How to decorate a Christmas Tree

First, the Lights >

Sparkle and shine comes primarily from the tree lights. Faceted glass bulbs will refract more light and appear brighter.

Small twinkle lights and colored lights also have impact when you layer several strands and pair them with ornaments having reflective surfaces.

To illuminate the tree from the inside out, string lights around the trunk and the branches.

Starting at the base of the trunk and working up, wrap the lights around every major branch, moving from the trunk to the tip and back.

Don’t skimp on lights! For every vertical foot of tree, use a strand of 100 lights.

And don’t be afraid to mix and match lights. There’s no rule stating that you can only use one kind.

A “background” of white or clear lights can be highlighted with strands of colored lights that wrap the outside of the tree.

Experiment with different lighting schemes until you get one you like.

Second, the Garland >

There are no firm rules when draping garlands on a tree (as long as you don’t create a sausage effect, with branches bulging between tightly-cinched garlands).

Start at the top, stringing less garland, and work your way down, increasing the amount of garland.

Thin bead garlands look best swagged from branch to branch; thick paper, ribbon, or foil garlands look best wrapped loosely around the entire tree.

Use a variety of garlands, from plain to fancy, to avoid a busy look. For every vertical foot of tree, use about two strands of garland.

Third, the Ornaments >

To showcase your ornaments, start with the most important ones. Then hang the largest ornaments, spacing them evenly apart. Fill in around them with medium and small sizes, balancing the overall look.

Finish with specialty shapes, such as bird clip-ons. For interesting variety, include all shapes, from icicles to teardrops. And create depth by hanging some ornaments closer to the trunk.

Get that green house effect with wreaths > II

The faux route > Some artificial wreaths are still indescribably cheap looking, but in general the makers of faux wreaths have raised the standard in the past three years.

The faux offerings include a spruce wreath that has subtle differences in tones of green and a white pine wreath that includes the brown needles one associates with pines at this time of year.

A fresh, conditioned wreath may remain that way for two to three weeks indoors, its decline is hastened in hot, dry rooms and near fireplaces or heating registers and by a lack of sealant. If you want a fresh wreath for a party in early December, consider replacing it near Christmas with another you have purchased early and kept cool.

You can find wreath frames that will keep live greens watered, but generally those are not found in ready-made wreaths. Haynie says one of the most effective forms is a ring of Oasis foam that is moistened and then wrapped.

It is also worth noting that a fresh wreath sandwiched between a door and a glazed storm door will cook in its own greenhouse. Put it on the outer door or to the side.

On wreaths > A wreath loses its cheer once the needles curl and the berries start to fall. Keep it fresh with these steps:

  • Cut greenery now before it dries in the cold December winds. Or buy it early before it dries out on store shelves. Hose the greens well and keep them in plastic trash bags in a cold room until needed. The day before use, re-cut the stems and soak for several hours in warm water.
  • Soak a ready-made wreath and store it in a plastic bag, as with fresh greens, until time to decorate and hang. Soak and allow to drain before use.
  • Deciduous holly (sometimes called ilex) berries hold up well, especially if the stems are stored in water before use. American holly soon dries and drops its berries unless treated: Remove the leaves and spray the berries with a florist’s glaze. Allow to dry and repeat three times.
  • Dried or fresh, herbs add fragrance and natural beauty to wreaths. Buy young fresh herbs in small pots, shake off much but not all of the soil, place the root ball in a small sandwich bag secured with a rubber band, and work the plant into the wreath in a way that hides the bag. Lavender, rosemary, sage and tarragon are all good candidates for this. Check their root balls weekly and add more water to the bag if needed.

Get that green house effect with wreaths > I

Wreaths and, for do-it-yourselfers, the makings of wreaths are everywhere.

Fancy greens and embellishments arrived at garden centers and florists, and even at mass merchandisers. Christmas tree lots, where wreath greens are a thriving sideline, are setting up, and soon every supermarket in the land will offer greenery of some stripe.

For some, late November is too soon to hang the fragrant and abundant boughs so evocative of the Christmas Season. But even for those purists, now is the time to at least gather the greenery.

Concerning Christmas trees, the experts offer this advice: Buy one now, make a fresh cut when you get it home and place it in a large container of water in a cool area. Then bring it in a couple of weeks later. If you wait until mid-December to buy it, that same tree will have been in a cold, windy lot, out of water and getting drier by the day.

The same counsel goes for wreath greens. Cut greens can be re-cut and kept in pails of water for a couple of weeks. Although it is impractical to re-cut the stems of ready-made wreaths, soaking the wreaths in water and keeping them in a cool area until ready for use will extend their life as well.

