If there's ever a time to add touches of glamour to your staged home, it's during the month of December. No matter what style of architecture or decor your house represents, some sparkle and flair are appropriate now that we are celebrating the holidays.

One of the easiest areas of your house to dress for the season is the dining table. I've already blogged about setting the table in a staged home, but today I want to pass along my best ideas for setting a holiday table. And I want to encourage you to do it the thrifty way -- by using what you probably have on hand already, or what you can easily find at second-hand outlets and the dollar store.

Place settings have a role to play when your home is on the market. They don't have to look complete. They have only to suggest the good times people will have once they buy your home.  

This classic black and white, gingham-grounded place setting gets  
its uptown look from a couple of fancy plates. Photo: jane-athome 

Today's economical melamine dishes look like china,
and they come in all kinds of styles, like this cute holly and berry pattern.   

Basic elements of the staged setting 

The best staged settings for the dinner table include these essentials: 

A solid foundation that frames the setting -- something like a placemat, a charger, a table runner, or even all of these things

A simple color scheme, or a motif like farmhouse or chinoiserie or plaid

Two or three layers of dinnerware

A napkin, preferably a fabric one

At least one ornament or other detail, ideally something seasonal 

Optional elements for this staged setting might include glassware, napkin rings, mugs or cups, a seasonal centerpiece, a tablecloth, favors, cutlery, candles, and greenery or flowers or something else from nature.

Having some novelty Christmas plates and
napkins is fun, but they aren't a necessity. 

Sourcing on a budget

When you are preparing your home for sale, you have more important things to spend money on than new tabletop decor. 

So, instead of shopping Pottery Barn or Home Goods for the latest style chargers or placemats, dollar store versions can be your thrifty alternatives. The Salvation Army and Restore are always stocked with dishes, glasses, cups, bowls, vases, and candlesticks. 

I hope you have your own favorite local charity shops and thrift stores. There are also deals to be scooped at estate sales and auctions and on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy. Friends and relatives can also have tabletop items to loan or give to you.

I also hope you have access to a fabric store or sewing department. I can never bring myself to pay full price for fabric placemats and napkins because, what are they but pieces of cloth that have been hemmed? To save a bundle, I will hem. Some fabrics, like felt, microfiber, heavy upholstery textiles, and faux leather, don't require hemming. And some, like burlap and other loose weaves, can have their edges fringed instead of hemmed.

When in doubt, go with green. It looks at home with 
most other colors, and with either silver or gold
accessories, and with embellishments from nature. 
When shopping for staging supplies at dollar stores, discount centers, and cheap import stores, inspect the things you are grabbing at $1 each. Sometimes there are imperfections and blemishes. When shopping at thrift stores, keep an open mind about using just parts of what you buy as bargains. A $2 skirt might make four beautiful placemats that would cost you $20 even discounted at Tuesday Morning. 

There are assorted reasons items end up in retail bargain bins. Department stores will donate discounted styles, out of season merchandise, returned items, or just because it's the last of the stock. I just purchased two goblets perfect for staging, clearly never used. They were probably part of a set that was separated or damaged. I also snagged a $9 Williams Sonoma new Christmas kitchen towel for a buck because it had a small stain that a dab of bleach easily removed. 

People downsize and pass on household products. People donate items they were gifted and don't like.  They lose or gain weight and then donate still-good clothing.  For home stagers on a small budget, second-hand stores can be your supply house, even though you will not always find multiples of a single item, as you would shopping retail. I've blogged about the secrets to successful thrift store shopping.

Perhaps you will choose to stage a Christmas brunch vignette like this.
Thrift stores sell holiday dishes and mugs all year long. 
I once paid $1 each for a set of 18 new Christmas
plates, the ones I used in a budget Christmas post last year.  
These are the Christmasy props I used in the photo above this one.
I think I will get years of use from these poinsettia and
amaryllis mugs and the adorable sleighs, both garage sale finds. 

To create  your own novelty plates, you can easily decoupage seasonal fabric
onto the bottom of glass plates, the way I did with this snowman cloth. 
Using school glue for the project, means it can be soaked and removed later. 

Choose a holiday staging theme and have fun with it. Shop your closets, attic, storage spaces, your recycle bin, and nature for what will make an inviting table. Use your imagination to draft objects into new roles. For chargers you can use round plastic party platters or woven grass mats. For napkin rings you can use curtain rings, strings of beads, or tie napkins with raffia, wire, a tinsel garland, twine, or ribbon. Use "dime store" Slinkys or bracelets for napkin rings. Napkins themselves can be folded tea towels or estate sale vintage linens. 

Use what you have to stage your table, even
if you don't own dishware in customary holiday colors 
on hand. These nubby, linen napkins were a no-sew project. 

