Designer Barry Dixon Shares a Classic Christmas Dinner

See how the interior designer makes Christmas beautiful—with the things and for the people he loves most.

Christmas feast table

Charles Dickens got it right, designer Barry Dixon says. Each Christmas as Barry plans for holiday gatherings, he borrows from the literary legend’s A Christmas Carol to make sure the experience he delivers to his guests represents Christmases past, present, and yet to come.

It’s also why he never repeats a tablescape, a reasonable feat for Barry, who takes great pride in the dinnerware he inherited from both of his grandmothers, plus new pieces and acquisitions he discovers and collects on buying trips. “The more family pieces that you keep, the more family members you can layer in,” Barry says. “Each Christmas comes with a different memory. If everything looks exactly the same, it’s difficult to differentiate one year from another. Evolving the visual scheme and conversation each year adds to the storytelling.” 

home owners barry dixon and Will Thomas

Adam Albright

At Elway Hall, the historic Virginia home that Barry shares with his partner, Will Thomas, Christmas wreaths and citrus-spiked boxwoods mingle among appointments old and new. The chartreuse-color dining room, where the Christmas meal is enjoyed, for instance, offers new seating that makes sitting through multiple courses enjoyable.

The fresh chartreuse palette of the dining room makes a fashionable monotone base that’s ideal for Christmas greens. Barry’s own designs—a rug from his collection with Megerian and upholstered chairs for Tomlinson—mix with the casual raffia settee from Oly Studio and formal drapery panels fabricated from Fortuny fabric. Wreaths, citrus-adorned boxwoods, and the centerpiece are by Barbara Hamilton. 

A raffia settee and upholstered chairs, plus a new mahogany dining table, present a timeless foundation for the dinnerware ensemble that includes creamware plates, silver flatware, and green water goblets, all vintage. They rest on organic-shape linen place mats that were given to Barry by a friend.

close up of glass of wine
Designer Barry Dixon sets the table for a holiday gathering at his Virginia home.

Adam Albright

Blini with quail egg, caviar, whipped mascarpone, and salmon await guests on a pewter tray placed on the quail feather top of the foyer’s center table. A silver tray that Barry had crafted by an artisan in Argentina is an example of the type of hand-touched pieces he likes to bring home. Spiced pomegranate martinis served in Baccarat crystal double old-fashioned glasses are ready for guests to toast the season.

traditional home barry dixon christmas table

Adam Albright

The intricate decoration of silver knives, flutes, salt cellars, and candlesticks matches the complexity of the meal’s decadent flavors. A salmon, mascarpone, and quail egg-topped appetizer; roasted cauliflower soup; and heirloom carrots set the wintry tone. That’s followed by an entrée of prime rib with sides of mushrooms and cheese soufflé. Almond rum cake with chocolate ganache ends the meal on a sweet note.

I celebrate the imperfections of things. That's what adds to the story.

Barry finds charm in combining mismatched serving pieces. A wooden board edged with scrolled silver is a frame for the still life of prime rib with a wintry fruit garnish. Parchment paper under the meat protects the board. Mushrooms and heirloom carrots are served in vintage transferware, while cheese soufflés rest on an antler-handle tray. The tablecloth is made of Barry’s “Talembar” fabric for Vervain.

Barry stresses that his drivers for creating special holiday experiences are the objects he sees as beautiful and the cherished people in his life who will be around them. “I want to be among pieces that emanate the joy that I had when I bought them to begin with,” he says. “Maybe a piece is 300 years old, and maybe it’s 300 days old. I cherish the memory more than the piece. But the piece is what gives me the memory. So I don’t recommend giving memories away.”

pommegrante martini

Adam Albright

Spiced Pomegranate Martini

Start to Finish: 5 minutes

  •  Ice cubes
  •  2 fluid ounces pomegranate juice
  •  2 fluid ounces citrus vodka
  •  ½ fluid ounce Grand Marnier
  •  2 whole star anise

Fill cocktail shaker with ice. Add pomegranate juice, vodka, Grand Marnier, and 1 whole star anise. Cover; shake until well-chilled. Strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with 1 whole star anise. Makes one serving.

a metal tray with quail egg blini

Adam Albright

Blini with Quail Egg, Caviar, Whipped Mascarpone, and Smoked Salmon

Hands On: 15 minutes 

Total Time: 45 minutes

  • 12 quail eggs
  • ½ cup crème fraîche
  • 24 Blini
  • 6 ounces smoked salmon (hot smoked)
  • 1 1-ounce jar black or red caviar
  • Gray sea salt
  • Fresh dill sprigs

Fill a bowl with ice water; set aside.

