Beyond the Red & Green: Tips for Taking Your Holiday Decor Outside the Usual

Mikkel Vang/Taverne Agency

Think of us at Gilt Home, collectively, as your friend … and friends don’t let friends give up their quest for good design during this festive time of year. That’s why it pays to ask this tough-but-brave question: How do you create a holiday-themed interior-design scheme that transcends the obvious and ordinary, and puts a sophisticated twist on the traditional? We went straight to some of the design world’s top experts for answers. Their recs didn’t disappoint — they’re smart (and easy-to-incorporate) tips that go well beyond the standard red and green:

Sticky inspiration. “Create a design on a table using tape,” says New York–based interior designer Christopher Coleman. He suggests blending different widths and textures of craft tape and creating a four-color plaid as a “runner” down the center of the table. He suggests the combo of neon orange, green, black, and silver metallic. It should be about 12 to 18 inches wide overall, with each piece of tape slightly overlapping the one next to it. (Note: Only do this on glass or metal tables—not wood.)

Light up. “It’s all about the light,” says Los Angeles–based interior designer Victoria Hagan. “I like to decorate tabletops with candles of every shape and size, mixing votives with tall tapers. Dim the lights and let your home sparkle.”

Focus on the centerpiece. Coleman suggests combining oversize ball-shaped ornaments (around 6 inches in diameter), but all in black and white. Stack them, but not in a bowl; instead, hot-glue them together. Then place four silver votive candles around the perimeter.

Rethink the florals. Skip the hackneyed poinsettias in favor of a much fresher-looking floral arrangement. “Christmas décor, to me, means citrus, magnolia, and paperwhites,” says New York–based designer Miles Redd. “I grew up in Atlanta, and it was always easy to go in the backyard and cut magnolia branches and stick them on the mantle. The nice thing about magnolia is that it sort of arranges itself, does not have to go into water, and doesn’t look depressing as it dries.” He recommends combining it with Clementines and votives. “If you’re feeling ambitious,” he says, “pierce the Clementines with cloves for a delicious scent, combined with the fresh, heady scent of paperwhites. It’s my Proustian touchstone to all things Christmas.”

Chic wrap redux. Los Angeles-based architect William Hefner and interior designer Hazuko Koshino, his wife and business partner, suggest wrapping wine bottles with burlap (cut from a large roll) and rope or twine: “It’s both a sustainable material and an edgier look than a traditional wine sack.”

Nix the Little Drummer Boy.  “Downloading music is inexpensive and easy, so there’s no excuse for cheesy Christmas music anymore,” says New York-based interior designer Thomas Jayne. “A recording of King’s College is a particular favorite. It will cleanse the air and change the atmosphere instantly.”

Get some inspiration overhead. “Hanging paper lanterns from the ceiling provide instant atmosphere and feel magical,” says Jayne, who once visited the great Irish house Clandeboye, where they had strung the library for the holidays with Chinese kites and lanterns decorated with gold stars.

Remix your ornaments. Trying to go traditional, but don’t want to give up ornaments? Los Angeles–based interior designer Hillary Thomas has a solution. “Fill large glass jars with ornaments that aren’t the usual red-and-green fare,” she notes. Some color combinations she suggests: pink/green/silver, blue/orange/gold, turquoise/lime green.

Indulge your sweet side. “Use your inner-child as inspiration and decorate with candy,” says Thomas. “Display candy in jars, use as ornaments strung together, or as place card holders. I especially love ribbon candy in bright, fun colors in bowls scattered about or used as place holders.” She also suggests putting out small votives filled with sugar at the bottom topped off with a mix of funky-colored candy canes.

Start a new tradition. A tabletop tree is a great alternative to the traditional Christmas tree. Hefner and Koshino recommend a “family tree”—set out a leaf-less, needle-less tree, with ornaments that are photos of the faces of family members and loved ones, as well as black-and-white photos of ancestors. “Use brown ribbon or twine to hang the ornaments,” they note, “and a large brown or earth-toned ribbon tied at the base of the tree.”

Keep it simple. Some everyday items make the best holiday decorations. “Keep the décor natural and simple,” says Hagan. “Bowls of red apples mixed with pinecones gathered from outside and evergreen branches clipped from the backyard or from the local florist. Feels very festive without the glitz.”

Get back to nature.  “Utilize nature’s perfection in an original way by mixing fruit and feathers together,” says Thomas, who recommends an impromptu arrangement of  Clementines and peacock feathers.

Or, just skip town… Jayne suggests buying tickets to “a warm, exotic place. After all, Jesus was born in an exotic locale.”

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