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Take the Ho Hum Out of Holiday Decorating

Original article appeared in A Saratoga Christmas on November 21, 2012.

I love beautiful things, and in case this is the first time you’ve read my article, I will tell you my secret: I’m cheap. I never buy anything unless it’s on sale – and if I have a coupon – even better, and I scour the internet for the best finds in my budget to stretch every decorating dollar (or fashion cent, for that matter).  Clearance sales make my pulse pound and finding ways to re-purpose things I already have for new and different uses completely makes my day.

For me, holiday decorating is no different. And with the cost of just about everything rising these days, I’m sure I’m not alone in my quest of how to get “the look for less.” When I open the glossy pages of Elle Décor, House Beautiful and Country Living, I constantly fold pages, highlight website addresses and tear out pages for my “decorating book” (the files I’ve created over the years for my decorating projects like – Kitchen, Master Bath, Living Room and even Gardens). The downside to this is that my taste is too good for my budget. So, I am always on the lookout for similar items that I love that are in my budget (and no one will ever know the difference).

With my Christmas decorations, I never have the same “look” two years in a row. Now don’t get me wrong, I do not go out and buy new decorations every year. I know people (who I will not name here) that put their decorations in the exact same place, every year, year after year. It never changes and they like it that way. That’s okay for them, but not for me; I am easily bored. I like to mix it up a bit. Some years, my tree is all gold and red ornaments, some years it’s silver and gold, and others it’s silver with natural elements like pinecones – but always with white lights – I’m a traditional kind of gal. In order to have enough ornaments in my rotation, I purchase my decorations when they go on sale or clearance. And, even when I use them two years in a row, I always move them around so I don’t have to look at the date of a picture to see if it was the same year.

Last year, I actually broke my rule – don’t be too harsh, it just about killed me – and purchased ornaments and decorations BEFORE Christmas. I didn’t even wait for a sale. I know, you’re disappointed but in my defense, I decided I wanted to go green and silver as I was decorating my tree. I didn’t have any green ornaments so I had to bite the bullet and forego the after-Christmas clearance sales. I looked at my usual favorites like Pottery Barn, West Elm and Crate and Barrel, and truthfully, they did have a gorgeous selection, but considering I was going to decorate a whole tree, I realized quickly that I would go broke if I bought dozens of ornaments before Christmas.

Thankfully we have two little gems around here called TJMaxx and Marshalls, and again thankfully, green was a big color last Christmas. I purchased all of the green ornaments Marshalls had in stock, which was only about 15 or 20. After adding in a couple of cute mercury glass owls, and a mercury glass tree from Pottery Barn, I’d spent my entire budget. With only 20 or so ornaments, it was clear that I didn’t have enough to cover the whole tree, so I improvised. I have tons of red ornaments so I did a red, green and white tree, and let me tell you – it was my favorite tree to date. I’m sure you can just about now that I’m a bit of a perfectionist but I also know that one of the best secrets of good design is being flexible. It’s not always possible to find exactly what you want in your budget (or at all!) so changing the plan to get a look you love can sometimes be a trade-off. And it’s perfectly okay.

So now that I’ve given you a few things to think about when it comes to your decorating, here are a few tips for beautiful, budget decorating which will help you have a fresh look every year – no matter which winter holiday you celebrate.

Bring the Outside In

  1. Place natural elements like acorns, pinecones and evergreen branches in large bowls or platters and insert candles for a beautiful, unique centerpiece (use glass hurricanes to keep it safe).
  2. Spray evergreen branches with silver or gold paint and place along the tree branches as decoration or in vases with berry branches around your home. You can also create your own garlands by attaching them to the balustrades on your stairs.
  3. Bump up the beauty factor of your store-bought garland by weaving evergreen branches (and some that you painted in the idea above) and other pretty natural elements like berries and pinecones throughout the length. Try inserting stems into the existing twine or wire, or cut a small piece of wire and connect the new piece to the garland. Also add shatter-proof bulbs and decorations to make a truly custom look.


Think Beyond Red and Green

  1. Sapphire and silver, magenta and amethyst, and silver/gold and white are great alternative color palettes for Christmas. For Hanukah, blue and white is the traditional combination but in rooms where less formal traditions are recognized, sprinkling in elements of silver would be perfectly appropriate.
  2. Use a theme – think Adirondack simplicity, Victorian extravagance, sleek modern or soft and pretty country. There are lots of great stores to find theme accessories without breaking the bank. Start with basic ornaments from Target – they often have the latest trend in holiday decorating too so be sure to look for their individual and small set collections – and add pieces that lend themselves to your theme. Many of our local boutiques carry holiday items that will help you complete your look.
  3. Mix it up – After you’ve had a few years to build up your “back stock” of ornaments, consider changing your palette from year to year to keep your décor fresh and new. And add new elements to your theme each year so you don’t have to look at the date on your photos to recall when it was taken.

Decorate the Everyday

  1. Weave glass bead or evergreen garlands in and out of the arms of your chandelier and hang glass balls with silk ribbons at different levels to add interest. You can also add natural elements like pinecones and acorns to create visual tension between the sparkly and the natural.
  2. Need some ideas for all of those cards? Instead of hanging them all over the fridge, display them with garlands on entertainment units, coffee tables, and as framed artwork. You can also attach them to large ribbons and hang the ribbons in prominent places in your home like the mantel (if you do not have a real fire) or down the fronts of interior doors.
  3. If you have some ornaments that you didn’t use on your tree, fill pretty bowls with them, insert some fresh evergreens and leave in your bathrooms, hallways and other common areas.

Layer It On

  1. I cringe when I see a tree with a few sparse decorations and lights wrapped in neat little rows around the outside of a tree. To get a tree that literally shines from the inside out, wrap individual branches with lights from the trunk out to the ends of the tips.
  2. To add to the 3-D effect, don’t limit your ornaments to just the end of the branches. Use your larger, heavier ornaments inside the branches (be sure to do a heavy pruning to create space inside the tree) and put smaller ornaments toward the ends. Step back and make sure you’re not putting too many of the same size, color or shape in the same spot. With so many pretty candy cane colors on the market now, you are sure to find some that compliment your theme. Also place some to the inside of the tree as well as the outside of the branches.
  3. When creating a mantel display, more really is merrier. Don’t stop at putting out the stocking holders and candles or a few cards. Add garlands, glass hurricanes filled with candles or greenery, and add some ornaments or other sparkly items. Lots of stores now have “mercury” glass decorations that can add a dramatic flair to just about any décor. Wait another week or two and pretty much every store will have out their holiday inventory, if they don’t already!

If you don’t have time to create the perfect holiday display, don’t worry! With my One Day Makeover, you can have a beautiful winter wonderland without spending a lot of time or money. But with less than two months before Christmas, don’t wait to book your in-home appointment! I can re-arrange your space for a party, decorate for that special Christmas morning or create a one-of-a-kind outdoor display. Be sure to find me on Facebook and my website:  Happy Holidays!

About Dawn

I'm a decorating junkie. I have stacks of decorating magazines on my coffee table, I wrestle my husband for the latest issue of Fine Home Building, and only keep cable so I can watch marathon Sundays of HGTV.

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