Designing your Holidays within a Safe Gathering Space

By Katherine Freiburger


2020 has proven to be a year like no other. As the Holidays rapidly approach, seeking solutions to the problem of gathering with family during a pandemic are top of mind. Many will simply limit dining rooms to immediate family, while others will come up with an outdoor solution to create a safe space. A few of Chicago’s top floral and interior designers offer advice.

Amy Swarthchild, owner of Amy Swartchild Food and Floral knows better than most how to create a beautiful space. Recently, she collaborated with Susan Canmann of Winnetka to design her family’s outdoor heated porch for Thanksgiving dinner. From the flowers to the food, Amy meticulously curated a meal and scenic porch that allows the Canmanns to celebrate the holiday in fresh air. Leaning into her two years of training as a chef at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest, Amy focused her food on singular portions, moving away from traditional dishes.  A “safety first mindset” grounded her table design even layering in personalized hand sanitizers as place settings. Fall floral planters, multiple smaller colorful arrangements and food hues all complemented one another, creating a stunning dining experience which includes thick white blankets for each guest.

The Canmann’s Porch




Amy’s Covid tweak to her Thanksgiving menu came in the form of carrot ginger soup served in mugs, wild rice salads stuffed in acorn squash and individual spinach dips stuffed in peppers with carrots and celery on top. Every aspect of the meal embraces the challenges of the pandemic without sacrificing taste. Easily replicated, Amy notes, “this is a moment in time to throw out what we believe we know about our Holiday traditions and reinvent, overcompensating with flowers, linens and accessories in order to give our senses a reason to celebrate.”

Amy borrowed her tablescape accessories from her Mom, who founded Winnetka’s beloved lifestyle and home store, Material Possessions in 1977. Having spent childhood afternoons in the back of the store, she credits “Mom” for all of her design knowledge. While Amy’s business prior to the pandemic focused on floral planters, these unusual times have allowed her to expand her business to include catering and outdoor/indoor event space design for the holidays.


Amy Swartchild

Tablescape from Material Possessions

Susan Canmann with her Daughter

Amy’s unique take on entertaining during a pandemic is a necessity to bring comfort and familiarity into our homes and onto porches this year. Follow Amy on Instagram @amyswartchild or reach her directly at 847-707-9221.  


Nancy, of Nancy Chase Arrangements, has a solution if you do not have a screened in porch, the garage! With twenty-plus years of professional floral and event design to draw upon, Nancy understands the importance of reinventing a space through floral compositions and accessories. Once the initial shock of the pandemic wore off, Nancy went to work adjusting her business model to reimagine her magnificent flowers for smaller weddings, solo graduations and ten person birthdays. Even as her signature “whole space” concept continues to be the cornerstone of her business, she also realized the need to reinvent the holiday gathering….and the garage idea took off!

Winnetka Garage

Holiday Dinner for Four

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Nancy is currently drawing upon her German roots to design winter garage spaces that reflect the need to be cozy, warm and safe. When a friend asked her to help design their family Christmas dinner in her North Shore garage, Nancy knew exactly where to start. “First, and essential to the whole project, we needed a backdrop of greens, something to break up the starkness of the walls.”

Wall of Greens

This spiraled into a perfectly staged holiday dinner for four, including old ski’s to separate the diners and a faux zebra rug to soften the garage floor. “My client’s garage has a heater, but don’t be deterred if yours does not. Halls Rentals has heaters and Missy is there to help you with anything you don’t own. This is the time to spread out, so take advantage of rental options.” In addition to Halls’ tables and chairs, Nancy used her personal business decor to design the garage to feel like another room. Her ingenuity is everywhere, even planting bright red tulips in the basket of the bike she insisted not be removed. She recommends renting a 60” round for four people and a 72” round for six. “This allows for everyone to be appropriately separated and, quite frankly, it gives me more opportunities to design.”

The extra space between guests is filled with additional florals including real olive branches clustered with eucalyptus and white pine, creating a calming scent. Intentionally designed with a curated buffer between guests are large bear flower containers and candelabras. Chairs are draped with brown leather Bota wine bags ready to be filled with your favorite Burgundy. Since any garage will naturally have plenty of fresh air, the challenge of staying warm must be met with blankets, good wine and a sense of adventure.  

