so both are equally important and have to be in harmony.”
Q: Anything to avoid?
A: “I don’t tend to do any flowers or candles that block people’s eyeline; I always recommend setting your table and sitting down to check whether you can have a conversation with the people across from you. Again, it comes down to comfort and wanting people to feel at ease, so they feel they can sit there for hours.”
Q: What table style will you be going for this Christmas?
A: I’m actually going home to Malaysia, so I won’t be setting a table this year. But if I was, I would go for warmer tones: like a green-striped tablecloth with terracotta napkins, or I love chocolate browns for this time of year. It’s not your classic green and red scheme, but themed colours aren’t really my thing. You can add these colours with your crockery, glasses or candles.
Q: When it comes to flowers and foliage, what’s your advice?
A: “At this time of year, the available flowers aren’t that exciting, so you could go down the route of putting herbs on the table. So you could forage for this, and they would add a nice sensory experience where you can smell festive scents of rosemary, thyme and pine. I’d mix them to make a beautiful bunch and put them into a really nice pot, jug or vase.”
Q: How important is glassware?
A: “I have so much glassware, so I tend to mix it up. But I always go back to my relatively simple short-stemmed Moroccan glasses from Toast and The Atlas Works’ low glasses. When I use my Murano glasses, I use the same height but mix up the colours to go with the table.”
Q: What candle style do you favour?
A: “If you want to keep it really elegant, go for a super long tapered style from Ester & Erik. Or, if more classic and simple, you could go with normal dinner candles but play with texture, such as a ribbed or hexagonal style, like Matilda Goad has.”
Q: Can you recommend an aperitif to start off the night?
A: “When people arrive, I tend to serve a bottle of fizz as it always puts people in a good mood and it’s low-effort when you have the table and food to do. Otherwise, I might do a white vermouth with a bit of tonic — it’s super light and refreshing — or even a red vermouth over ice with a slice of orange and a sprig of rosemary to make it more festive. After dinner, I have a drinks cabinet with digestifs I’ve collected on my travels from local makers, and I like to offer those with pudding.”
Q: And finally… do you have a failsafe playlist for dinner parties?
“Yes, it’s a real mixture but on the Jazz side; when you’re eating, music should be there but not take over. Khruangbin, Gabor Szabo, Cleo Soul and Aretha are all there.”
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