Holiday Decorating

I have been known to leave the Holiday evergreen wreath on my front door until March. Partly it’s because I’m too busy to take it down but truly, in spite of the comments I receive about it being time to take it down, I like it there.

And I leave the little sparkle lights on the twin Alberta spruce trees that flank my door. It’s not just about the Holidays —it’s about lending a little life to the entrance of the house while the natural world is in the grip of cold gray unrelenting winter. I certainly don’t recommend leaving giant balloons of Santa Claus and the Reindeer on the front lawn; or blinking lights and music; these have their place and can be fun but they get old fast (very fast). An evergreen wreath or a lighted garland, on the other hand, have staying power; a little light, a suggestion of life and warmth is very welcoming.

Simple Abundance
My best advice for tasteful Holiday Decorating can be summed up in two words: simplicity and abundance. Keep it simple. Don’t use too many different kinds of ornaments and displays — it looks cluttered and fussy, especially if the items are small. One big mass of poinsettias or cyclamens will have much more impact than a collection of different plants placed throughout the room. One pair of large nutcrackers will have much more presence than a batallion of tiny ones. A big basket of gourds looks impressive — a few gourds scattered on a windowsill look puny and sparse. If you have a special collection you display at Holiday time — put it on a runner, a tray, or in a basket to make it look cohesive — I have a set of "Carolers" that I display on a bed of evergreen garland interlaced with Christmas tree lights; it has the effect of creating a mini- environment for them.

Among her many talents, my Associate Interior Designer, Maryann Iannitti, is a highly creative floral designer: she is known to forage in the woods and the yard for her plant material and her finds include all variety of natural evergreens — pine, balsam, fir, holly, juniper, boxwood, ilex and ivy. If foraging is not for you, buy your greens at a nursery and don’t forget to pick up other natural material — anything with colorful red berries, pine cones, birch branches and nuts will add interest and texture. Cut the evergreen stems and keep them in lots of clean water. Put your finds in vases, make centerpieces, mantelscapes, roping or whatever you can conjure up. The great advantage of natural evergreens are that they smell so good! No artificial scent can ever approach the clean earthy scent of real evergreens.

We are not snobs however; there are lots of good looking artificial plants and greens and let’s face it — real evergreens only last for about two weeks. It helps to mix in a few real greens to get that great scent.

Glitz, Glitter & Lighting
Make centerpieces, tablescapes, wreaths and fill vases with your finds. Anything that sparkles and reflects light will make your arrangements really come to life, so don’t spare the glitz: use glitter, mirrors, crystals, lights, and your imagination.

Candlelight adds mystery and it’s also extremely flattering so, especially for Holiday parties, light lots of candles. Use them in masses on the mantel or on the sideboard. Use them on the coffee table. Put a large welcoming pillar in the entryway. A note of caution however, candles can be a hazard, I once relaxed my vigilance and left candles burning in the dining room while the party had moved on to the living room and I now have a charred section of my buffet server to remind me. I’ve never lived that one down — I now extinguish candles as the party moves on. Fill the fireplace with candles — it looks great and it is, after all, made for fire.

Experiment with color: How about buying all new table linens? You can stick with traditional colors or go for the unexpected. If you try out a non-traditional color scheme; be bold, be consistent with the color and use lots of it. Another tip — any color scheme that is highlighted with silver and/or gold will look festive and beautiful.

Taking it Down
There’s no getting away from it; cleaning up, and putting away the decorations is not nearly as much fun as putting them up, but while I let my wreath linger on the front door inside the house, it’s another matter. The Holidays should come and go. What looks festive and full of life in anticipation of Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas or the New Year, looks tired and dreary soon after the celebrations are over. So don’t linger over the clean up, pack and label all your precious items — there was that one year when I completely lost the Santa Claus suit and finally unearthed it in June, something that could have been prevented had I labeled the box!

I wish you a festive and beautiful Holiday Season.

Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at
37 Main St., Tarrytown, NY

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About the Author: Barbara Sternau