The wreath world falls into two camps. One of them sees the crafting of wreaths as a creative release from the humdrum of daily life, a way to embrace the holiday spirit. The other group sees it as just one more burden of perfection in a harried existence.

The wreath rebels have a couple of choices (three if you include a boycott): Get an artificial wreath (from the tacky at $3.99 to the marvelous at $399) or buy a simple fresh wreath and add the finishing touches yourself.

To a basic wreath of white pine, boxwood or yew, Don Haynie, an herbalist and  florist  expert, suggests adding dried and fresh herbs and some nandina berries. Or adding Spanish moss, sheet moss or lichen called reindeer moss, with some rose hips “and even some pieces of curly willow.

To gild the wreath, he suggests taking some dried yellow yarrow, a summer perennial, and combining it with pine cones and oak leaves that have been pressed and lightly sprayed with gold paint.

However, you can personalize a wreath any way you want. Feel free to forage from your own yard or, with permission, a neighbor’s.

What’s more, no one is stopping you from adding artificial material to the mix. In fact it might be prudent, because live fruit and berries can be notoriously difficult to keep from falling, especially if the wreath is displayed indoors. But do pick good fakes, there is a distinct difference in the look between cheap “berries” and more expensive ones.

Fashionably Festive

Whether you’re dressing the house or yourself, these are some trends to watch.

Want to see what’s stylish in holiday decor this year? Check out the fashion trends. Copper and bronze metallics stand out on jewelry, shoes, handbags, parkas and party dresses this season but also add subtle shine to table linens, gift wrap, holiday ornaments, napkin rings and dinnerware.

Purple? A color to watch for as well. Teal? Eye-catching on everything from corduroy jeans to peacock feather trees. Black and white? A combo you can’t miss.

The crossover of fashion to home is nothing new, of course, but as seasonal merchandise began arriving in stores earlier this fall, the connection became clear. Colors, and color combinations, are spilling over from fashion to home furnishings faster than ever these days.

For holiday decor, the biggest movement in ornaments, figures and decorations has been the unusual colors, going away from the traditional. The metals, copper, platinums and golds, have been a big mover, and this year copper is moving faster than the gold.

People also are decorating by color theme, and the combinations are not the standard green and red. Teal and silver, for example. And purple with golds, with touches of pinks, for an elegant look.

Fueling this trend is the fact that many people today opt for more than one tree in their home. They will do an elegant tree in the front window and then something with a country, woodland theme in the family room, or a collection tree. It could be a tree filled with an expanding collection of Santas, for example, or even one with birds and butterflies.

So whether you are dressing your buffet table, your Christmas tree or yourself, here are some popular trends we have observed:

Black and white > It’s become a major trend in home design recently, and it’s always a staple in fashion. Now, black and white makes a very bold statement for the holidays.

Festive accessories for the home include black-and-white ornaments, black-and-white holiday stationery, black-and-white fleece throws, and – from Old Navy – black-and-white wine boxes.

Fashion collections are full of the classic color combo as well, and not just for cocktail dresses. A holiday look from Liz Claiborne features a winter white silk charmeuse blouse worn with a long black velvet skirt and layers of black beads, including one strand accented with black ribbon. Like many fashionable beads this season, these are layered in various lengths, the longest extending down to the waist.

Then comes this news: In some circles, black is the new green when it comes to artificial Christmas trees. Sure, pink, purple, white and silver trees have shown up in recent years but, now, black is considered by some to be tres chic.  

And the trend started off American soil. “Last year, when the trendiest Americans were hanging their trees upside down, style-setters in Great Britain dumped dreams of a white Christmas and embraced the dark side black trees with black trunks and black branches, like Scotch pines scorched in a wildfire,” an American newspaper reported.

Closer to home, and, perhaps, earth, the Home Depot Direct catalog features a room furnished in black and off-white with silver accents. In the corner, a white Christmas tree is decorated with black, white and silver ornaments. Trend noted.

Metallics > Shimmering metallic dresses and accessories show up in all the fashion magazines, but copper, bronze, platinum and other antiquated metallic finishes offer an alternative to shiny gold and silver for the home as well.

Especially popular are metallic tree ornaments in copper and bronze, as well as gold luster dinnerware; matte silver trays; gold mesh wine bags; antique bronze napkin rings; woven brown and gold Christmas stockings, and more.

