Friday, December 10, 2010

How to Decorate a Gorgeous Christmas Tree

Our grown-up Christmas Tree. Pay no mind to the hand-me down, work-in-progress backround decor.
I love Christmas trees, and I am so excited to have my own full sized tree in my house this year. Christmas trees make a room feel warm and cozy, and they’re a wonderful opportunity to really personalize your holiday décor.

When decorating your tree, keep in mind that the Christmas season is a very personal time of year, and your holiday decorations should reflect that as much as possible. Your Christmas tree should never look like it could be picked up and dropped in a department store or someone else’s house; it should look yours to the max.

So how do you decorate a tree that looks beautiful but still incorporates personal elements? It’s actually quite easy.

Figure out where you want to put the tree
This step is important because it will determine what size and style tree you need, which helps make the tree feel like part of everyday décor and not just some gigantic piece sitting awkwardly in your living room.

I think that the best place for your tree is the room where you will see it most, because why have a tree when you aren’t even in the same room to enjoy it? Once you pick a room for your tree, find a spot that still allows a clear walking path through the room. We put ours in the middle of our picture window on the front of our house, so we get to enjoy it inside and show it off to the neighborhood at the same time.

Find a gorgeous tree
I find that when you want to be specific about your tree decorating, artificial trees afford much more freedom, are easier to put up, and more stable once they are up because you weren’t messing with a tree stand. Don’t hate me for this. I also think that real trees can look majestic and smell wonderful. Personally, I have an artificial tree because it works for me right now, but I think that real trees can be beautiful too.  

We needed a full-sized tree for the spot we picked in front of our picture window in order to make the proportions work. Walmart was selling 6.5-foot trees for $40, but they looked pretty fake, and the space really needed something 7 feet tall. The nicer, taller trees were around $100, and I wasn’t prepared to spend that much just one the tree itself (I’d already spent that much on garland). Using my favorite source, I picked up a beautiful pre-lit 7.5 foot tree on Craigslist for $60! The tree was in a shorter box, so I was able to fit it in the back seat of my car. If you are finding that you can’t afford a tree, I suggest asking around if someone in your family is trying to get rid of one, or taking to Craigslist.

Via Craigslist DC
I could go on and on about trees, but perhaps I will save that for another post in order to speed this one up a bit.

Choose a style for your decorations
I say choose a style before choosing a color scheme because your style plays into your color scheme a lot. Are you going for Hollywood glam? Something super feminine and pretty? How about something contemporary and masculine? I decided to use a mix of vintage and natural elements into my decorations.

Choose a color scheme
Choosing a color scheme for your “backdrop” ornaments and other elements like garland is a good way to make your tree look unified while giving you room to include more personal elements that may not “go” per-say with your design aesthetic. Initially, I chose to incorporate red, silver and silvery-blue into my tree. After putting up some decorations, I determined that I also wanted a little lime green in there too. I chose this color scheme because it worked well with our existing décor, which has a lot of greens, blues, and reds in it already.

Like I mentioned previously, the style you selected definitely affects your color scheme. If you’re going soft and feminine, you’ll likely want to use pinks, bright blues, and lime greens. If you’re going mega glam, you’ll probably want lots of metallic gold, silver, and even mirrored items.  

Buy the bones
I refer to the elements like garland, round ball ornaments, and any other kind of fillers as the “bones” of the tree. These are the pieces that anchor and establish both the style and color scheme of your tree.

I love using a mixture of different size and texture round ball ornaments in my chosen color scheme on the tree. They reflect light beautifully and fill a tree quickly. I bought a mixture of red, silver-blue, silver, and green balls from Walmart and Michael’s. Plastic ornaments appear to be far more readily available this year at places like Target and Walmart, and they’re actually cheaper than glass balls. I still prefer the glass ornaments, but I’m on a budget, so I mixed. The Michael’s glass ornaments were on sale for $4, and I used those when I couldn’t find the color green I was looking for at Walmart.

Round ball ornaments aren’t the only type of filler ornaments that work well on the tree.  As long as the ornaments are consistent, and relatively simple in color, and are repeated throughout the tree, they will work to establish a unified look. Some ideas for other types of ornaments include glass or white plastic snowflakes, glass icicles, or even pine cones.

When it comes to selecting garland, I chose an economical kind: silver-blue plastic beaded, $3 for 9 feet at Walmart. I used the thin beaded kind because I liked the way it would reflect light, but be a relatively subtle element on the tree. There are many different materials that you can use as garland. Some of my other favorites are ribbon, feather boas, and paper chains.

One type of filler that few people consider is the sticks of leaf-like pieces or flowers at the craft store. Using these faux branches or flowers by sticking them in the tree is a fun way to add interest and depth to your masterpiece.

Let the decorating begin
If you are putting lights on your tree, you want to essentially wrap the lights around the branches of the tree instead of draping the lights like garland. This gives the tree more depth by illuminating the inside of it.