Bring a pot of water to boil; reduce heat slightly. Use a slotted spoon to put quail eggs into water. Cook 4 minutes; put eggs in bowl of ice water until cool.

Peel and rinse eggs. Cut in half just before serving.

For each of the blini, spoon on 1 teaspoon crème fraîche. Add quail egg half. Place a piece of smoked salmon off center and add a spoonful of caviar. Sprinkle with gray sea salt and garnish with fresh dill.

Serve on a pretty platter or place 2 to 3 on each serving plate at a seated dinner. Makes 24 servings.


  •  ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  •  ¼ cup cornmeal
  •  ½ teaspoon baking powder
  •  ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  •  ¾ cup milk
  •  1 egg, room temperature
  •  1 tablespoon butter, melted

In mixing bowl whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.

Preheat large nonstick skillet on medium-high.

Pour milk, egg, and melted butter into bowl with dry ingredients. Mix well.

Brush clarified butter onto skillet; pour tablespoon-size portions of batter into skillet to make blini.

Cook two minutes per side until browned. Keep in sealed container until ready to serve.

In small saucepan, melt ½  cup butter on medium heat. Let cool slightly, remove white frothy scum on top to clarify; set aside.

Filo Cups with Whipped Feta, Figs, Toasted Pistachios, and Honey

Hands On: 20 minutes 

Total Time: 35 minutes

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 8 sheets (14×9-inch) frozen phyllo dough, thawed
  • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled (2 ounces)
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 12 dried or fresh figs, halved
  • ¼ cup pistachios, finely chopped
  • Honey

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat twenty-four 1¾ -inch muffin cups with nonstick spray.

On work surface, lightly coat top of one sheet of phyllo dough with cooking spray (keep remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out). Top with another sheet of phyllo; lightly coat with cooking spray.

Cut rectangle in half lengthwise; cut crosswise into thirds. Stack two squares so the corners are offset. Carefully press each dough square into prepared muffin cup, pleating as needed to fit. Repeat with remaining dough sheets until all muffin cups are filled.

Bake 8 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool on wire rack.

In mixing bowl, beat feta with hand mixer to break up any large pieces. Gradually add cream. Beat on medium until soft peaks form. Season with salt. Fit piping bag with a very large open tip*. Fill with whipped feta.

Fill phyllo cups with whipped feta. Add halved figs, garnish with pistachios, drizzle with honey. Makes 12 servings.

Editor's Tip: If using dried figs, cover figs with boiling water. Let stand 20 minutes; drain..

decorate bowl of cauliflower soup

Adam Albright

Roasted Cauliflower Soup Garnished with Pine Nuts, Pesto, and Shaved Parmesan

Hands On: 15 minutes 

Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 heads cauliflower (3 pounds), cut into medium pieces
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 2 leeks, sliced
  • 10 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 32-ounce cartons chicken stock
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Toasted pine nuts

Arugula Pesto

  • 1½ cups arugula
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon pine nuts, toasted
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat two 15×10×1-inch baking pans with nonstick spray.

Add cauliflower, onion, leek, and garlic to pans. Drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper; toss to coat.

Roast vegetables 20 to 25 minutes or until browned and tender, turning vegetables halfway through cooking time.

Put vegetables in 4- to 6-quart pot. Add stock and water. Bring to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until vegetables are very soft.

Puree soup in batches until smooth (or use an immersion blender).

Return soup to pot, add cream and thyme. Simmer 10 more minutes.

Serve with dollop of Arugula Pesto, Parmesan, and pine nuts. Makes 10 servings.

Roasted Heirloom Carrots with Arugula and Mint with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Hands On: 15 minutes 

Total Time: 45 minutes

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 pounds heirloom carrots, peeled, trimmed, and halved lengthwise
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • 6 cups arugula (5 ounces)
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line two 15×10×1-inch baking pans with foil.

Place carrots on prepared pans. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt; toss to coat. Roast carrots 30 to 35 minutes or until tender and browned at the edges.

Coarsely chop carrots to about 2-inch lengths. Slice mint in thin ribbons.