When it comes to fashion, InStyle magazine recommends pairing rich golden accessories, possible in mesh, glittery or matte finishes, with a racy red dress or a silky tank and black pants. And gold or silver ballet flats are a step above ordinary black.

What you don’t want to do, of course, is outshine the Christmas tree by wearing metallics head-to-toe.

Purple > When did all this happen? Shades ranging from soft lavender to deep plum add an unexpected twist to the same-old holiday palette. Lavender, in particular, looks great with white and silver, even if it is a knitted scarf worn with a winter white sweater and pants. Deep shades call for gold. And, for the home, purple looks refreshing with traditional greenery.

The December issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine showcases a 19th-century farmhouse near Toronto decorated for the holidays in shades of lavender.

Among the highlights: a mantel covered in fresh holiday greenery accented with pine cones and purple ornaments, with purple bows accenting a trio of black and white pictures hanging above. In the kitchen, a wreath is adorned with purple ornaments and purple ribbon; even the kitchen island is painted purple.

Shades of purple also show up in Martha Stewart Everyday collection at Kmart, where purple blown ornaments are displayed in a glass vessel and a purple berry wreath offers an alternative to traditional balsam. Who says tradition can’t be tweaked?

Make this Christmas a homey holiday

Posted On December 1, 2006

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“Oh, the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful…”

Okay, so maybe it’s a balmy 70 degrees outside, but that’s no reason to hold up your festive holiday Christmas decorating. Ready or not, the holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to start pulling out the dusty Christmas boxes from the attic, if you haven’t already.

Of course, for the creatively-impaired, it can be hard to figure out how to effectively bring the holiday spirit into one’s home without breaking the bank. So, for those of us who need a push in the right direction, here’s some advice. Christmas decorating does not follow the same rules as interior decorating. It is only up for a short period of time, so be sure to have fun with it. Read on for tips on how to transform your space into a warm, cozy holiday showplace.

Start with your entrance way. If you have a traditional wreath, doctor it up with beads, balls, beaded garland, beaded spheres. Or keep it simple, and just add a new ribbon. If you like the look of today’s feather wreaths, consider taking on a holiday craft project. Take a trip to the craft store for a straw wreath, which usually runs under $2, purchase two boas in colors of your choice (usually around $3.99) and wrap. Cover the straw completely with the boas and pin the ends. Viola! An expensive look for less than $10! A bow is optional, but not necessary. They look great inside on French doors, hanging from windows and, even better, they look good from both sides.

Go green. My favorite idea is to go to local tree lots or gardening big box stores and ask for the discarded limbs from trees they have already trimmed for customers. I fill my car and I am off to decorate! I cut pieces of branches and arrange them so they come out from the tops of all my wall pictures and art work. I crisscross branches through my chandelier and add balls of different sizes and colors. I keep adding until I feel like it is over the top! Feel free to use any type of balls or ornaments, and come up with your own color scheme.

Leftover branches make a wonderful centerpiece with oversize pine cones that are sprayed with adhesive and rolled in glittered rock salt. If you aren’t into glitter, use greenery with color balls of your choice.

Poinsettias come in all prices and all sizes: peppermint pink and white, pink and red, whites and all shades of red. They are always great seasonal house accessories.

Inexpensive garland hung around the inside of your doorways will give you extra space to hang extra ornaments. A garland is a great place to add colored lights and to allow kids to hang all their special handmade ornaments and favorite toys and to showcase their decorating skills.

Reinvent the colors of Christmas. Whites, gold, silver, red and green are all wonderful Christmas colors. Gold, white and green make for a wonderfully elegant look, but don’t shy away from pink; there are wonderful pink-and-red ornaments this year. Bright cherry red and lime color schemes are everywhere and so easy to add to your collection. Lavender with brown, black harlequin or black striped balls look crisp with hot pink, reds, aqua, lavender. Different shapes and oversize acrylic balls cover up hollow spots in trees and blend with your ornaments but give your tree an updated unexpected look.

Inhale. Exhale. The smell of Christmas is warm, musky, clean, fresh. The flip side is cinnamon, Frasier fir, sycamore, red currant berries and gingerbread. Whatever you desire, there is a home fragrance for you. Home fragrances come in long burning candles that will last through the season as well as newly popular fragrance diffusers, which are glass bottles containing bamboo sticks that absorb the fragrance without burning candles. Prices vary, but the the more essential oil, the more expensive the diffuser. Large sizes last anywhere from 8 to 12 months.

Don’t be afraid to go to specialty shops for inspiration. They stay on the cutting edge of trends and can give you tons of ideas. I find it gets me excited about decorating when I see how massively these small stores decorate and how miniscule my space is in comparison.