Every setting should have some sparkle, and you can get it from tinsel,
glassware, shiny ribbon, gold foil, or metallic chargers. I took a blue Sharpie 
to the bumps around the edge of these chargers to add some personality.  
Your table decor can match the style of your home -- formal or frisky,
earthy or polished, modern or old fashioned. Here, 
a dollar store seasonal scarf stands in for the napkin,
and a new outdoor flag became the tablecloth.  

The golden rules for success

Table settings for staging need to be large and simple, never distracting or fussy. They should not include anything expensive, fragile, or sentimentally valuable. Home stagers need to remember that strangers will be walking through your home, and Realtors shouldn't have to be security guards on patrol. For this reason (pilferage) I would avoid setting out real silverware. Usually staged place settings look fine without any cutlery, but plastic versions that look like metal are available at party centers and discount stores.

Whether you are staging a table for two or 12, each place setting should match all the others. However, it's not necessary to compile a matched set of dinnerware at each setting. In fact, a curated collection of various pieces that complement each other is more modern. We're not setting grandma's traditional table, unless you are staging a formal dining room in a luxury home.

The cutlery is 100% plastic. I paid $1 for a pack of
four settings. I made the napkins by sewing two  
squares of Christmas fabric together, right sides together,
then turning it right side out, and top-stitching around the edges. 
Sometimes the simplest setting is the most inviting.
A pretty placemat ($1.50 each), two coordinated plates,
a glass, and estate sale linen napkin in a be-ribboned tin can
napkin ring, and an ornament. Done.

I love mixing dramatic with ordinary, like this glossy
fuchsia charger on the old wood table. If you are staging with 
small items, you can always tie or glue them 
to your setup to keep them in place.

If staging a dining room seems daunting, you can still plant the idea in buyers' minds of good times sharing food by staging a smaller area such as the kitchen island, a breakfast nook, a bistro table in the sunroom, or bar in the family game room. Family meals are usually associated with thoughts of quality time, entertaining, and indulging in the pleasures of food. Your staging can subtly capitalize on these memories and associations. 

One thing to avoid on the holiday table is anything that seems unappetizing. Fuzzy, hairy, or furry fabrics can be off-putting. Everything should say, "I'm clean!"

Lots of holiday decor items can be downright tacky and garish. It really doesn't seem to matter much as long as there is not an abundance of clashing decor styles and colors. Seasonal decorations are known to be temporary, so they aren't always judged on their artistic and quality merits. 

As always, stagers should avoid displaying offensive art and slogans, like coffee mugs with political or sexual jokes, or collections of dubious value (like beanie babies, Hummel figurines, or travel souvenirs).   

Unique items often pop up at second-hand stores in limited quantity.
I couldn't pass up this coiled-edged metal plate, so it became
part of a singular coffee cart vignette. Don't ignore tea-for-two
stagings if you don't want to stage a large table. 

It's simple to make this charming napkin ring of paper,
 for pennies. Diane at In My Own Style will show you how. 
Besides placemats and table runners, you can frame your 
plate with paper products like doilies or holiday cards.
Dinnerware like this, with gold or silver trim is always available
at thrift stores because they are often not microwaveable, or becasue
older people are downsizing from their days of elaborate dinner parties.

Don't feel compelled to stick with traditional colors of red and green, or blue and white. Use what you have -- pinks, orange, chartreuse -- and add some seasonal razzle-dazzle. 

I've blogged about the problem with glitter. But you can get plenty of shine without it. Look for metallic, glass, satin, mirrored, and iridescent finishes. Mercury glass is especially popular at Christmastime.

Leave your table's holiday settings in place until New Years Day. Chances are any online MLS photos do not zero in on tabletop decor, where a Christmas tree and stockings on the mantel will date your listing online. That's just one more reason to limit the seasonal staging you do, and a vote for minimal tabletop staging. 
There's nothing like a buffalo check to say, "Welcome to winter!
I like its lumberjack vibe mixed with iridescent placemats, 
sparkly glassware, and a red tinsel garland. 

Get the look, get the book

If you are living in your staged home, you may not want to stage a dining room table where you usually have meals. But you can still stage it for your photos that go online and for a video tour, and then remove the staging props so you can serve meals as you normally would. If the house you are staging is unoccupied, you'll be able to leave parts of your table settings in place, tweaking them to look less like Christmas. 

A dining table that isn't staged with place settings certainly isn't a deal-breaker, but it is a missed opportunity. So why not use the power of a festive table to help make your house the one buyers want to own. 

Are you staging a house, or plan to in the future? Be sure to download my eBook, DIY Home Staging Tips to Sell Your Fast and For Top Dollar.  You'll get all the professional secrets and encouragement you need!