10 Holiday Decorating Tips

Carol Reeves, co-owner of Elizabeth’s Garden and Zimlich’s Patio and Garden Center, shares her best tips and ideas for creating an easy, elegant look.

A cluster of pine, amaryllis and magnolia whimsically welcomes nature into the kitchen. Arms of white Star of Bethlehem buds and birch vines add height to the focal arrangement, while “Christmas trees” of real oyster shells and birch wood vases bring texture. Pine cones and deer antlers create rustic holiday ambiance. Photos by Elizabeth Gelineau  

1. Cohesion is key.

Use one or a few elements of decor consistently to tie formal and informal spaces together. Whether it’s a certain color, flora or textile — our Fearnway home uses burlap, cotton and oyster shells — a unifying element will help your spaces feel seamlessly connected.

2. Create a “down-to-earth” design.

Earthy textures and colors are especially on trend. Using readily available materials adds something extra to your decorations (and saves time and cash). “If you’ve got greenery in your yard, use that! Use the trimmings from your tree. Things that are recyclable, renewable, sustainable — aspects that go beyond the aesthetics.”


ABOVE LEFT Cedar sprigs peek from behind potted plants. Succulents are beautiful and add instant panache. Delicate lady slipper orchids pop from the center of the display.  An antique chair from Atchison Home lends class to the room.

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ABOVE RIGHT Little star orchids add flair, as well, with the star-shaped petals that earned them the nickname.

3. Trick the eye.

Garlands are gorgeous, but not every mantel or home has space for such a large piece. Instead, fake it with pieces of greenery (in the case of this mantelpiece, cedar) tucked in with small potted succulents and plants to create the illusion of a garland without dealing with something that cumbersome.

4. Keep it green.

If you’ve ever used live greenery, you’ve probably struggled with keeping it, well, green. Reeves reminds us that plants dry out from the leaves. “Plants take in moisture through their leaves, and in the wintertime, we’ve got heat on which pulls the moisture from our homes. Mist the plant’s leaves with a spray bottle to keep them hydrated.”

5. Take a bow.

What’s the one decorating staple you should keep year after year? “Good ribbon! You can do more with ribbon and greenery from outside than anything else. Make sure it’s either wired or has good body to it. At the end of the season, roll it up to store it, or stuff the loops of bows with tissue paper to prevent crushing.”


ABOVE LEFT A swag of cotton, pine and pinecones feels rustically cozy for the top of the front door. More burlap and antlers form a wreath that greets visitors to the Midtown home with refined, natural elegance.

ABOVE RIGHT Two interwoven garlands of magnolia leaves and cotton wind their way up the banister. Swags of short-needle pine, eucalyptus and cedar coexist beautifully with the loquat leaves. Glistening ornaments and simple burlap stockings make the scene homey, while keeping with the earthy spirit of the decor. Two silver reindeer prance on the artisan wooden side table from Atchison Home decked with loquat leaves and cotton. While the cotton bolls are genuine, they have been attached to faux foliage wires for easy arranging.

6. Focus on the “holy trinity.” 

If you can only decorate three spaces, which ones should be your focus? “Definitely the front door! That’s the first impression you make. A dining room table is another place where people gather. Then, choose wherever you spend the most time with family and friends.”

7. Mix things up.

Why stick with one type of plant or greenery? Layer your decorations for a fuller, more diverse display. Let live and fake greenery mingle. Pull from your own backyard to easily freshen up the presentation. In this home, magnolia, cedar, loquat and eucalyptus leaves come together to create a lovely holiday scene.

8. Hang it hook, line and sinker.

For troublesome decor that just won’t stay in place, pull out the tackle box. “Fish hooks will work in areas where nothing else will, and you can stick them right into the wall or catch them on an edge.” With the aid of monofilament fishing line or fine wire, keeping your trimmings where they belong is a snap.


9. Better design in small packages.

Cozy spaces can easily become claustrophobic, especially with too much styling. Avoid deep shades, such as red, in favor of lighter greens and khakis to open and brighten the rooms. Also, avoid items with a large “visual weight, ” such as oversized ornaments.

10. Add the scents of the season.

Finally, note that in addition to a few small accents scattered about the house, a pleasant aroma wafting from the kitchen can create more drama than you might realize. Bake a batch of fresh gingerbread cookies. Or, try heating a teakettle on the stove with water and spices or fruit for an easy, scentsational ambiance. Your entire home will feel fresh, vibrant and celebration ready.

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