To read Part I of Classic Interior Christmas Decor, click here.
To read Part II of Classic Interior Christmas Decor, click here.
Classic Interior Christmas Decor, Part III
Now its time for the piece de resistance....the Christmas Tree! And, seeing as how its Thanksgiving Day, (Happy Thanksgiving, eveyone!), its time to haul everything out and get ready to decorate! (The day after Thanksgiving is really the earliest you should start decorating!) I remember working as a design associate at my first interior design job. The tail-end of our client's full-service project overlapped with the holidays and I found myself, and the designer I then worked for, creating a winter wonderland for our client's estate that overlooked the Pacific Ocean. I remember being up on a ladder, with Carol of the Bells and Greensleeves being pumped through the sound system, our client baking cookies for us, her little ones smiling with joy as boxes and boxes of decor was brought in, their cherished ornaments pulled out and placed on their tall tree....I thought to myself, "I can't believe I'm getting paid to do this!". It was a fun few days (yes, DAYS) of Christmas installation, and it was so thrilling to see how happy and cozy we made their home for their holiday celebrations. I learned so much about Christmas decorating during those few days (its not rocket science, but wow- there are tons of tips and tricks to it! Hopefully I have given you some useful ones in this post series!). Although I have my own firm now, and I have less and less time to devote to Christmas decorating requests from clients, that particular memory is one of my favorites from working for that firm.
If you read Part I, you know I am a fan of real trees. So get a real one! But, if you insist on getting a fake tree (or must, for whatever reason), consider realistic fakes such as "TruTip" styles from Christmas Lights, Etc. or "True Needle" styles from Balsam Hill. When you invest in a fake tree (and I say invest because a truly good fake will cost you upwards of $500) be sure to buy a really good one. No sense in giving up all the benefits of a real tree (the smell!) if a fake one doesn't match up in the looks department.
I recommend two trees, if you have the room. One tree as the "Fancy Tree" that abides by your color palette and sits in an out-facing window of the house, and another tree that showcases eclectic ornaments for the children and/or from your childhood. This "Memory Tree" can be placed in a more casual and lived-in area of the house- the study, family room, morning room, upstairs landing or loft. I also like hanging small/miniature frames by ribbon and placing family photos (vintage and current) and notes to one another in the frames to be placed on the Memory Tree. Its a lovely tradition that honors family, memories and heritage- for me, those are the best aspects of any holiday. The fancy tree should be placed in front of a window that shows to the outside of the house- the foyer, formal living room, or the dining room (depending on the layout and siting of your house). The look of a glowing Christmas tree from the outside is so warm and welcoming. Typically these areas are removed from main living areas, that's why its nice to have multiple trees.
Lighting a Christmas Tree
When you light a Christmas Tree, there are a few things to keep in mind (other than fire hazards, please take your own sensible precautions on that!).
You need about 100 bulbs per one foot of tree (less if using LED, read on to find out why). If you have a 7' Christmas Tree, plan on 700 lights. Visually mark each foot on the tree and space your light placement accordingly, working from bottom to top (do this first, before anything else). As you place the lights, don't just place them in a simple ring on the outside....work in a zig-zag pattern, going to the trunk, out to the branches, and back to the trunk again to ensure you get ample coverage. The inner lights provide light balance and allow your tree to glow.
With all the LED lights out on the market, there is one thing you need to keep in mind (that no one seems to be pointing out)....LED lights are a lot brighter than the incandescent light strings. They also produce a different quality of light- they're very clear, crisp and strong compared to the warm glow of incandescent lights. Its easy to achieve light overkill when working with LED's, so keep that in mind. If you pay attention to the amount of light emitted from LED's, you will inevitably have larger gaps without lights- its just how it has to be until LED's are designed to perfection for Christmas tree lighting. This is important because you don't want too much light from the tree- it will overpower the ornaments and almost act as an ambient light source, rather than a sparkly accent light source. So, beware of LED's. I'm not against them....but I'm not impressed by them, either. Love them for the exterior....but on the interior, they can be too powerful. Try using half the amount of lights recommended and add/subtract as you see fit.
Also, do yourself a favor and put your lights on a timer. Most people do this- but Im still surprised when someone has to go "plug in" their tree. Just have them go on and off by themselves....your back will thank you for it!
Decorating a Christmas Tree
Whatever palette you go with (see Part II for info on how to formulate a Christmas color palette), stock up on gobs and gobs (see guideline below) of solid glass ball ornaments. Get them in a few different sizes that are appropriate for the scale of your tree (no huge balls on small trees!). When you start decorating, start with these first. Group your small, med and large sizes. Divide your medium sized glass balls and place half in your large pile, and the other half in your small pile. Fill gaps and the interior of the tree with your large pile, placing more of them on the bottom half to two-thirds of the tree (depending on height). Then place your small pile outward on the branches and concentrate more of them on the top half to one-third of the tree. If you balance your ornament placement according to the height of the tree, you will achieve proper proportion and you may cause your tree to appear taller (in the same way the Greeks did by making the base of a column thicker at the bottom, and slightly tapering towards the top).
Let me tell you right now that you need far (far) more glass ball ornaments than you think. A good guideline is to take the height of your tree and add two zeros to it. I'm not kidding. It really takes that much. Once you have that figure, you can subtract about two-hundred and that is the quantity range you need. For instance, if you have a 7 foot tree, add two zeros to it to make 700. Subtract 200 to get 500. The final quantity range you need is 500-700 glass bulbs for a 7' tree.
When hanging, I prefer the green coated hooks. They just blend better and if you loose them, bend, or distort them, they are affordable to replace. Keep hooks and other attachment tools (green floral tape, twisty ties, etc. in one divided box so its always organized and at your fingertips).
For other decorative or themed ornaments, plan on about 10-15 per foot of tree. I refrain from placing bows at the tips of branches, because I feel they take up too much room and they are visually heavy (although I do like a big bow at the top of a tree!). Garland can stay or go, but if you use it- overbuy and drape your swags uniformly. If you under buy, your swags will be really shallow and they won't look good. There is no hard and fast rule for garland swag length, just use your best judgement. Before you put the lights up, you can do a mock-up with string. Pull the string out and measure it (this is especially important if you will be making your garland out of cranberries or popcorn, etc.- as you don't want to spend a lot of time making too much garland!).
Christmas Tree Sources on-line:
See Part I + Part II for decorative and fresh tree sources
Home Depot or Lowe's for nylon ties and other nifty attachment tools, extension cords, power strips, etc.
Balsam Hill and Christmas Lights, etc. for artificial trees (see links above)