One on One with Judy Reback


Getting Your Home Ready for Thanksgiving


By Gina Dostler


I glance up and notice the sun is setting on a day after drizzly rains, the air crisp and clean with a sweet chill. The pink-blue sky carries wisps of waffled clouds and with the fading light the lamps on the street start to fizzle into life. As my dog trots ahead of me, I’m walking the last block before I hit my neighborhood and admire the picturesque houses sitting warm and cozy, ready for the darkness to settle in.

I look at a house, with its winding walkway that leads to big wooden doors. My inner self pings my brain and opens a thought:  for each and every family that lives on the block a story flourishes. Truly novels all worthy of a Pulitzer prize. It’s just breath-taking and mind-boggling the chapters of happiness, tragedy, victory, disappointment and ultimately love playing out inside the hearts of each family behind those front doors.

And as I step up my porch, I decide the best of the best in family Shakespeare takes place every year on Thursday. Thanksgiving. It’s all about comedies starring Aunt Wena and her Pomeranian seated at the table – highchair, napkin and all; and tragedies cradling a burnt turkey, wisp of smoke trailing the ceiling. It’s about friends and family, cousins and neighbors, all laughing, eating, watching college football inside the home, food cooking on the stove, and mom’s new dishes making their debut.

I thought of getting my own Thanksgiving in gear and wouldn’t it be nice if there was a system somewhere to help organize this event. I poked around online and lo and behold found a certified Thanksgiving expert at Williams-Sonoma. I soon made my way to Newport Coast and met with Judy Reback, a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic person who just sparkled when talking about turkeys and tabletops. I cornered her on telling me about the ins and outs of setting a table and was happy to gobble up a few tips.


Q:  Tell me a little about being a certified Thanksgiving expert.

A:  Williams-Sonoma has organized entertaining into a more fun-filled way to plan the Thanksgiving holiday with a one-on-one expert to walk you through or just lend a hand with menu planning, advice and tips for the holiday. Let’s say grandma has been the Thanksgiving giver for years on past and finally the time has come to pass the torch to someone else and guess what, you’re it. It’s a daunting enterprise, having to cook for family and friends. There’s the menus to start with, how many to invite, quantity of food, when and what to cook, formal or informal style of menu, tabletop settings, cooking essentials, and the list goes on. We are here to help you with any or every step needed to make that Thanksgiving celebration the one to remember.


Q:   You mentioned tabletop settings. What do I need to set the stage for a beautiful and inspirational holiday?

A:  Having gone through a checklist we give you in the beginning, you’ve already determined the amount of people you want to invite, so that helps us determine the sufficient quantities of dinnerware, glassware, linen & flatware you’ll need without having to wash in between. Then you can decide on the tabletop creation you want to display. Inspirations can be found thumbing through magazines, or looking through holiday catalogs to formulate ideas you have running around your head. The plates and serving dishes help set the overall tone for your table. What’s great is the pieces need not match. But what is important is that everything has a harmonious flow to it. Start with an Apilco porcelain dinnerware that is durable and practical and comes in simple white. The white sets the stage to allow you to add any holiday theme you’d like through accessories and centerpieces and is a good choice for both elegant and casual settings.


Q: Accessories such as….?

A:  Salad plates, soup bowls, serving dishes, placemats, tablecloths, runners, and napkins. Let’s say you decide to use the white dinner plates. To create a traditional or contemporary look, you can then add a salad plate and soup bowl with an autumn filled theme that goes just right with Grandma’s special serving platters. Unmatched serving dishes that compliment your dishes and tableware add warmth and charm to your table. Looking at the table, keep a pleasing effect by limiting the accessories to a few beautiful elements in few colors.


Q:  What about glass and stemware? What exactly do I need?

A:  Glassware and stemware adds a nice sparkle and richness to the setting. Simple classic stemware is always a great choice for either formal or casual Thanksgiving meal. Water glasses and wine glasses set the table and bar glasses are good for the before or after drinks. Once again, the mix and match can work here too and create a sense of fun. Placing Picardie water glasses next to Reidle wine glasses is perfectly fine and adds an element of style to the meal. You want to place both white and red wine glasses on the table. If you like, you can add some vibrancy to the table with colored or textured water glasses. Tip: Be consistent with the color and sizes to create a sense of uniformity.


Q:  Flatware tends to get a bit more personal. Any suggestions with style and settings?

