Holiday Décor: Home Decorating Ideas for Inside and Out

INSIDE

  • Branching out. This free home decorating idea takes just a minute. All you need is a large leafless branch and a pitcher or hurricane lantern. Fill the pitcher with enough sand to hold the weight of the branch, then place the branch in the sand. If you’re using a clear lantern, fill with colored sand. Add more personality with a set of twinkling lights or ornaments with a theme or color. Set near the front door or stairway or make two to flank a fireplace.

  • Inside the box. Cut florist foam to fit an old wooden box (the more weathered, the better!). Add greenery -- try trimmings from your Christmas tree -- plus snippets of juniper, hemlock and holly branches. Tuck in pinecones, votives in glass canning jars or apples and pears for a rustic centerpiece for your mantel or table.
  • Family sentiments. The holidays are all about family, so place them front and center in your home decorating. Ask each member of your family for one word they feel sums up the holidays. Print their words on a piece of heavy-duty paper and cut each word out. Embellish the cards with a stencil, if you wish. Attach a piece of florist wire to the mantel or stair rail, then clothespin each word to the wire. Cover each end of the wire with a large velvet or burlap bow.
  • Forgo the red and green. Just because red and green are the holiday colors doesn’t mean you have to use them. If your living room is a color that clashes, play up that hue instead. For instance, a silver-sage living room becomes the backdrop for a white-and-silver color scheme. Choose white candles, silver candelabras, paper cutouts or German feather trees, spray-painted pine cones and twig wreaths, white poinsettias and white and silver pillow covers and throws.
  • Keep it simple. You don’t have to go crazy with the decorations. A grouping of same-color candles in the fireplace, a bowl of ornaments on the dining room table, an unadorned swath of greenery on the mantle all give nod to the season while staying subdued. If you have an open or glass-front china cabinet, add some pinecones or ornaments to the shelves. Have a collection of pitchers or glassware? Add a few bare branches to your favorites.

OUTSIDE

  • Gather the greenery. Swap out the flowers in your window boxes for an armful of cut evergreen and berry branches. Insert a florist bow and plastic gold or silver balls too. If you prefer, use potted dwarf conifers such as golden false cypress, boxwood, Old Gold juniper or even lavender.

  • Dine al fresco. Who says Christmas dinner needs to be in the dining room? Move the meal outside if you live in a warmer climate (or use outdoor heaters). Use an old plaid blanket as a tablecloth and set the table with mismatched white or old holiday china patterns. Add a runner of evergreen and twigs woven through with a colorful or burlap ribbon. Place hurricanes with candles intermittently down the center. Don’t be formal and matchy-matchy. Remember: you want rustic! Tie place cards to pinecones or natural brush ornaments.
  • Deck the outdoor halls. If you live in a warm climate, bring the holidays to the lanai or porch by incorporating the colors of the season. Typical holiday plants such as poinsettia or amaryllis will do just fine outside. And a plant on each table or a swag across the fireplace makes the season merry.
  • Festive façade. Dress your house for the holidays with a wreath on each window. The look is timeless, but you can easily make it modern with grapevine wreaths or rustic with naked evergreens and no bows. Too many windows for this to be practical? Center a battery-operated votive on each windowsill instead; flameless candles can be bought for about $15 a dozen.
  • Festival of lights. You don’t need to be Clark Griswold to light up your home-- and you don’t need to use those “little twinkling lights.” Try a giant chain of snowflakes so your house twinkles in a different way, and add some to the trees, too.

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Photo: Corbis Images

New Ways to Reuse Old Holiday Decorations

As you dust off your boxes and bins of holiday decorations this season, you may be feeling excited for the holidays -- but uninspired for your décor. Rather than replenishing your stock of seasonal décor items, consider giving those “leftovers” a new lot in life by repurposing them in new ways. Try these seasonal décor ideas from interior designer Virginia Burney.

Have a Re-Ball

Have some old ball ornaments that you no longer use on your tree? Burney suggests spray-painting them a favorite color or covering them in a thin coat of glue and rolling them in glitter. Then tie them to gifts as part of your gift wrap, or group a selection in a bowl and display as a centerpiece on a table or mantel. You can also purchase a circular wire mold at a craft store (in your desired wreath shape and size), then use fishing wire or clear elastic cord to tie the balls around the mold for a modern DIY wreath. Another option? Take them outside! Tie them to trees or bushes in your yard for some added seasonal curb appeal.

Go with Garlands

If you have strands of garlands gathering dust, try weaving them into your favorite wreath to give it some new flare. Is your garland outdoor friendly? Consider a new place for it outside, such as around your mailbox or above your entry steps. Does the garland itself need a refresher? Paint it with spray paint and add embellishments such as glitter and tied-on beads or accents.

