Decorating for the Holidays? Do It Quietly

But when picking them out, remember that the color palette should complement that of the room. “Too often, I see seasonal decorations that look completely out of place,” he said, “because no consideration was taken to work with the existing décor.”

To decorate his dining table, Mr. Yost lays out a small wreath with a low, wide vase of flowers in the center, usually red roses and tulips. “Doing something understated like this is always a winner,” he said. “It says ‘holiday,’ but it’s not in your face. And because it’s simple and sophisticated, it’s also timeless, which means it will always be in.”

One additional element he includes: scent. “Rather than go for the obvious pine or cinnamon, I do Moroccan Amber candles and reed diffusers from Nest,” he said. “It provides an earthy, wintry, super-sexy backdrop that makes you want to light a fire and drink too much bourbon.”


“The one thing that makes the holidays different than any other time is sparkle,” said the decorator Bunny Williams, whose holiday collection for Ballard Designs (shown here) reflects that.

Ballard Designs

GO FOR GOLD “Mixed metallics, tonal palettes and décor that’s seasonal without being overtly Christmassy are three trends topping my list this December,” said Anne Sage, a Los Angeles-based lifestyle blogger and author of “Sage Living: Decorate for the Life You Want.”

“A blend of copper, silver and gold, along with muted monochromatics, feels festive yet still sophisticated,” she said. “And ‘unholiday’ wintry sparkles are perfect for busy people who want to put up their decorations well before the hoopla hits and leave them up long after the last hurrah.”

PLAY WITH LIGHT “The one thing that makes the holidays different than any other time is sparkle,” said the decorator Bunny Williams, whose holiday collection for Ballard Designs reflects that. “Bubbly champagne, glittering candlelight and extra festive touches make the season a magical time, so embrace it.”

When she is entertaining, Ms. Williams said, she dims all the lights and uses a combination of LED candles and small votives on the dining table, mantels and side tables: “The softer light creates a more romantic, festive feel.”

Greenery is another important element. “Live magnolia garlands and wreaths are great because they’ll last the whole season,” Ms. Williams said. “Even as they dry, they’re still beautiful.”

MATCH YOUR HOME’S STYLE “Your holiday décor should echo the style of your house,” said Danielle Rollins, an interior designer in Atlanta and the author of “Soiree: Entertaining with Style.” For a rustic home she decorated, she said, she incorporated seasonal touches like holly berries, pheasant feathers and flowers; in more formal homes, she uses silks, metallic and velvet elements.

MAKE IT COLORFUL “Don’t feel you have to stick with a traditional color palette or decorations,” Ms. Rollins said. “Thanksgiving doesn’t have to mean orange, and Christmas doesn’t have to mean red and green.”

Alternative color schemes, she suggested, might include brown and turquoise, chartreuse and chocolate, khaki and rose or pomegranate and camel. In the rustic interior she created, for example, Ms. Rollins decorated in colors that complemented the room’s palette, coordinating a wreath’s ribbon with the chocolate walls, adding a tartan tablecloth to a side table and putting out bowls of pine cones.


Holiday decorations should coordinate with a room’s décor: In an Atlanta home, Danielle Rollins matched a wreath’s ribbon to the chocolate color scheme and put out bowls of pine cones.

Sarah Dorio

“The key when experimenting with color is to balance a brighter tone with a duller one and look to the opposite end of the color spectrum,” she said. “You can’t really go wrong if you use floral elements in the same color tones to tie it all together. Think of how a patterned scarf can tie even the most disjointed colors of an outfit together — table coverings and floral elements do the same thing.”

ADD FLOWERS “Creating centerpieces for your holiday dinner party isn’t as daunting as it may seem,” Ms. Rollins said. “Roses always are great, as they last for a long time and make a statement as your centerpiece, and you can use a variety of colors.”

Mix in seasonal greenery, berries, metallic spray-painted branches or ivy sprigs for a festive touch. “One of my favorite tricks is to put cranberries in the water of a clear cylinder vase and integrate various flowers in shades of red, pinks and white,” Ms. Rollins said.

Don’t have the time or inclination to make your own bouquet? Start-ups like the Bouqs Company, in Marina del Rey, Calif., and Farmgirl Flowers, in San Francisco, work with sustainable farmers to create a selection of wreaths, garlands and floral arrangements using seasonal blooms, a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous cookie-cutter centerpieces filled with red poinsettias. (The $50 Holiday Sweater from the Bouqs includes succulents, white alstroemeria and red berries; the $60 8-foot strand of garland from Farmgirl Flowers has silver-dollar eucalyptus and pine.)


Nancy Fire, of the Manhattan studio Design Works International, created a “wishing window” decorated with strings of mini-LED fairy lights, eucalyptus leaves and tags inscribed with the wishes of her guests.

Meredith Matsakis

GET THE GUESTS INVOLVED “One of my favorite things to do as guests are arriving is to set up a build-your-own holiday cocktail bar,” Ms. Rollins said. For a Christmas caroling party, for example, she created a build-your-own-peppermint-schnapps bar with votive candles, sliced oranges, candy canes and holiday cookies. “It’s a great way to get everyone comfortable before sitting down for dinner, and you can move it throughout the house.”

Nancy Fire, the creative director and a founder of the Manhattan firm Design Works International, created a “wishing window” in her apartment on Central Park West, using strings of mini-LED fairy lights, eucalyptus, metallic wire and other craft supplies. Then she invited each guest to write a wish on a tag and hang it in the window, which looks out at the Central Park reservoir and the New York City skyline. “Spreading cheer worldwide,” she said, “seems to resonate with many of us this holiday season.”

A wishing window, she added, would be easy to create on a smaller scale, by taping tags to any window or wall. “It is a great addition to any holiday parties you are having this year,” she said, “giving people the opportunity to be mindful in a creative and beautiful way.”

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