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Here are some more ideas for maximizing what you have.

Poinsettias: Potted poinsettias can cost very little. Buy lots, then cluster them everywhere for dramatic color.

To dress them up: "Using a white napkin, wrap the plain clay or plastic pots, from the bottom up, then tie the circumference with wide gold ribbon (or any color your choose)."

Lame "linen": "If you want a really dressy table," says Deborah Fabricant, special events manager for the Robert Mondavi Wine and Food Center in Costa Mesa, Calif., "purchase gold mylar or lame -- one of the fine, sheer fabrics -- and use it as your tablecloth. That's very pretty."

For napkins: Let's assume you stick with a white cloth. "Take your nicest linen napkins. For napkin rings, there's a plethora of beautiful ribbons: Tie them (some around each napkin), leaving long streamers of colored fabric." (Metallic ribbon could mix with the lame cloth.)

For centerpiece: "One of the most wonderful and least expensive ways of making any table look wonderful is to use every imaginable size and shape of candle."

Ms. Fabricant suggests mixing shapes, staying with a single color scheme so tiny votives and fat, round, tall candles mingle with long, thin tapers.

"Then go with simple baskets sprayed gold or brass candlesticks in different sizes and heights. You then have a centerpiece of candles."

Decorating the buffet: A major trick is to put all of the food on different levels. "You can turn small, sturdy boxes upside down," says Ms. Fabricant, and drape each one with a table cloth. For variety, intersperse round tins of different heights among the boxes and drape them with fabric.

"Then intertwine all of those different levels on your (buffet) with garland. Then you can weave twinkle lights through the garland."

Or buy several kinds, shapes and sizes of baskets. After draping your buffet with a favorite cloth, tuck compatibly colored napkins into the baskets, then arrange them on the buffet. Fill with breads, rolls, cookies. (For moist foods, skip the napkins and line baskets with heavy plastic.)

Tiny gifts: Ms. Fabricant likes the idea of a tiny, wrapped package at each place setting as part of the overall decor.

"Get little bottles of perfume, cologne or after shave. Wrap the boxes in paper of the same color scheme as your overall table and use them as decorative favors."
-- Joe Crea

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