Grow Up and Out

Just because you’ve grown up doesn’t mean your favorite childhood ornaments need to gather dust. Opt to display a second, smaller tree in a less formal space (such as the kitchen, family room, kid’s room or office) and pay tribute to holidays past. To display the ornaments in another way, Burney suggests hanging a selection of favorites from a garland above your mantel. Place a grouping of framed family portraits throughout the years along the mantel to create a nostalgic display.

Prevent the Hum-Drum Next Year

To prevent your style from feeling tired or stagnant, Burney recommends taking photos of your holiday décor after you’ve finished decorating each season. File those images with the ornaments. Next year, refer to the photos and aim for a new look. Having the previous seasons’ photos will help inspire you as well as remind you of unique ways you’ve used your seasonal decorations before.

Pare Down

If your seasonal décor collection continues growing each year, but you (like most of us) neglect to discard or donate old pieces, heed Burney’s advice: “My counting system for ornaments (and all collectibles): One is a find, two is a pair, three is a set, four is a collection and five or more is an obsession.”

And sometimes, of course, it’s just time to say goodbye. “When you haven’t used an ornament in any way for two years, it’s time,” Burney says. “Date your leftovers after decorating, and then delete necessary items to make room for new memories.” Find a new home for your unused decorations at a resale shop or with a deserving friend or neighbor.

 

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Stylish Ways to Stay Organized at Home

Is your space looking a little jumbled lately? Good news: You can get organized while keeping your home’s décor interesting. We enlisted the help of organization expert Jodie Watson from TLC’s “Real Simple, Real Life” to uncover new, fashion-forward fixes for the most common kinds of at-home clutter.

Closets

Start with the one place you look every day that’s probably more disorganized than you realize: Your closet. You know how clothes always look way more chic on the store rack than when they’re hung up at home? That’s because the best shops perfect their presentation to make whatever they’re selling look most appealing.

Turn your closet into a “shopable” space by investing in nice wooden hangers (a staple at chic boutiques), and re-hang everything so that all like-items are together. Keep skirts with skirts, casual tops with casual tops, and so on. Your wardrobe will look and feel more put-together, helping eliminate those morning I-seriously-have-nothing-to-wear moments.

Seasonal Storage

As much as you love your summer wardrobe, it has no business occupying prime real estate in your closet or dresser during the colder months. Free up space by snagging some wicker baskets or other decorative boxes from a craft store, the pack them full of your clothes, shoes and accessories that are out of season. Draw up some cute labels to mark the outside of each box, then stow them on the top shelf of your closet so they’re in sight but out of the way.

Bathroom

Go DIY to organize grooming and beauty items, such as makeup. Clean out four or five tin cans in different sizes, stripping off any outside labels. Pick out a shelf paper in a pattern you like (Watson recommends ChicShelfPaper.com) and glue that paper to the outside of the can so no tin is showing. Line the cans along your bathroom counter and fill them with brushes, makeup, razors, tweezers and more to add flair and order to your bathroom. Win-win.

Accessories

It’s tempting to tuck extras like belts and scarves into a drawer -- but that’s begging to become a jumbled mess. For a better solution, invest in self-adhesive wall hooks and affix them to areas that aren’t being used for anything else (like the dead space between your dresser and the adjacent wall or on the back of a closet door). Hang scarves, belts, purses and more on each hook. Not only will you make them easier to access, but you’ll also liven up your room with the display.

Jewelry

When you lose an earring or tangle a necklace, it can be ruined like that. For a practical-yet-pretty fix, buy a jewelry organizer with small drawers, which will keep you from having to thread your earrings through mesh or hang your necklaces on a hook every time. The drawers provide both easy access and storage, and will make your collection look and feel more consolidated, plus the organizer doubles as a chic decoration for your dresser top. 

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No-Stress Decorating Ideas for Halloween and Beyond

When it comes to decorating a home for Halloween, there’s one thing to keep in mind: Stay true to your design style. Just because it’s a one-day-a-year celebration doesn’t mean you have to drop your love of fresh flowers or certain colors that aren’t typically associated with the holiday.

“Halloween is one of the most creative holidays, and a lot of the décor could be used beyond the holiday -- even for Thanksgiving,” says New York City-based interior designer Robin Baron. When decorating, “think about who you are, what you gravitate to, your style and what your home looks like. It has to resonate with you.”

