Designer Emily Henderson’s Simple Guide to Styling Your Home for Thanksgiving

Designer Emily Henderson’s Simple Guide to Styling Your Home for Thanksgiving

By Kelly Dawson
Expert stylist Emily Henderson teaches us how to properly set the scene for a Thanksgiving feast.

We know, we know: Thanksgiving is about the food. It’s about the golden curves of a decadent turkey and the buttered clouds of mashed potatoes. It’s about finding room for marshmallow yams and crispy string beans and brown sugar–crusted ham. It’s about debating the merits of cranberry sauce and how many rolls is too many rolls. When an entire holiday revolves around a feast, its intricacies can be enough to satisfy our expectations. 

And yet, is that the whole picture? We’d argue that while Thanksgiving is focused on the food, but it also hinges on its surroundings. Without setting a certain scene, Thanksgiving wouldn’t quite as memorable. 

Emily shared the reveal of her Mountain House kitchen in Lake Arrowhead, California, on her eponymous blog earlier this year. She partnered with Ross Alan Reclaimed Lumber for custom cabinet fronts and flooring—and it makes for the ideal Thanksgiving setting. 

"Creating a beautiful dinner is always wonderful, but if you like how it looks, and it feels cozy and festive, then that’s what really matters," says Emily Henderson—stylist, designer, and Target’s Home Style Expert. "Just don't stress about it too much." 

Since the idea of styling the perfect Thanksgiving setting may be overwhelming—especially when discerning relatives and a 15-pound turkey are also involved—Emily is sharing her tips on how to go about this task with ease. Keep her advice in mind, and you’ll have an ambiance that's just as picturesque as the food. 

How would you describe the difference between "styling" and "decorating," if there is one? Why is styling important to do before a big event like Thanksgiving? 

Emily Henderson: At the core of their definitions, styling and decorating are the same because they both represent the process of adding beauty and personality to a space. But as a professional stylist, I think of styling specifically as playing around in a very intentional and strategic way. 

So for an occasion like Thanksgiving, styling little moments around your home before the big day will not only add seasonal joy for a longer amount of time, but it will also make your home feel festive without needing to "decorate" on that day. No last-minute turkey figurines needed. 

Emily recommends creating "zones" for guests to gather in specific spaces in your kitchen. For instance, this peninsula makes for an obvious area to snack, drink, and chat.  

How should someone begin to style their kitchen for Thanksgiving? 

I like to keep it simple but smart. Building a color palette is the number one way a space will feel cohesive. I would keep it around three to four colors. 

Next, take the size of the space into account. The last thing you want is for your decor to look too oversized or too tiny for the room—unless that choice is intentional. From there, choose just a few moments for some seasonal decor. Maybe that’s a bowl of neutral gourds, or a little candlestick cluster on a console. The key is to not go overboard. 

What are some things that should be cleared from the kitchen for Thanksgiving? 

I think anything that you won't be needing for dinner should be cleared. This can include unnecessary small appliances, anything that is fragile, and random paperwork—we all have that. Have a clean, open space to welcome guests, and also for when the meal is over and you need somewhere to stack the dirty dishes. 

Don't overthink decorating—a host already has too much to do. Instead, Emily advises that you clear the kitchen of unnecessary clutter, and bring in a few festive pieces that will set the mood. 

Once hosts have a decluttered kitchen and an idea of how to get started, what comes next? 

I am a big fan of "zones." Obviously not every kitchen is large enough for this, but if you do have the space, it will make the evening flow. Create a zone with a beautiful cheese board for snacking, a zone with refreshments and glassware for drinks, and a zone with seating for chatting—maybe stools since we are talking about kitchens. Then with each zone, you can add in a dash of decor. 

One of the things that’s great about your book Styled is how you talk about moving pieces into different rooms to create whole new looks. What recommendations do you have for pieces that can be moved into a kitchen for this Thanksgiving styling project? 

I love to repurpose decor. Grabbing a tray from a different room to create a drink station is great, as is stealing some beautiful candles from another room to create some pretty ambiance. It really depends on what you have, but don't be afraid to play around. 

Emily says that the goal is to make a kitchen feel like it has holiday spirit without making it feel chaotic. Don't add so much Thanksgiving decor that your guests have to move around it—or worse, that there's nowhere to place dirty dishes. 

When does someone know that they've successfully styled their kitchen for Thanksgiving, and how do they keep from going overboard? 

Keeping the visual chaos to a minimum is always my goal. So if you can look around and feel calm before the inevitable storm, and you know that guests aren't going to have to "look out" for decor, then I think you'll have a success on your hands. 

Styled: Secrets for Arranging Rooms, from Tabletops to Bookshelves
The ultimate guide to thinking like a stylist, with 1,000 design ideas for creating the most beautiful, personal, and livable rooms. It’s easy to find your own style confidence once you know this secret: While decorating can take months and tons of money, styling often takes just minutes.
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