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Toronto designer Anne Hepfer knows how to make both formal dinners and weeknight suppers feel like a special occasion.

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With the festive season approaching, many of us are feeling a renewed urge to build memories together around a table. And yet, it’s understandable if simply getting food on plates seems like a heroic feat these days; the creative well has run dry.

I reached out to Toronto designer Anne Hepfer, a passionate self-described “tablescaper” who knows how to make both formal dinners and weeknight suppers feel like a special occasion. Here are some of her tried-and-true techniques for eating in with panache.

Lay the foundation There’s nothing considered or special about a bare table, so a tablecloth or table runner is a must, says Hepfer. Go rustic for a harvest vibe with burlap or slubby linen runner. When you’re turning up the formality, reach for a full tablecloth in cotton or fine linen (ironed if you can bear it). And don’t be shy about layering in colour and pattern with napkins: “This is the time to mix it up and play,” she says.

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Don’t forget the fresh – no exceptions “Natural beauty brings every table to life,” she says. But do think beyond the traditional flowers-in-a-vase centrepiece, which can impede visibility. “My favourite living arrangements are bulbs potted in a shallow dish with river rocks and water, small potted succulents, which look cool and are low maintenance, and potted herbs for a pretty and fragrant addition.”

Make like you’re in a restaurant A mother of two sets of twins, Hepfer likes to involve the kids and have them pass out sparkling water and bowls of limes and lemons. “Why not make dining in feel like dining out?” she says. “I also love to bring out a tin of After Eights when dinner’s done. One minty treat is usually enough to satisfy and put smiles on faces.”

Use sparkle as your secret weapon “We use our fancy glasses all the time,” Hepfer says. “It makes dinner more festive and the kids remember to be super careful.” She says her crew also lights candles every night, a ritual that makes everyone feel connected and cozy – and more likely to linger over conversation.

Have fun with it Don’t be afraid to be a little cheeky with your table decorations. Hepfer cautions that sometimes “good taste” gets tired. “I incorporate skiing gnomes from Switzerland for winter dinners at our cottage,” she says. “They’re a Hepfer tradition and everyone has a giggle when they see them.”

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