Photo courtesy Schiffer Publishing

Branch out with tree decorating tips

It’s easy to get stuck in a holiday rut when it comes to trimming the Christmas tree. Admit it, you’re almost doing it on autopilot by now: Boxes down from attic. Lights up. Ornaments unpacked. Repeat ad infinitum. In search of a fresh approach, authors Katharine Kaye McMillan and Patricia Hart McMillan asked decorating pros what they do to make their own trees special. Their responses are part of the new book Christmas at Designers’ Homes Across America; here are some of the ideas these designers shared.

Notes on natural

“I love the look and scent of a natural tree,” says iconic ornament designer Christopher Radko. “Choose a tree that is pruned with hand shears, not by a power shear that cuts the tree into a dense triangle like a shrub. Water the tree with hot tap water to keep the sap running smoothly. Add a few drops of bleach … to prevent mold growth. Add corn syrup, too—about 1 teaspoon daily to feed the tree.”

The way to faux

“We always go with an artificial tree,” says Arkansas designer Shayla Copas. “I always dismantle the tree after the holidays. They will last longer that way. I have clients who like to store their trees fully assembled in the attic, but often the tree gets bent when it is shoved into the storage area. I have learned it is best to keep the original box for storage. Labeling the parts helps, too.”

Let there be lights

“I am careful to wind the strands up and down each branch to conceal the cords,” says Radko. “I accent the tree with colored c-7 blinking mini-bulbs. They add life to the tree. I never use LEDs. I don’t like their cold color.”

Holiday hues

“Rather than having a theme, I focus on traditional Christmas colors—red and green with gold and silver accents,” says Florida designer Cecil Hayes. “The ornament style changes from year to year, but the colors do not.”

Bang on a budget

“When working on a budget, I use clusters [of ornaments] to add drama,” says Copas. “To create a cluster of small, solid-color balls, I put as many as five on a pipe cleaner.”

Store smart

“It is a good idea to store ornaments in heavy-duty, see-through plastic containers with labels,” Copas says. “I keep similar ornaments in the same box and label them. I also store my ornaments according to room. I wrap glass ornaments in paper.”

Clean break

“I try to have the decorations put away before New Year’s Eve,” says Atlanta designer Rhonda Peterson, “so that my home is ready to accept all of the amazing things the New Year has to bring.”