Decorating for the Holidays

In interior design circles these days, much is made about how interior design and architecture can shape people’s behavior in the workplace and even contribute to their healing in a hospital.  I think this is never more true than in our own homes during the Holiday season.

Who can resist the magic of the Holiday Spirit when surrounded by a magically decorated house?  Something about the scent of evergreens, the twinkle of lights, an abundance of colorful decorations and a beautifully laid table will lift the spirits of even the most diehard cynics. Even people not usually prone to public displays of affection will plant a kiss under the mistletoe! How to create that Holiday magic?  Here are my tips.

Start on the outside

You don’t have to decorate the whole yard and, as far as I’m concerned, the giant blow-up Santas belong in the backyard, but it is so welcoming to dress up the front door. Very simply, I wrap strings of lights around two Alberta Spruce that flank my front entrance and hang a big wreath on the door.  It’s not over the top, and it is a very effective welcome.  When it snows the look is divine!


My personal preference is for natural decorations, or at least natural-looking.  Greens, dried berries, plants, fruits and nuts, seed pods, and grasses are my choices but they will look dull if not lighted properly. So I intertwine the Christmas lights or mix in some shiny balls or crystal to give them life.

The secret to Christmas Decorations is abundance.  Be as big and bold as you can.  Don’t put three little votive candles on the mantel; load it up with as many oversize votives as it will hold.  Garlands and greenery should be layered and full.  If you only have a few pine boughs, it’s better to bunch them together in a vase than to spread them out.  If you use artificial greenery, mix in some real greens – it lends authenticity to the whole and the scent is irresistible.

Also, don’t forget sound and smell; the Holiday experience is multi-sensory. While you can’t be baking cookies non-stop, you can burn some mildly scented candles (be careful how you choose, some synthetic scents can be cloying) and always remember the music!  Your favorite Holiday songs will get you energized to tackle Holiday tasks with a joyful spirit.


No rules here; you can choose any color scheme you like and don’t be a slave to the existing color scheme in the room.  It looks more festive to go for contrast and Christmas Decorations come in all kinds of colors now; blue and aqua are popular along with the traditional reds and greens.   A simple glass bowl filled with oranges or lemons gives a great pop of color and can last through the holidays (unless they are eaten).  Legendary decorator Eleanor McMillen kept a bowl of lemons on her dining table year round.

Masses of Holiday plants lend an air of life and festivity as well color; group them together for best effect.  Topiaries can stand alone but they are terrific in pairs.

The Tree

Trimming the tree, perhaps with the assistance of services like burbank tree trimming, is a great excuse to throw a party – and it’s amazing how a party atmosphere can turn the frustration of untangling the tree lights into an occasion for mirth!  Family members and close friends are the best guests for this. Serve light refreshments to keep the energy going– a buffet of tea sandwiches and Christmas cookies served with a fizzy punch will do the trick.

If you go the party route, it’s best to appoint a professional tree trimming service as noted here or risk the tree trimming becoming an aesthetic collapse.  Everyone loves the myriad mismatched conglomerations of ornaments that have been collected over the years; they are truly the heart and soul of the tree. However, lest sheer sentimentality overtake the tree, I like to see some unifying element that keeps harmony among them.  It can be as simple as hanging red balls in a regular pattern or draping a garland in one color from top to bottom.  One year I strung endless yards of popcorn and cranberry garland for an old-fashioned look; it worked.

Gift wrapping is a great opportunity for decorative touches – beautifully wrapped packages are not just for under the tree. They can be piled on a window seat or a side chair to great effect.  Good-looking gift wrap is readily available this time of year and can be further adorned with all kinds of ornaments like feathers, beads, silk flowers, tassels – the possibilities are limitless.  One year I attached little wind-up toys to all my gifts and that injected an extra note of humor.

Bring on the sparkle

Gleaming silverware, flickering candles, sparkling wine glasses, and lots of Christmas lights.  At night all that sparkle is pure magic. I love to turn off all the lights except for the Christmas lights and candles – it looks so romantic and mysterious.

Happy Holidays – Relish the chaos and enjoy the season!

Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at 4 South Washington St. Tarrytown, NY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recommended For You

About the Author: Barbara Sternau