Make holiday decorating a joyful experience, with a little help from the design experts. Discover how carefully placed lighting, colors and decorations can make all the difference.
Decorating for the holiday season can be a stressful task. When will you decorate? How will you decorate?
“Just have fun with it,” says Kelsey Haas, co-owner of Strawflower Shop and Rug Merchant, in Geneva. “Christmas is the time you can do what you want.”
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to garnishing your home for the holidays. For the most part, it’s a time to show off your personal flair.
If you’re stuck in a rut, there are several tips to follow, trends to explore and technologies to employ to make an easier and safer decorating experience.
“My own personal design tip is to just be joyful about it,” says Jami Switzer, marketing manager for Christmas Decor By Arvidson, in Crystal Lake. “Take a look at homes that have brought a sense of joy when you’ve seen them, and then try to incorporate those same aspects into your own home.”
“It’s important to plan your time and resources,” Switzer adds. “If you can only do a little bit, do a little bit well, rather than a lot just haphazardly.”
Outfit the Outdoors
The outside is the first, and sometimes only, portion of your home neighbors see as they walk or drive by.
Each year, Christmas Decor by Arvidson helps about 150 to 200 homes and businesses to make a good impression. In every scheme, Arvidson’s design teams emphasize five elements: the roofline, windows, trees and shrubs, greenery and stake lights.
“When all of these design elements are used, the end result is amazing – it’s magical,” Switzer says.
Start decorating your own home by hanging lights along the roofline. Anchor them by placing lights in the bushes and adding a wreath on the front door.
Make a bigger impact with large fiberglass decorations – think 7-foot toy soldiers or giant ornaments – and line them along the walkway to your house.
Such daytime ornamentation has been used in the corporate world for years, Switzer says, but it’s becoming more popular in residential settings.
Also more common in front yards are RGB (red, green, blue) lights, which provide the entire spectrum of color. With these lights, homeowners can represent their favorite sports team’s colors, or they can rotate through a vibrant light spectacle.
“With this technology, you can create the ‘dancing lights’ that you see on these YouTube videos,” Switzer says. “They can be set to music and create a dancing effect with movement.”
Many lights now incorporate LED technology that makes holiday lighting safer and more energy-efficient. However, Switzer warns that not all LED bulbs are created equal. White bulbs typically found at big-box stores tend to cast a blue fluorescent tone that can feel stark and cold.
“We offer an upgrade on LED lights, so our lights don’t have an edgy look to them,” Switzer says. “Ours have the look of incandescent light, so they put out a warm and inviting glow.”
If outdoor decor still seems overwhelming, Christmas Decor by Arvidson can fully design a holiday landscape. The company’s software system uses Google Earth to take a snapshot of your property, which designers use to create a mockup of your holiday display. The lighting service includes design, lights and installation, takedown and storage. Plus, if something goes awry, Arvidson’s crews are there to help.
“If a light should go out, we’re right there, immediately, to fix it,” Switzer says. “It’s a complete turnkey operation.”
Once you’ve established how you’ll handle your outdoor decor, it’s time to tackle the inside.
If you’re a trend follower, consider this: for the past two years, a woodland theme has been popular at Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center, in Crystal Lake.
Owls have been the most popular critter, says Pattie Braglia, purchasing manager, but people also are attracted to animals such as moose, deer and foxes. Such critters fit right in with homes and rooms that incorporate a Northwoods decor, but they also blend in with traditional decorations.
When it comes to more traditional holiday decor, colors such as burgundy and gold are prevalent in ribbons, silks and ornaments. Browns, creams and more neutral tones also are popular, and they tend to match furniture and wall colors.
“You want your decorations to complement your decor and not be loud and obnoxious,” Braglia says. “The neutral colors are still very Christmas-y looking.”
Strawflower Shop and Rug Merchant fully embraces traditional golds and reds, but it’s also caught on to a new trend: a black chalkboard surface with a white-printed message, such as “Let it Snow” or “Joy.”
“It’s a lot of fun and more playful,” Haas says. “We decorated a whole room with the chalkboard/black-and-white theme, with a little red. We always try to bring in a little something different every year, so our ‘different’ is the black and white.”
The more “rustic chic” appeal of this chalkboard decor is also making its way into tableware. Haas says many customers are seeking holiday accents such as black-and-white runners.
“We don’t usually get asked for black-and-white, but we are now,” she says.