Try something new every holiday year. I can’t promise you “no fuss decorating” but waking up your style will give you confidence and enjoyment for all your holiday entertaining!

Try this > artificial and live greens mix well

Posted On November 27, 2006

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As you decorate for the Christmas Season, don’t be afraid to mix artificial with fresh greenery.

That’s a piece of advice from someone who is a big fan of bringing indoors whatever you have growing in your yard to adorn the mantel over your fireplace.

On the mantel, string a garland using tiny finishing nails hammered into the topside, where the holes won’t be visible the rest of the year. You can take them out and put them back into the exact same holes next year.

For another mantel idea, start with two tall lamps and an angel figurine about 2 feet tall. You need to get some height, into the design, either on either side and in the middle to maintain the symmetry, or on one side.

Beyond that, try to add fresh cuttings from whatever’s available in the yard, such as a few magnolia leaves around the angel for a simple, festive effect.

You can add twinkle lights around topiaries, but don’t just string Christmas lights to be stringing Christmas lights. Put them on something.

Beyond that, you can also add colorful balls, candles or twinkle lights in with the greenery or wrapped around the garland. You can add festive stocking holders and stockings. Finally, if you budget for an expensive garland, you’ll have it year after year.

Trends > Recoloring The Holidays

Red And Green Get The Heave-Ho For A Change, As Bolder Hues Add A Sophisticated New Twist

This year, traditional red and green are on holiday decorating’s back shelf, replaced by elegant shades of shimmering bronze and copper, exotic mixes of burgundy and purple, mod splashes of hot pink and teal, trendy combinations of iced blue, lime, gold and orange and even black.

No question, Santa’s got a whole new bag of design tricks, says Angelo Surmelis, host of HGTV’s new show “24 Hour Design.” “In the days of neutral palettes and all white walls, the traditional Christmas red and green plaid worked. With the new emphasis on strong color in home design, that’s no longer the case,” says Surmelis, a Los Angeles interior designer. “People still want to dress up their homes at this time of the year, but they want holiday elements that complement their color scheme, not fight with it.”

Retailers have answered the demand with a range of traditional accessories fashioned in non-traditional colors. Trees, wreaths, ornaments, stockings, tableware and accessories are available in surprising hues, accented with new twists on old patterns and designs.

At T.J. Maxx stores, themes include “winter whimsy,” featuring bright colors and bold graphics; “exotic accents,” with opulent fabrics and deep, rich shades; and “elegant entertaining,” which layers crystal and silver onto a backdrop of winter white.

An elegantly slim tabletop tree fashioned of hot-pink ornaments highlights the cover of Pier 1’s Holiday Entertaining catalog, which also features three seasonal motifs, “chic chalet,” with hot pinks, deep reds and silver, polka dots and swirls; “scalandia,” featuring simple, spare designs in cool blues and lime greens; and “city of light,” a glam, eclectic, slightly retro mix of golds, browns and copper.

This year, along with more traditional holiday accents, online and catalog retailer Garnet Hill features a whimsical Funny Felt Tree, constructed of orange, green and yellow felt leaves, and a Bright Ornament Wreath and garland, each composed of glass balls in shades of gold, orange, teal and red.

Old Navy stocks its in-store Holiday Shop with striped and dotted glass ornaments in blues, silvers, limes and red.

“Depending on your space and your colors, try mixing silver and white, gold and cobalt blue, black and silver or harvest colors like rust, brown and gold,” advises Sonya Cosentini, T.J. Maxx home decorating spokeswoman. “The new palette will create a sophisticated look that complements your décor.”

Even black has become part of the holiday decor scene. Garnet Hill offers a black wool-felt tree skirt and table runner, both trimmed with vibrant embroidery and twinkling hand-stitched sequins. And black Christmas trees have made their way to these shores from Great Britain, where they were popular last season ( or

Whichever color scheme you choose, design experts say holiday must-haves include beaded or embroidered table runners in sumptuous fabrics such as velvet or damask, embroidered or beaded throw pillows in festive shades, and decorative elements such as crystal and silver. Anchor the look with fruits, pine cones, greens and masses of candles. When you’re done, step back, and add those all-important personal touches.

“Always include a touch of yourself and your family,” says Surmelis. “Be sure to tuck that pipe cleaner Santa or the ornament you made in second grade somewhere. No matter how elegant your setting is, you don’t want your house to look like a showroom. During the holidays, especially, you want it to look like home.”

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