How-To Holiday

Your Guide to the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The holidays mean something different to each of us: The laughter of children. Beautiful gifts under a twinkling tree. A lively gathering of our favorite people.

It takes some effort to pull it all together, but the work is always worth it.

Create your perfect holiday vision this year, with this how-to help from local experts!

How To Set an Inviting Table

Naomi Riley, The Polished Table


Use items with special meaning as a centerpiece on your holiday table, says Naomi Riley of The Polished Table, whose dog Jack helps greet guests. For Riley, that includes her late mother’s green glassware and silver, pieces from her own milk glass collection and a cow, center, that reminds her of childhood, all atop the farm table handcrafted by her dad.

Long known as a hostess with the most-est, Naomi Riley decided to share her love of entertaining by opening The Polished Table in Fuquay-Varina last fall, offering everything from napkins to handmade, heirloom-quality dishes.

“A beautiful table setting lets guests know that you want the night to be extra special. It’s also a great icebreaker, because people are drawn to the table,” she said. “And if you utilize elements that are special to your family, you can share the story with your guests.”

Tabletop must-haves?

“Each table should have fresh flowers and candles when you are entertaining guests,” Riley said. “Cloth napkins are a must, for formal or informal gatherings; you can use napkin rings, or simply fold and tuck them under the center of the dinner plate.

“I also love to use place cards. It’s amazing how this one item makes people feel special. And if you’re a DIY person, this is when you can really have fun — Pinterest is full of ideas.

“For formal tables, use chargers. It’s that extra detail that really sets off the table. These can also be used as serving dishes for informal buffets, so they’re a great staple to have on hand.

“Paper table runners can add a pop of color too. A sophisticated marbled swirl pattern pairs beautifully with mercury glass candleholders, or a black and white stripe is a great anchor for a milk glass collection.”


Candles and fresh flowers are musts for entertaining, Riley says. She adds flower arrangements from Flowers On Broad Street in Fuquay-Varina.

Other tabletop options: Tree trunk slabs to elevate items; candles of various heights grouped on long rectangular trays for impact; décor items in groups of three.

“And inexpensive reindeer moss is your best friend in tabletop design!” Riley said, for adding Southern charm; drop it into champagne glasses for a bright pop of green.
What about the centerpiece?

“For informal settings, use items from around the home that have special meaning,” Riley said. “My two favorites are my white milk glass collection nestled inside an old wooden box that my dad made. Or, creating a vignette of my mother’s Noritake green glassware. Glassware is beautiful when you add floating candles or use it as flower vases.

“For formal settings, create height with candelabras or beautiful pillars in various sizes. Around those, scatter votive candles in order to anchor the centerpiece and bring it all together.”
Important note: Your centerpiece should not interfere with guests’ conversations.

What makes a successful party?

“Try to do as much as you can the night before, including setting the table, so the day of the event you can concentrate on food preparation. Placing finger foods around the house and having a  well-stocked bar and glasses readily available allows people to help themselves and feel at home.

“And create playlists, so there’s a great variety of music playing all through the evening.”

How To Fold a Pretty Napkin


1. Cloth napkins don’t have to be difficult. This style is forgiving of wrinkles. First, fold the napkin in half.


2. Fold in the sides till they meet in the center of the napkin.


3. Roll each half toward the center, like a scroll.


4. Secure napkin by tying a simple ribbon bow.


5. Tuck in a bit of greenery — like this oregano sprig from a friend’s garden — between the rolls.


How To Dress Up for Holiday Occasions

Mandy Becker, Swagger


A few well-chosen accessories can carry you through the holiday season, says Mandy Becker of Swagger. Here, a faux fur stole, $36, and animal print clutch, $28, add party style to a simple velvet dress, $46. Wear the stole in classic off-shoulder fashion, or in the new side-sash style. Special thanks to model Allison High, and to hair and makeup pros Amanda Kimball and Tony Shantie of Twisted Scizzors in Cary.

Once Mandy Becker added clothing and accessory lines to her popular Cary gift boutique, Swagger, she never looked back.

This holiday season, forego the Christmas sweater, think outside the red-or-black box, and try on the trends Becker recommends to amp up your existing wardrobe.

What adds spice to a party look?

“There are a couple of things you can do to dress up your current wardrobe for this holiday season,” Becker said. “First, buy a choker necklace. They’re appropriate for any age, and look great layered with a longer necklace to accessorize pieces you already own.

“While chokers are a great addition to any wardrobe, if you don’t think that’s for you, add a cheetah clutch. Animal prints never go out of style, but they’re very on-trend this season.

“Second, layer a suede jacket or vest over your favorite holiday dress from last year. Or, add a faux fur stole to any top or dress.”

Any surprises in holiday wear?

“Yes: Add something blush to your wardrobe! There is a richness to the trend of the color blush this season, and it’s appropriate for all holiday events.

“Other trends we’re seeing for the holidays,” Becker said, “are suede, in everything from jackets to dresses to pants; velvet; beautiful details like lace-up sweaters and bell sleeves on tops; off-the-shoulder, which was very popular for spring 2016 and is continuing through the holiday season; and lace accents.”

Help us put it all together.

“The must-haves in my book are: a suede dress in any color, to be worn with booties or heels. A beautiful sweater with a tie detail. Anything with bell sleeves. And a choker necklace to complete the look.”


