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Guide to “Decorating Your Tree Like a Designer”

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Guide to “Decorating Your Tree Like a Designer”


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Have you looked at your Christmas decorations and wondered where to start? Finished trees can be intimidating if you are trying to get the same look, but it doesn’t have to be. For me decorating the tree is an art, and I approach it just like I would with any design project by creating layers of elements that all work together. I love looking at decorated trees; there are so many possibilities. Each element on the tree from the lights to the ornaments are important.

Here is a step-by-step guide to make your tree look like you hired a professional to finish it:

Step 1- Prep and more Prep
I would have to say the most important thing is to prep your tree. If you have an artificial tree, make sure you take the time to un-flatten it. Spread out and fluff each branch and really arrange them to make the tree full. This is a really tedious task and you probably will not get any volunteers to help. If your tree is real, it is important to let it “fall” before starting. After you get it set up and make sure that it is straight, let it sit for a couple hours (maybe even a day) so that the branches fall into their natural position.

Step 2- Let there be Light
Most people wrap the lights all the way around the tree like a maypole, but the best way to string lights is to do it in vertical sections. Start by sectioning off the tree into quadrants, if you have a large tree you may need more sections. This process will also make it a lot easier to remove the lights after the holidays. Run an extension cord to the tree, preferably a plug bar, you will need to plug in each section. Plug in the first string of lights and start weaving the lights in section 1. You want to zig zag back and forth as you go up the tree. You will need several strings of lights, check the package to see how many you can connect together safely. Continue all the way to the top, making sure to get the inside of the tree as well and not just the outside perimeter. Keeping the lights lit as you work will help you see if you are adding enough lights.

How many lights do you need? A good rule of thumb is to use a 100-bulb string of lights for every foot of tree height. So if you have a 7 ft. tree, you will need 7 strings of 100 lights. Of course, if you use bigger bulbs you may want to use less. Even if your tree is pre-lit, you may want to consider adding extra lights. On my tree I use the mini lights and set them to twinkle, and then use larger lights as another layer to add more interest.

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Step 3: Trimming the tree
The trimming can be anything from beads, fabric, ribbon or even popcorn. You really have to choose a garland that works with your design style. If your style is more traditional, a beaded garland that resembles strung cranberries might be a nice touch. If your style is more rustic, then you might want to opt for burlap. Of course, you don’t have to choose just one. You can really enhance the look of your tree by adding another garland. Beads or crystals work really well with ribbon.

The most common way to treat garland is to wrap it around the tree. Start at the top and secure the end with floral wire to one of the branches and wrap the garland around the tree- not too tight, you want to be able to adjust it if you need to later on. You can also have it cascade down the tree from the top. Secure a long strip of ribbon to the top of the tree (try to attach it to the branch that the star or angel will be on, that way the end is hidden) and let it cascade down the tree at varying lengths. The ribbon with the wire in it works really well for this effect because you can manipulate it.

Step 4: Filler
The last step is to add the filler. Filler can be anything that is pretty, and you can add easily to the tree. Floral sprays, hanging small crystals, branches. These things really add texture and interest to your tree. You could even add pretty poinsettias or flowers from your craft store.

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Step 5: Add Large Decorations
To really get that designer look you want to incorporate larger decorations into your design. You don’t have to stick to with the traditional Christmas balls, let your imagination loose. It is important to add the larger items first because they will take up the most visual space and you want to get the look balanced before adding smaller decorations. You can use items that are not made for a Christmas tree, I have used lanterns, metal filigree, even pictures in frames. These items will need extra support and placed on sturdier branches.

Step 6: Ornaments
Lastly, we need to add the ornaments -- and this is where the layering principle really takes shape. The tendency when decorating is to hang the ornaments on the ends of the branches, and while this looks fine, it will make your tree feel empty. The key is to have several different sizes of ball ornaments and to start by placing the larger ones first. Hang them on the interior of the tree near the trunk. This will help fill in gaps and add depth and pops of color. Then work your way around the tree and fill in. You can hang ornaments on hooks, but I find that this is difficult to get them to line up the way you want. I like to take floral wire and attach them to the branches, especially the ones on the inside of the tree. The ornaments that hang on the end of the branches can be on hooks if you like that look. If you are going to use the hooks, I would invest in special ornament hooks, they can really elevate even the most ordinary Christmas ball ornament to designer status.

As always, Happy Decorating and Happy Holidays to All!

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