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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!

Decorating on a Budget Doesn’t Mean Budget Decorating

decorating with berries

Ah, fall. As much as I love the change of seasons, fall signals that winter is coming, and as a transplant from Texas, winter is not something I look forward to. That said, I love autumn colors and love decorating for fall. Here are some of my favorite, budget-friendly tips – you can use these tips on a big budget too by making just a few tweaks or hiring a professional decorator to help.

Bring the outside in.Nature provides a splendor of beautiful decorations this time of year.

decorating with berries


Dried Japanese lanterns, cherry blossom branches with berries, bittersweet vine, and pinecones can help transition your summer décor into fall absolutely free. Bittersweet vine wrapped around doorways, porch columns and mailbox posts can soften the hard lines and make a welcoming entrance. You can usually find this at farmers’ markets or stop along any country road and cut some for free.To create a beautiful fall bouquet that will last long into the spring, remove the leaves from Japanese lanterns and they will eventually dry to a crisp orange.  Fill galvanized buckets and ironstone pitchers and place them in bathrooms, on hall tables and living room mantels (remove them before starting up the fireplace). If you have a screened in porch, add them to the table (or even in a corner) for a little shot of color to your outdoor space.

Berry branches make a gorgeous and colorful addition to dining room tables and entry halls when displayed in tall, glass containers (try filling clear containers with cranberries or marbles first) or in vases placed in large garden urns. Just be sure that whatever you put them in is water tight to avoid marks on your tables. And change the water every couple of days so it doesn’t start to look like a science experiment.

Add a variety of pinecones from different types of evergreens to large bowls or glass urns and place around the house on counters and tables. You can also insert a candle in the center (use a fireproof holder) or add a mix of potpourri for a sweet scent.

One final gift from nature – tree branches. Yes, you read that right. Tree branches get interesting when spray painted silver, gold, bronze or other warm, fall colors and displayed in dramatic containers. The trick with branches is to use fairly straight branches and keep them tall. If you can cut some with pretty leaves, even better.

Add some color. After this long summer, it’s kind of nice to start thinking about the warm colors of fall. If you’re on a

update with pillows

Source: Pottery Barn

budget, an easy way to do this is to change out pillow covers, throw blankets, rugs and lamp shades. Now, I know you’re thinking, “Budget? That’s going to cost a fortune!” but it doesn’t have to. There are lots of budget-friendly places to pick up inexpensive accessories. Target, Home Goods, West Elm, Pottery Barn and many others offer lots of great choice that are easy on your wallet. I am not normally a Kirkland’s shopper but stopped in the other day and was pleasantly surprised at the variety and styling of their fall accessories. Lots of cute pumpkins and gourds in great colors and fabrics like burlap and glass, sparkly birds and jewel-toned candle holders.

Don’t forget to scope out our local boutiques for more custom pieces. Miss Scarlett’s always has cute Anthropologie close outs for a good price and if your budget allows, you could check out Schuyler Pond, Homessence and Next Summer in Saratoga Springs.

Another way to add color, but a little more expensive is to paint a room. If you already have great accessories with warm fall colors, choose your favorite color from say, a pillow cover and  start painting. Some of my favorite fall colors are Salsa Dancing, A Walk in the Grass, Vintage Wine and Caliente from the Benjamin Moore Aura line. If you don’t want to change your wall color every season, choose one that’s fairly neutral so you can easily swap out your accessories in the next season for an extra budget boost.

If you’re really handy but short on budget, a quick and easy update is to paint a door. I recently painted the interior of my front doors a bright yellow (it was summer!) to give my dark, stained doors an update. Now I know there are many of you out there thinking you are never supposed to paint wood, but my philosophy is – if you don’t love it, then paint it! My beautiful antique doors are old pine but were ruined by a botched stain job (not me!) so there was really no option but to paint them. They look so bright and I smile every time I walk down the hall. For fall, you could choose a jewel-toned red, black, dark gray or even a deep turquoise. If you decide that you want to change it out in the spring, you’re only committed to $25 and about 2 hours of work.

Decorate the unexpected. In my home, nothing is off-limits from a little makeover. The toilet tank regularly has a flower posy in an antique ointment or Mason jar, and my office has an ever-changing assortment of containers for post it notes, paper clips, pens and flowers. Milk glass containers are my favorite, followed by little ironstone pitchers and dishes. And even the hallway console frequently gets a change out of accessories and flowers to keep it from getting boring.

Source: West Elm

Your dining room table probably has the standard-issue vase of flowers but try something new by adding a new burlap runner (burlap is a great, inexpensive fabric), sprinkle it with brightly colored fall leaves, and intersperse tiny gourds and votive candles for a sophisticated, budget friendly makeover. And don’t feel beholden to one style; add elements from other styles. If you have contemporary décor, soften the sometimes harsh lines with an antique mirror or mercury glass accessories. Or throw in a fun element like a papier mâché animal head in a Victorian-styled living room. One of my current favorites is at West Elm and is a bargain at just $90.

Do you have a decorating tip to share? Post your comment here! Need some help getting ready for your next holiday party? Contact me today to schedule your in-home appointment!

Falling For Fall

At the Beach

I’m sitting at the beach in Cape Cod while I write this article and I can’t tell you much fall is NOT on my mind. That said, I do love the change of seasons and though I love warm weather (I’m a transplanted Texan, after all), fall is my favorite time of year. The crisp smell in the air, the soft filtered sun, the beautiful warm colors; I sometimes wish it could be fall all year long.

At this time of year, I’m ready to update my house for the new season, on a budget of course. Small changes make a big difference in the way you look at your home. Starting with the outdoors, change out your potted annuals for mums, cut back the browning perennials, trim up trees and bushes, and start prepping beds for winter.

Working your way indoors, start by changing your color palette with warm fall colors. Orange, red, gold, plum and green are quintessential fall favorites. You don’t have to go overboard – changing out pillow covers, scatter rugs, throw blankets and even lamp shades are all that’s needed to give a room a little update with a dramatic impact. Take a look at other areas too – mantels, dining room tables and bookshelves are easy areas to update and make a big statement. And by moving things from room to room, you can create a fresh look with things you already own.

If you’re like me, you never got around to completing your spring cleaning, so this is a great time to do “fall” cleaning before buttoning up the house for the winter. Cleaning windows and window treatments, ceiling fans and light fixtures, and giving the walls, ceilings and floors a once over go a long way to making your home feel fresh and ready for the winter.

Want more home decorating ideas? Check out my 8-week class through the BHBL Continuing Education program. Each class will cover a different subject on decorating and do-it-yourself projects. If you can’t make the classes, you can always find decorating advice, DIY projects and product information on my Facebook page: Locust Grove Designs. And, feel free to call me to talk about your projects!

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