In large bowl add arugula, carrots, mint, walnuts, and Red Wine Vinaigrette. Toss to coat. Makes 10 servings.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

  •  ¼ cup olive oil
  •  2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  •  1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  •  1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
  •  ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  •  ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, thyme, and mustard. Season with pepper and salt.

prime rib for Christmas

Adam Albright

Prime Rib with a Medley of Mushrooms

Hands On: 25 minutes 

Total Time: 3 hours 31 minutes

Prime Rib

  • 10 to 12 pounds bone-in beef ribeye roast
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • Garnishes, such as champagne grapes, pomegranates, figs, small oranges or tangerines, Italian parsley sprigs, and/or whole star anise (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Cut between meat and ribs to remove roast from ribs. Season roast with 1 tablespoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper. If desired, carve between last 2 inches of ribs, remove meat and fat to leave bare bones. Place roast back on ribs; tie in place with 100% cotton kitchen string. Place on rack in shallow roasting pan, fat side up. Insert an oven-going thermometer into center of roast. The thermometer should not touch bone.

Roast, uncovered, 2½ to 3 hours for medium-rare (135°F) or 3 to 3½ hours for medium (150°F).

When roast is finished, tent with foil; let stand 15 minutes before carving. The meat's temperature will rise to 145°F for medium-rare or 160°F for medium as it stands. Remove string, lift roast from ribs and place on carving board. Slice, serve with mushrooms, garnish as desired. Makes 10 servings.

Medley of Mushrooms

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 leek, chopped (1 cup)
  • 8 cups mixed mushrooms (1¼   pounds) (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster), halved
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

While roast is cooking, heat 12-inch skillet with 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add onion and leek; cook 5 minutes or until soft and aromatic. Transfer onion and leek to large bowl.

To same skillet add 1 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil. Add half the mushrooms. Cover and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, cook 3 minutes more or until tender and lightly browned. Add to the bowl with leek and onion. Repeat with remaining butter, oil, and mushrooms. Season mixture with salt and pepper. Toss with parsley.

Christmas dinner with prime rib

Adam Albright

Cheese Soufflé

Hands On: 20 minutes 

Total Time: 50 minutes

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups shredded Gruyère cheese
  • ⅓ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 7 eggs, separated
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 375°F. Place ten 8-ounce ramekins on half sheet pan. Coat with the 2 tablespoons softened butter. Add grated Parmesan cheese to ramekins and tilt to coat, dumping out excess cheese; set aside.

In large saucepan over medium heat melt 5 Tablespoons butter. Whisk in flour until paste forms. Add half-and-half. Cook until thickened and bubbly. Stir in Gruyère, ⅓ cup shredded Parmesan, mustard, salt, paprika, and white pepper. Mix until smooth.

In large bowl, beat egg yolks with whisk until combined. Slowly add cheese sauce to egg yolks, whisking constantly. Cool slightly.

In large bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar. Beat to stiff peaks with electric mixer.

Gently fold egg whites into cheese mixture.

Pour batter into ramekins, filling almost to top.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until lightly browned and knife inserted near center comes out clean. Serve immediately. Makes 10 servings.

almond cakes with berries

Adam Albright

Almond Rum Cake with Raspberries and Chocolate Sauce

Hands On: 35 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup almonds, toasted and finely chopped
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups sour cream
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat ten 8-ounce ramekins with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper.

In large bowl combine flour, sugar, chopped almonds, baking powder, and salt. Mix to combine.

In another bowl combine sour cream, oil, eggs, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Whisk until smooth.

Add wet mixture to dry mixture slowly; mix to combine. Pour batter into ramekins. Bake 35 to 37 minutes or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Let cool on wire rack 10 minutes.

Remove cakes from ramekins; let cool 5 minutes more. Using serrated knife, carefully slice domed tops from cakes. Brush cakes with some Rum Simple Syrup; let stand 5 minutes. Brush cakes with remaining syrup. Allow to cool completely.

Arrange cakes on wire rack set over 15×10×1-inch baking pan. Spoon Chocolate Ganache over each cake. If desired, scrape any ganache that has accumulated on baking pan back into saucepan; warm if needed to thin. Spoon ganache over cakes. Garnish with raspberries and toasted almonds. Makes 10 servings.

Rum Simple Syrup

  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons gold rum

In small saucepan combine sugar and water. Bring to boiling, reduce heat, and simmer until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat; add rum. Let stand until needed.

Chocolate Ganache

  • 2 cups dark chocolate (12 ounces)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup unsalted butter

In small saucepan combine chocolate, cream, and butter. Melt over medium-low, whisking regularly until smooth. Keep warm until ready for use.

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