Once the tree is lit, the first thing I put on is garland. A lot of people think that garland needs to go continuously around the tree, and that they should drape it over the branch. Garland doesn’t actually need to look like one continuous piece. As long as you have it placed in semi circles around different parts of the tree, it should look good. Rather than draping garland over a branch, I learned from the Christmas attic that a great way to hang garland is by using an ornament hook to hang the garland from the underside of the branch. This gives you a little more control when hanging the garland, and helps the garland drape better.

Hang your garland underneath the tree branch.
 When putting up ornaments, I like to put up one color at a time so that I made sure that ornaments of the same color were distributed throughout the tree.  First I hang the largest ornaments, and gradually fill in with smaller ones. It’s important during this process to constantly be stepping back to see the tree as one big picture so that you’re placing things in good spots on the tree.

After I hung the ornaments, I stuck white feathers that I bought for $1.99 at Michael’s in branches around the tree to give it a little softness. Initially, I bought the feathers because I was worried that the tree would look too bare. I was wrong on that feeling, but I still like the softness they add to the tree.

Feathers are a cheap and easy way to both fill a tree and add softness to it.
After hanging the “bones”, we all decorated the tree with what personal ornaments we have. Roomie 1 actually had quite a few ornaments because her dad is getting remarried gave her most of his Christmas decorations to make room for his move. We put as much of those ornaments on the tree as we could, no matter how many times Roomie 2 said “oh my gosh this is so tacky, we have to use this!!” I LOVE that Roomie 1 had all those personal ornaments. Maybe the ninja turtles aren’t the prettiest thing on the tree, but they give our tree character and give it a personal, collected-over-the-years feeling that a Christmas tree should have. I actually have an entire box of ornaments given to me by grandparents and parents every year, but they are nice and I’m not ready to bring them with me until I buy a house myself (my mom was thrilled that she didn’t have to part with them yet). I did have some ornaments that I collected during college when I was decorating a mini tree for my apartment there.

Roomie 1's Ninja Turtles Ornament (can you tell what decade we were born in?)

I'm so thrilled we found this in Roomie 1's box of ornaments. It's an ornament from her parents' first Christmas together.

I bought the flower ornament from West Elm this year, and the glass ornament is a Christopher Radko reproduction of vintage Shiny Brite ornaments.
If you’re a young renter like me and you don’t have many personal ornaments, try asking your parents if there are any that they’d like to part with. Even if they’re not flawless pieces of art, they'll remind you of your family when you see them on the tree. I also think it’s a great idea for roommates to make a few ornaments for your tree to give it personal aspects that are specific to your house, not just your family. You can do this simply by painting glass balls or cardboard shapes like those from Paper Source, or you can get a little more creative with paper and other craft supplies. Regardless of your strategy, work hard to incorporate all of your roommates into the tree.

Some additional tree-decorating tips:
  • Ornament hooks are your friend. Even if you have an ornament with a string on it, I suggest putting an ornament hook through the hole through which the string is threaded. This is good because strings are often cut too long for the ornament, and if you hang it on one branch it’s likely to sit between two lower branches.
  • Floral wire can be used instead of ornament hooks to hang ornaments more securely to the tree. Keep in mind that when you do this, the ornament removal process will be much longer than if you were using hooks.
  • Hang ornaments at varying depths in the tree to give the tree dimension.
  • Pay attention to the placement of lights when putting ornaments on the tree. Not only do they reflect beautifully off of glass ball ornaments, they also light up details in some of your more ornate ornaments.
  • It’s better to have too many ornaments on a tree than too few.
  • If you have sets of ornaments, hang them together in one vignette on the tree. For example, my family has a set of three snowmen of the same style (one for each kid) and we hang them together as a group.
  • If your tree is in front of a window, don’t worry too much about decorating the side of the tree facing the window. Unless your window is right on a sidewalk, most people can’t see what’s on the tree when the lights are on. 
  • Always take time to step back from your tree and see how the whole package looks.
Top It All Off
Most people think of the traditional star or angel to top their tree, but there are many other options for tree toppers.
  • Bows are an inexpensive tree topper, and can easily be changed from year to year. You can have one made at a craft store, buy one at a store or nursery (the Christmas Attic makes them with their own ribbon all the time), or learn how to make one yourself.
  • Cluster glass ball ornaments together with floral wire and wire them to the top of the tree
  • Cluster long feathers, branches, or other fillers at the top of the tree and hide stems with ribbon or ornaments
  • If you have a tree topper that looks too small on a large tree, sit it on top of a bow or cluster glass ball ornaments at the base of it to make the proportion of the entire package more in keeping with the rest of  your tree.
When decorating your tree, just be creative! There’s no rule that says you have to stick to conventional tree toppers or garland, and some of the coolest trees are the ones that incorporate unexpected elements into them. Happy decorating!

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