“My clients hire me so I can design flowers and event spaces that reflect who they are, and what the moment will mean to them. My goal is to personalize the experience, drawing on their personalities and homes, not mine. So many of us are frozen right now, not really knowing what to do. If you have a garage you have an opportunity to create an environment that is new and different but can still offer the elegance of your home, or if you decide to remain inside, we have solutions for you as well. Safety will always be first.”

Nancy Chase

Ready to help clients tackle this holiday season without missing a beat, you can follow Nancy on Instagram @nancychasearrangements or reach her directly at 847-226-6908 for a consultation. 


For anyone heading south for the holidays, world renowned designer Alessandra Branca embraces the year of outdoor Holiday dining by offering us a look at her latest Limoge and linen collection. “It’s no secret that enjoying an alfresco evening is one of my favorite things”. Holiday celebrations on the terraces of warm weather homes will remain as vibrant as the dining room, and much safer, simply by incorporating any of her new pieces. 

Pavilion linen,Cestino Soup Plate, Rigato Charger


Quadrato Linen,Rigato Charger, Cestino Dinner PlatePapavero Dessert Plate

Casa Branca Dish designs are set upon porcelain of the highest quality made in Limoge, France. “Cestino is our graphic interpretation of a basket weave, using a motif carried over from our textile collection. Designed to playfully mix with other designs in our collection or to spruce-up more traditional settings.”

Rosa Rigata Linen, Cestino Charger, Rigato Dinner Place, Cestino Soup Plate Papavero Tumbler

Set of Four Wicker Stools

Ca. 1940 newly painted and upholstered in Giardino Branca Red fabric with a white cord.

19″ h x 15.5″ diameter.

Tulip Candelabra

Biscuit finish, handmade in the heart of Paris by famed ceramics studio Jean Roger. An iconic piece from the studio, the candelabra brings light, serenity and tranquility to your living space. Jean Roger’s spirit is timeless: the clever mix between history and innovation, between the sure value of classic lines and the effrontery of a certain modernity.

Small Candelabra 9″H x 9.5″W x 3″D Medium Candelabra 12″H x 11″W x 3″D

Alessandra reminds us all that “There should be yin and yang on every table. The mix is what it’s all about!”. She sets tables with the same spirit as she designs rooms – and her life! Always fun and never too formal, she loves to mix old and new, different cultures and multiple textures while playing with color. Her colors are rich and purposeful for all events, from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day, allowing your gatherings to focus on making everyone feel at ease and approach the meal with a festive atmosphere, despite the challenges of 2020.


Papavero Hand-Painted Crystal Tumbler, Hand blown, cut, and painted by Theriesenthal of Bavaria. Our Papavero is inspired by Mughal depictions of poppies. Diameter 3.5″ Height 4.25,” Crystal

No table would be complete without beautiful linens. Casa Branca’s new line of hand embroidered linens are perfectly suited for alfresco dining this year, yet timeless for all future holidays. Sourced from the heart of Kigali, Rwanda’s bustling capital city, craftswomen carry on the tradition of embroidery first brought to the country by Belgian nuns. Realizing the importance of being a brand with a high social responsibility standard, Casa Branca partners with an all-female atelier formed nearly 20 years ago to support handicapped women and victims of Genocide by providing work, dignity, and companionship through a sense of purpose. “It has since grown to over 50 women, many of whom specialize in different embroidery types, whether it is our signature double line, the cabana border, or the beautiful motifs pulled from our patterns. Hand-embroidery of this level is uncommon outside of the rarified world of haute-couture.”

Fleurette Cocktail Napkins Set of 4 Colors: Sky, Coral, Saffron, Nero, Cerise, French, Celery

All of this and more can be found at:

Wherever you land this Holiday season, creating a beautiful table and a sense of safety for your family and friends will most certainly be a priority. The capacity of the human spirit to be lifted up through design, creativity and visual beauty will drive us all to reimagine our spaces while also providing a sense of normalcy. Even if that safe space is your dinning room for two, the inspirations of these Chicago design greats will carry your spirit to a time when life was just a little less complicated.