Try these easy, last-minute fall decorating ideas for both inside and outside the home:

Use pumpkins in different sizes and colors. For a modern-day Halloween, add a level of interest by looking for both white and the standard orange pumpkins in varied sizes. If you’re arranging table settings for a celebratory dinner, Baron suggests using one pumpkin per place setting and creating a slit in each one to insert a namecard for the guest. Add even more holiday flare by making napkin holders out of branches, she says.

Go natural. “One thing I love about this time of year is that it is fantastic to create things with organic produce,” says Baron. Aside from pumpkins, she suggests items such as apples, artichokes, gourds and berry branches, or even fresh green leaves on stalks. Use what you find to create vignettes in an entryway or as a table centerpiece that truly reflect the season. Mix in orange flowers in clear, orange or green vases for a special touch.

Don’t forget about the outdoors. Once you’ve decorated inside, take it outside your home too. For your porch or driveway, line battery-operated ghost lanterns or candles leading the way. Place large pumpkins on the ground, fill planters with flowers such as mums and hang cobwebs on the door to create a fun setting. “You could even create a wreath using mini-pumpkins for your door,” Baron says. Most importantly, Baron warns not to forget your windows. “Put candles in the windows,” she says. “They are a fantastic place to set the tone for the outside of your home.”

It’s fine to be cheesy.
Have fun with it! Make a witch’s hat part of your arrangement for a table, entryway or mantel. Give your pumpkins huge eyes and fun, unique mouths. Buy those stretchable spider webs and place them on top of a light fixture or a table. Find cute containers or a big basket for candy, which guests can enjoy well beyond Halloween, Baron says.

Get the kids involved. “If you have kids, the most important thing you can do is keep them involved,” Baron says. One easy idea: Let your little ones stencil images of ghosts on colored paper, cut them out, and place them around the house. 

How to Find the Perfect Contractor

Carrie Rigsby and her husband Chris are renovating their old New England home, and Carrie is tracking their progress on her blogHazardous Design. They tackle all sorts of home renovation projects themselves. But there are times when they seek out the professional expertise of a contractor.

Hiring a contractor, however, shouldn’t be task that’s taken lightly. It’s important to find a seasoned professional who will execute your job on time, on budget and to code. Here, Carrie shares her tips on finding a good contractor.

In Search of the Perfect Contractor
We’re halfway through our second major home renovation, and we’ve worked with our fair share of plumbers, electricians, landscapers and contractors along the way. Some have made the cut, some haven’t. Let’s face it: There is no “perfect” contractor. But here’s what we’ve learned about finding the right person for the task.

1. Referral Sources
Surely, referrals from your friends, family and co-workers are the usual suspects -- but we have found some of our best referrals from our real estate agent. Agents get to know who the local rock stars are in the trades because they deal with them every day.  

2. Referrals from Referrals
Once we establish a good relationship with a contractor, we never hesitate to ask whom he or she might recommend. A good contractor will be able to recognize quality work in other trades. Our punctual and communicative plumber came as a referral from our electrician. Our roofer came to us from the mason who took the time not only to re-point our chimney but also to point out some trouble spots on the roof. When we have our roof replaced this summer, I’m planning to ask our roofer who he’d recommend to paint our house.

In addition to the quality of the referral, we’ve found that when you call a new contractor and indicate that someone who works in the trades has given you their name, you are passing along a very nice complement. Who wouldn’t want to hear that of all of the people in your industry they could recommend, they chose you? It puts you on the right foot from the start.

3. Risky Referrals
So…your coworker’s cousin’s husband does contracting work? “I’ve never actually used him myself,” they tell you, “but you should give him a call…” We’ve been down this road and it never works out. There just isn’t the connection between the referring party and the quality of the contractor (or lack thereof).

4. Play it Safe
Many states have websites documenting contractors. Check them out: You can see if there are any claims or violations and if their insurance is up to date.

5. Paying it Forward
So you hire a great contractor, but should you refer them to your friend? This is a risky one, both for your relationship with your friend and with your contractor. For instance, we work with a contractor who is very inexpensive. He has always done impeccable work on our home. That said, the low cost of his work comes with an expense of its own: punctuality and communication. We don’t know when he is starting until the day before -- and generally don’t know when he’ll finish. We use him on the smaller jobs that aren’t time sensitive. While we are happy with him and understand the way he works, he is probably not a good bet for our neurotic friends who want to be in control of the process. In the end, you can save your friend and your contractor a big headache if you think about the match up front.

6. Start Small
If you can build up your experience with a contractor over some smaller jobs, it will increase your comfort level on the big ones and minimize your risk. Have your electrician do some general wiring before he or she puts in the new supply line and panel. Make sure that you are comfortable with the quality of their work and their treatment of you as a client. If it isn’t working for you, fall back on those other referral sources and start over.

Photo: Corbis Images