A:  Actual, you can mix and match the flatware just like the other table settings. Having an eclectic collection of vintage flatware can bring a touch of charm. And yes, it can get personal. What’s very important is how does the flatware feel when holding it? It should feel balanced and comfortable in your hand. You don’t want it to be too heavy or awkward to grip, especially for elderly guests that might have unsteady hands. Good quality stainless steel goes with most settings from modern and informal to traditional and elegant. Tip: Silverware needs to be hand washed, whereas stainless just needs to be popped in the dishwasher for quicker cleanup.


Q:  Do I really need to use linens for my setting?

A:  This can really define the look of the entire table, whether you use one or not. For most Thanksgiving dinners, understated linen made of high-quality cotton or linen such as Jacquard is an excellent choice. Using tablecloths and runners can bring you into a more formal setting. But sometimes a simple tablecloth with autumn colors and patterns fits a more informal table. To add color and interest you can fold or tie the napkin and add a decorative element such as a spray of foliage or autumn leaf that matches the centerpiece. Again, the tablecloth and napkins do not need to match, but their style and colors need to compliment each other. For casual settings, be creative with a variety of colors that fit the style of the table. Tip: Try to avoid anything with a polyester blend since it doesn’t absorb spills.


Q:  Now for the centerpiece. Suggestions?

A:  Simple vases or heirloom bowls that overflow with seasonal produce or autumn leaves and branches lend a very earthy feel to Thanksgiving. Be sure to use complimentary colors when choosing the centerpiece. You can carry the centerpiece design through the house by using the same types of produce, foliage, vases, and candles to decorate the mantel, sideboard and some tables. You can arrange pumpkins and squashes on platters and add some autumnal berries and foliage to it. Tip: If you decide on a floral arrangement, consider non-scented flowers and that goes for candles too. You don’t want to flavor your delicious meal with the scent of your centerpiece. Leave the lillies for the bathrooms.


Q:  How do I set for a formal dinner?

A:  We love Thanksgiving Entertaining by Lou Seiber Pappas and give suggestions from his book. You want to create a gracious yet comfortable elegance rather than something ostentatious and rigid. At a formal table there is always a plate in front of the guest. A charger, or large plate is used to hold the first course and is set in the smaller plate atop the charger. Then the charger is replaced with a dinner plate when the main course is served. To the left of the plate, place the napkin, its fold facing inward, with room for silverware to its right. You can also put the napkin on the plate, especially if it is attractively folded. Silverware is seldom placed directly on the napkin, as this makes it difficult for a guest to pick up the napkin. To the right of the napkin, place the forks in the order in which they will be used, from left to right. Put the knife on the right side of the plate with its blade facing inward, and set the soupspoon to the right of the knife. Put the dessert fork above the plate, parallel to the edge of the table and with its handle pointing to the left; above it, put the dessertspoon with its handle pointing to the right. If space is tight, you can bring the dessert implements out when the course is served. Put a bread plate above the forks and lay a butter knife across its upper rim. Arrange glassware in a diagonal line starting above the knife, going up and to the left in order of use from closest to farthest. Set out a wineglass for each type of wine and, at the upper-left end of the diagonal, a water glass.


Q:  An informal dinner is not quite as complicated and I feel helps me concentrate more on dinner than show. Any tips for the informal dinner table?

A:  For a casual Thanksgiving dinner or a meal served over the holiday weekend, consider setting the table without a cloth, especially if the table has an attractive wood or glass surface. Or, select a simple cotton tablecloth or place mats in a neutral color and complementary napkins with a similar look and feel. A long runner, laid over the bare tabletop or the tablecloth, in a similar or complementary fabric, is an easy way to dress up a casual dining surface. Also, there is no need to clutter the table with butter plates and knives or dessert spoons or forks. Guests can put bread directly on their dinner plates, and spoons and forks can be brought out along with the dessert.


Q:  Anything else to add about creating a great holiday table.

A:  I know we just talked about getting a beautiful table set. But the overall view on creating a wonderful holiday celebration is to use your senses when entertaining for Thanksgiving – sight, sound, smell, and of course taste. Make a visually pleasing atmosphere that is surrounded by music, laughter and comforting kitchen sounds. Have gorgeous smells from awesome recipes awake in wonderful tastes with each succulent bite taken. And thanks. Giving thanks for the bountiful feast shared with those you care about. That’s it, in one happy bundle. Friends and family, truly the essence of life, shall always create a celebration to remember.




Judy Reback



8032 East Coast Highway

Newport Coast, CA 92657

(949) 464-2168