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Holiday Decorating Tips from Designer Lisa Hilderbrand

From Interior Designer Lisa Hilderbrand

Designer Lisa Hilderbrand loves Christmas so much she could practically fill a book with tips about decorating for this one holiday, so she was more than willing to share some of her ideas with us. Read through some of her best tips below, and be sure to check out her beautiful New England Home all dressed up for Christmas.

Tip #1: Decorating the Christmas Tree
The most important tip for decorating your Christmas tree: Tuck lights way back into the tree, all the way to the center, nestling them from the inside to the outside and back in again. Take a little extra time to hide the wires, tucking loops through branches. The close second most important tip: Hang shiny ball ornaments deep inside the tree—they will reflect the lights and multiply their effect. Try it this year. Get three extra boxes of plain shiny balls (at the grocery store—they don't have to be fancy), and after you put on the lights, hang the balls deep inside the tree. Always use more lights than you think you need!

Tip #2: Garland
Whether over your front door or draped over your stairway banister, try doubling or tripling ropes of garland. One strand is always too thin and looks skimpy, so I twist them together. I also mix different garlands. Outside (above) I mixed cedar, fir, and princess pine. The easiest way to do this is to unroll each spool of garland and lay them side by side, then twist one around the other. I stand at one end and my 7-year-old is my helper at the other end—he takes this job very seriously. You can also weave in a fake strand of garland to beef up real garland.

We used fir, cedar, white pine roping and princess pine over the outdoor fireplace (below); cedar and white pine at the front door, with some sprigs of fir here and there.

Tip #3: Use the Good Stuff
If there is ever a time to get out the "good china," it's the holidays. You don't have to have an elaborate dinner party. Serve comfort food like pot roast, a loaf of crusty sourdough, a little salad, and a bottle of wine. Light a bunch of candles and serve the food in the dining room—you'll have an evening to remember.  

Tip #4: Glitter & Gold Paint
All glitter is not the same. Look for ultra-fine or extra-fine glitter (which you can buy by the pound if you've got a big project). It's sparkly and perfect, not like elementary school posterboard glitter. Not to sound too crazy, but you can glitter anything—pinecones, twigs and branches from the yard, dried pomegranates/artichokes/seed pods. The same goes for gold spray paint. Magnolia leaves are gorgeous. After they dry out, give them a second life with gold spray paint. My father and I always laughed that there is a fine line between tasteful and tacky, so find that line and get as close to it as possible. He was a firm believer that gold spray paint could redeem just about anything. smiley

Hung in the predominately boxwood garland (above) are glass pinecones and glittered nuts. I used pounds of assorted nuts (walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts). Start by hot-gluing an ornament hook to the top of each nut so you have a handle, paint thinly with glue, dip or dust with glitter. Use old plastic egg boxes to keep them separate until they dry, 

Tip #5: Fireplaces
Fireplaces are one of the easiest places to dress up for the holidays. You don't have to swag the mantel to make them look festive. I start with leftover branches cut from the bottom of our Christmas tree, cuttings from evergreens outside, and then fill in with other greens and branches of berries and bittersweet. There are always leftover pieces of greenery lying around, and they all find their way into the fireplace arrangements. In the foyer, I used cedar left over from garland. Details below. 

A note about cedar:  Beware of "blooming" cedar. It has tiny yellow clusters all over it, which are absolutely beautiful, but they are full of pollen—many people are extremely allergic to it (and it makes a HUGE mess). Even a little of that cedar pollen can set off allergic reactions, so keep an eye out for it, especially if anyone is sensitive.

You can often get branches of greenery from your Christmas tree lot—they typically trim up the lower branches before they tie it up for you to take home. Look for that mountain of discarded branches and ask if you can have some. Some will be too scraggly, but they make a great base for fireplace decorations.  

Tip #6: Unusual Centerpieces
I like to do something other than a formal "arrangement" as a centerpiece. I bought a bunch of "bottle brush" Christmas trees on sale after Christmas one year, and I still pick them up here and there when I see them. I stick them in interesting containers—cups, vases, wooden boxes, barrels. Individually, they look a little dinky, but when grouped together here on the breakfast table, they come together nicely. The boys like to move them around and tuck in little Santas too. You don't have to use little trees—try pinecones, favorite ornaments, nutcrackers, Santas, angels, or anything you have a nice collection of.