This blouse, $34, adds a pretty detail at back, to complement its on-trend bell sleeves; see full look on page 29. Black and gray choker-long necklace combo, $34.


Forget red and green – blush is the hot color trend, like this clutch, $34.


The must-have choker looks great layered with a longer necklace, to accessorize pieces you already own. Brushed gold choker, $75, and earrings, $60, by Sheila Fajl.


How To Choose the Perfect Gifts

Ariana Toro and Linda Land, Stylish Living

As the busy mom of two little ones, and the owner of Stylish Living boutique in Apex, Ariana Toro has little time for her own holiday shopping. That’s why she’s perfected her how-to.

Her first advice to keep from being overwhelmed? Shop local.

“Consider shopping at smaller, locally-owned stores. You will most likely get more personalized attention than you would where sales associates are spread thinly over a larger store,” Toro said. “Also, your patronage is more meaningful to locally-owned stores and your money will contribute more to the local economy. That adds to the enjoyment of giving.”

As Thanksgiving makes way for Christmas, what do you get the person who has everything? Mother-daughter duo Linda Land and Ariana Toro of Stylish Living have great suggestions, plus tips on making holiday shopping easier.

What are good shopping strategies?

“Follow your family traditions on exchanging gifts,” said Linda Land, Toro’s mom and shop partner. “Do you buy something for everyone, or does your family pick names? Outside the family, think of those who make a difference in your life, good friends and neighbors, a favorite hairstylist or mail carrier.”

“Start early by creating your own gift guide,” Toro said. “Pick up a little notebook or journal that you’ll enjoy using, and create a page for each gift recipient. Jot down everything you can recall about the person: personality traits, hobbies, favorite colors and scents, clothing styles, accessory preferences, specifics such as pierced ears, studs or dangles. Then, decide on your budget range for that person.”

Land said, “Be realistic when setting your budget for a recipient, and consider doing a range rather than a specific dollar amount.”

Take your guide with you on shopping trips and note gift ideas, price and location. Ask staff if the product is in danger of selling out before you’re ready to purchase. And list what you’ve bought in the gift guide you created.

“Consider asking a store associate for ideas, based on the profile you’ve created in your notebook,” Toro added. “Sometimes hearing suggestions can generate new ideas, and you’ll learn what the ‘hot’ items are.”

What makes a gift special?

“Make gift-giving about the recipient. Is there a category of gifts the person likes but doesn’t want to spend the money to buy  for herself?”

If you choose something with a message, be sure it’s one that will be well received.

And for the person who has everything?

“Look for products that are new to the market,” said Toro, “and consumables such as bath and body products, candles, gourmet foods and beverages, and books.”

How To Wrap the Prettiest Presents

Shea Armstrong, Southern Oak Gift Company
Shea Armstrong has always loved a pretty presentation. Now she’s the owner of Cary-based Southern Oak Gift Company, designing custom gift baskets, boxes and bags full of made-in-the-South treats year-round.

“Gift presentation is just as important as the gift itself,” Armstrong said. “It’s not just the wrap; it’s the paper, the ribbon, the tag and gift topper. They create a wow factor and build anticipation and curiosity, and let your recipients know you were thinking of them not only in purchasing the gift, but in the presentation.”


Adding a wow factor to your gift wrapping builds curiosity and anticipation, adding an extra layer of fun for gift recipients. Here’s how to do just that in bags, boxes and containers, with tips from Shea Armstrong of Southern Oak Gift Company. Fun note: You can write on chalkboard wrapping paper!

Gift bag or gift box?

The choice is a matter of personal taste and practicality, Armstrong says.

“Gift bags are great for oddly-shaped items or multiple small items that go together. My favorite is a simple burlap bag with a pretty bow tied to the side of the handles. Tissue paper and a handmade gift tag are ways to add a pop of color.”

If you use  a box, wrap the gift in tissue paper secured with decorative washi tape. To wrap the box, cut a piece of wrapping paper big enough to cover it, cutting off any extra paper to avoid a bunched, messy look. Trim the ends to be the length of the box height.

“Use double-sided tape or glue dots to create a clean look. When folding down the side flaps of the paper, press a seam on the folds to create nice crisp edges.”

Other options?
“Gift baskets are my favorite alternative to gift boxes and bags. They allow for lots of creativity and can make a beautiful display,” Armstrong said. “It’s especially fun to use the gift itself as the container.”

Examples: A gym bag holding a water bottle and jump rope. A casserole dish containing kitchen gadgets and cooking supplies. A flower pot filled with gardening supplies.

“Fluff up the contents with packing paper and crinkle-cut paper (underneath),” she said, “wrap the container in a cellophane bag and top with a bow.”

Oh no — not bows.
Creating a big, beautiful bow is not as hard as it looks, Armstrong says.

“Wide, wire-edged fabric ribbon tied into a simple bow can deliver big impact. If you prefer a large, multi-looped bow, use a bow-making device like a Bowdabra (, or learn to make them freehand by watching a how-to video on YouTube.

“There are many fun alternatives to bows,” Armstrong noted. “My favorite can be found in your own garden: Cuttings of holly, magnolia or boxwood, and a pinecone or two, adorning a simple kraft-paper-wrapped gift tied with twine, creates a festive and classic look.

“Ornaments are also nice; they become keepsakes, enjoyed year after year. Candy canes and lollipops are fun gift toppers too, especially for the children on your list.”

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