Last year, I was invited to a Christmas Party at the home of one of my past clients. I was excited to go, as I adored this project and the 18 months working with this lovely east coast traditionalist with impeccable personal style and a blue-blood esthetic.
The results of this re-decoration were beautiful—very “Barbara Barry” calm and elegant, wearing a quiet and unusual color palette of cream, taupe, navy blue and celadon green. Most of all I was eager to see how Miss Connecticut class act “decked the halls” at Christmas. I was confident I’d be impressed.
Well… the night of the party, as we started up the walk of their home, my confidence began to wane when I saw the full size, lit up Santa and sleigh lawn display, followed by the “HO HO HO” door mat. And when the hostess answered the door in a Santa hat and a relatively ugly Christmas sweater, I feared for her good standing with the D.A.R.!
As we entered her beautiful home, the bad choices continued with blots and slashes of bright red that overwhelmed the quiet background and looked like a crime scene.
The heavy-handed ribbon was everywhere, the tree was in bondage and the garland up the stairs was swaddled in ribbon with a huge “pom-pom” bow at every swag. Buffalo snow covered every other surface in the living room to display her extensive collection of expensive Christmas…stuff. Ceramic, china, blown glass Nativities, angels, Christmas trees, dancing reindeer, Santa Claus AND St. Nicolas, etc.
Frankly, nothing was spared the Christmas icon: the bell-shaped soap, the holly hand towels, the poinsettia napkin rings, the wreath napkins, the stocking-handled cheese knife and, lest we forget, the cream cheese cracker dip shaped like a snowman! We were in the presence of a full blown Christmas junkie! I know. You can only help those who help themselves, so I left my card and jotted on the back, “I fix Christmas too.”
I understand. It’s Christmas, tradition and favorite things, and all that is wonderful. But when it’s lost in a sea of red and green junk, it just looks cheap, right? It’s about the feeling you get when you enter the well-dressed Christmas home. When the embellishments are in sync with the environment it feels like the house is dressed up and festive, not in a funny costume. Warm and cozy or elegant sparkle and glow, the decorations should be supported by the interior design.
I’ve been decorating homes at Christmas for over 25 years. Many of them were design clients and some of them were Christmas junkies. I knew that to keep the junkies clean I would have to make some obvious improvements in their holiday display. So over the years I’ve refined my formula for any Christmas installation to look like Christmas!
First, define the style of the home and the color scheme. Never ignore the background you will be embellishing. Do not assume that red-green-white will sit well with every décor. If these colors overwhelm and “lay” on the background, rather than blend, they need to be toned down. Consider a range of warm colors (reds) and cools (green), like; red, burgundy, rust and burnt orange and green, hunter, lime, olive, etc.
When creating your color palette, use a variety of balls in different sizes and finishes. Always pick a “main” ribbon and an accent ribbon. Main ribbon should be at least 3-4” wide and wired. Accent ribbon should be less wide in an accent color. Your ribbon will be the element that ties things together, no pun…
Pick a theme that becomes your thread throughout. This is an overall “feeling.” You will dress your garlands and wreaths like this, top your tree like this and have the theme feeling in your table and chandelier design. Traditional themes might be pine cones and berry branches or clusters of fruit and pine, mixed into your design of balls and ribbon. Often, the ribbon will dictate the theme. Some are quite elaborate and two sided, and when used on a garland or tree and properly woven they can be enough.
Once you have picked your theme “feeling” use it in all your key installation locations (listed below). One important area is as a tree topper! Maybe start with a two sided bow as a topper, using your main ribbon, if your theme is little birds, stick a series of branches out the top and hot glue little red and gold birds on the branches. If it’s stars, shoot stars out the top, etc. Re-creating this “feeling” in key areas throughout the house will integrate Christmas into the landscape and the house will just be “warm and cozy.” You won’t need a plaid deer to tell you so!
Unless the decor is stark and contemporary, use greens as a ground for your displays. If your theme is “White Christmas,” use flocked greens, and if you have a flocked tree use flocked greens in your main applications. Greens like cedar and pine look great together, real or artificial. However, beware if you have never worked with real garland. Its uneven and “floppy.” The best way to use it is to wind a thin artificial garland into the live one, or add sprigs of real pine to fill out the thin areas. Otherwise, live is great to create a wreath around your chandelier, or lay on the arms of your light fixture, at the base of your candles, on your mantel or as a base to any Christmas element you are displaying.
If you are working with a stark, contemporary environment, have fun with it. Use unusual or bold color combinations, like red and purple, lime and orange, etc. Keep things simple, like an over-sized all-shades-of-green ball wreath or just hang various sized balls over the dining table or a series of various snowflakes. Use an artificial garland, double lit, to snake around the mantel with only a huge red plastic bow on it or replace traditional Christmas greens with various succulents. Remember to ALWAYS consider the space!
Next, define your application areas and stick to it. Like dressing yourself, if you are wearing a red dress, you don’t put on everything you own that is red… same with everything that is Christmas!
Good locations are:
The exterior entrance, on the door, around the door and or flanking the door.
Foyer: The entry chandelier, staircase handrail, entry console, chest, etc.
Living Room (or tree room): Tree, mantel, hearth, coffee table, top of windows.
Dining Room: Table chandelier, dining table, buffet, top of window.
Kitchen: Table and or over table fixture, corner of counter, top of window.
Lastly, go ahead and display the “Old Nativity” that’s been in the family for a hundred years, and if you must, go ahead and top your tree with the rubber-headed, one eyed, tree topper angel missing a wing, ‘cause it’s tradition. Anyway, the rest of the house will look like a “Winter Wonderland” or “Santa’s Village” or a warm and cozy Christmas Home and no one will notice the angel looks hammered!
Have a happy, tasteful holiday everyone!