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    Over the Tabletop

    JimEach year, my partner Philip and I kick off the Holiday Season by attending DINING BY DESIGN, the annual fundraiser sponsored by DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS Over the years, DIFFA events like DINING BY DESIGN have raised more than $40 million for HIV/AIDS care nationwide. Local event proceeds support patients at the city’s largest HIV/AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, also known as Ward 86.

    DINING BY DESIGN features awe-inspiring dinner table installations created by leading and emerging designers and underwritten by corporate hosts. Each designer is assigned a space to create an extraordinary dining installation for 10 guests.  The table themes are left up to the designers, and range from urbane to rustic to over-the-top fantasy. Some of the more memorable installations from recent years include a table setting inspired by the movie the “The Birds,” a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor, and a recreation from “Snow White” complete with dwarves and a costumed model “sleeping” in a glass coffin that doubled as the dining table.

    For the last twelve years, DINING BY DESIGN was held at the San Francisco Design Center and mostly attracted design industry professionals. This year, the event was moved to City View at the Metreon and attracted a younger, hipper and, dare I say it, gayer crowd. There were fewer table installations to admire but the energy in the room made for a better party. The entry area for this year’s event was anchored by an art installation entitled “Fade to Zero,” which visually depicted DIFFA’s goal of wiping out HIV/AIDS in our lifetime.


    Attending DINING BY DESIGN always inspires me to create fabulous tablescapes for the holiday season. I learned the art of setting a beautiful table from a dear friend who died in 1992 from HIV/AIDS complications. Now, I pass on some of what I learned from him to you:

    Setting a beautiful table is a great compliment to your guests and makes the dining experience a memorable one. Use a framed photo of each guest in lieu of a place card to add a personal touch to the tablescape and provide each guest with a memento to take home.

    Candles create an inviting atmosphere for any dinner party, whether casual or formal. I converted half of the electric candles in my dining room chandelier to real candles to achieve the perfect lighting scheme for every occasion.

    Mix and match your dinnerware to create unique combinations of old and new. Use the heirloom china that you have inherited, or purchase vintage china on eBay or at local resale shops to add character and charm to your tablescape.

    Use linens from Asia, South America or Europe to introduce an exotic note to the proceedings. There are wonderful and affordable linens from India, Peru, Italy and Uzbekistan that will create a distinctive look for your holiday dinner parties.

    Use multiple flower arrangements that are low to the table and full of fragrant blooms to entice the senses of your holiday guests.

    Jim Tibbs is the creative director of HDR Remodeling. If you would like to learn more, please read his blog at or follow him on Twitter @HDRremodeling1.