Setting a festive table is a cherished tradition that’s been handed down for generations in Meredith Sicilia’s family. She’s not typically formal when entertaining, but the holidays are an exception. Out comes the crystal, the best china is dusted, and the silver polished. The more sparkle, the better.
The blue-and-white dining room in her Devon home was inspired by an extensive set of Booths Old Willow china passed down through four generations. Made in England and embellished with gold trim, the pattern features stylized blue nature scenes set against a
white background. “The original set was my great-great grandmother’s,” Sicilia says. “It’s heartwarming to think of all the family meals and love that were shared around our plates over so many years.”
The silver flatware also goes back to the same matriarch, who chose the same William & Mary pattern as her mother. “This was common in those generations so that the pieces could be combined and used together as larger sets when they were handed down,” says Sicilia.
When Sicilia and her family moved to the Main Line from Massachusetts, she wanted a formal dining room that would showcase her tableware and several pieces of furniture with a family history. The blue-and-white color scheme also reminds the family of Nantucket, their favorite place to vacation.
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She called on Matt Wetzel and Don Thomas of Thomas Matthew Designs in Wayne to come up with a design to expertly blend her antiques with the relaxed vibe of a young family. The pair specializes in attractive and inviting spaces, and they’re also unabashed advocates of formal dining rooms. At home, Wetzel and Thomas use fine china daily—Wedgwood’s Black Florentine pattern, which features a band of black dragons circling a white plate. “I hate it when people put a pool table where their dining room should be,” says Wetzel. “It’s important for people to sit down together at a table and share a meal.”
Naturally, incorporating the family’s vintage china closet into the design was a priority. “I love the look of the antique, wavy glass and the feel of turning the delicate, aged brass key to open the doors,” Sicilia says. “Inside is a smell of history that brings me right back to holiday gatherings in my childhood.”
Her designers suggested lining the back of the china closet with blue-and-white patterned wallpaper. That way, “you aren’t staring at an empty cabinet after you take out the china and crystal,” Wentzel says. “The wallpaper makes things look finished.”
The Sicilia family’s guests gather at a long farmhouse-style trestle table, a transitional piece that creates an aura that’s classic yet contemporary. A Lucite chandelier sparkles overhead. Below it, a wool sisal rug glimmers with a border of metallic threads.
Large wing chairs accented with nail heads are stationed at the head and foot of the dining table, and blue upholstered chairs line the sides. “They’re so comfortable—a wonderful place to enjoy a meal and have a conversation,” Wetzel says.
That table boasts plenty of conversation come holidays. Sicilia starts experimenting with various tablescapes a week before a dinner party, assembling an array of placemats, chargers, runners, napkins and napkin rings, then whittling down her selections. “If I’m lucky, the places are all set by the morning of the meal,” she says.
She doesn’t use place cards, though. Instead, her husband and father-in-law sit in the chairs at the head and foot of the table and guests simply choose their own seats. This year, she will place a gilded pear with an “S” for Sicilia at each place setting. “Nature is beautiful and almost free,” Wetzel says. “Fruits, greens, branches and pinecones are a great way to dress up a table without having it look so precious your guests can’t enjoy themselves.”
Each year, Sicilia decorates a third generation sideboard with a garland of greens and twinkling lights, placing additional greens on the table. In total, she needs over 175 feet of garland, but it makes a rather festive statement. “We carry this same theme on the mantel in the living room,” she says. “I add garland with berries and bows to the grand staircase in the foyer between the living room and dining room.”
Candles, too, are a must, for both ambience and tradition. “We have at least two candles lit during our holiday meals,” says Sicilia. “They add a soft elegance, as well as a personal way to honor my late mother and father.”
A beautiful table demands a sumptuous repast, another family tradition. “At Christmas we usually have a nice beef tenderloin with greens and sides, with my chocolate angel strata as a dessert,” Sicilia says. “It’s fairly labor intensive to make, so we all wait until the holidays to enjoy this special treat.”
The home’s open concept makes it easy for guests to transition to the formal living room, which echoes the serene blue-and-white palette in the dining room. The family’s 1928 Steinway can be set up as a bar for wine and cocktails.
“Our grand piano has a computerized playing module, so we have holiday music playing throughout the first floor,” Sicilia says. “It’s fun to decorate spaces we might not use as much the rest of the year and enjoy them as a family.”
And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?