Dress up for Dinner
If you plan to host dinner parties this holiday season, you may find the minimalist approach to be an appealing alternative.
“People don’t want to be surrounded by all of these things that they have to maneuver around and look out for,” says Bill Olafsen, owner of Olafsen Design Group in Chicago.
Olafsen specializes in high-end interior design, and he’s found that instead of decorating, “enhancing” during the holidays is a successful strategy.
“So many of my clients have wonderful collections in interesting homes, and they tend to like to enhance rather than create huge, showy displays,” he says. “Those who like to entertain a lot keep their year-round decor, but bring in whites and Christmas-y, wintery colors.
We tend to like to do things that enhance the decor. That’s always our approach, so it’s not a jarring effect; it all looks natural.”
To keep decor minimal, spruce up one or two areas of your home that will have the biggest impact.
“The entryway is a great area to work with,” Olafsen says. “You can enhance that by doing a large arrangement on a chest or console, and really, it’s a good way to set the tone. If you wanted to do more neutral things throughout the house, the entryway would be the place to do something more exciting and extravagant.”
Continue your theme with a similar, but smaller, arrangement in the dining room, Olafsen suggests. While you’re there, consider keeping tableware simple by choosing silver, crystal or white dinnerware.
“When the food is plated, it’s so nice to have it displayed on a neutral color, particularly white,” Olafsen says. “You can use dinnerware with a gold rim or silver rim, but I tend not to like seeing food on patterns and a lot of color. Unless you have so many sets of china that you can gear it toward what you’re serving, we like to keep the dinnerware minimal, with just an interesting border.”
Even better, use the food as a complement to your decor, he says. For example, a green salad with red persimmons gives a subtle nod to the holiday season.
Many of Olafsen’s clients prefer these slight variations of traditional Christmas colors, though they’ll occasionally swap primary colors for alternates such as plums and emerald greens. It’s easy to tie those colors into other arrangements around the home.
“No matter how much you feel comfortable spending, you can always find lovely greens of all different hues, from blue spruce to magnolia leaves,” Olafsen says. “Greens and white flowers give a home a real sense of cheerfulness.”
Just as important as visual statements, sounds can help to set a festive mood.
“If you have a piano, hire a pianist or hire a small group just for some background music,” Olafsen says. “Particularly if you’re having a large dinner party, that’s something that will give a little bit of background until the party gets going, so people who aren’t well-acquainted with each other will have the pleasantry of a little bit of music floating through the air.”
Music also provides a way to share your personal interests in a meaningful, yet inconspicuous, way. Religious hymns can represent matters of the heart as well as, if not better than, decorations.
“To me, it’s all about being thoughtful, especially if you’re entertaining people from all over,” Olafsen says. “Even friends have different interests and beliefs. It’s nice to be thoughtful. That’s what it’s all about – the joy and the celebration. If it’s done well, you’re going to have a successful holiday season.”
If the thought of decorating still gives you nightmares, consider hiring professionals to take on the workload.
For one thing, it’s safer to have a professional handle certain tasks, such as roofline lighting.
It’s all too easy for homeowners to fall off a ladder or get electrocuted, especially in slippery, cold-weather conditions, says Switzer, of Christmas Decor by Arvidson. In fact, more than 15,000 people annually are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to holiday decorating, according to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission.
“People often worry, ‘What if I fall, and I’m in the hospital over the holidays?’ No one wants that,” Switzer says. “Or, ‘What if I hire my neighbor kid to put up the lights, and he falls?’ Really, having a trained and insured installer is a necessity.”
There’s also the simple labor factor. Professional designers can take care of everything from start to finish, says Braglia, whose team at Countryside Flowers can handle in-home decoration and Christmas-tree trimming. A team sets up the decorations, and when the holidays are over, they return to restore your home to its pre-holiday order.
“I have a client who leaves for Florida every year,” Braglia says. “We go out on Oct. 28 to do her home – two large trees and then banisters. She goes to Florida, and then comes back right before Thanksgiving and everything is done.”
For many homeowners, it’s worthwhile to ask for help.
“If you have your home done professionally, it looks so amazing,” Switzer says. “Every time you drive home from work or from shopping and you’re tired, you turn that corner onto your street and you see your home lit up, and it’s such a good feeling. It feeds into the spirit of Christmas we all love.”