In the movies, trimming the tree is a treasured family pastime. Everyone gathers with mugs of cocoa as mom leads a round of Christmas carols and dad helps a little one place the star on top (perfectly straight, of course).
In reality, the lights are a tangled mess, the ornaments are cluttered, and the garland is in the fireplace where it always belonged.
This is where people like Kathleen Neave, owner of Neave Décor, come in. As a professional decorator, she specializes in the holidays, stepping in to deck the halls of homes and businesses in the Hudson Valley area. “Everyone wants a Christmas tree, but nobody has the time or energy to do it these days,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, and when you have two parents with careers, it can be hard.”
To help make the experience joyful, and create a storybook looking tree, we asked Neave and Thomas Harman, the founder and CEO of Balsam Hill, makers of gorgeous artisanal Christmas trees, for tips on decorating like a pro.
Pick Your Placement
Chances are, you put your tree the same place every year without even thinking — between the windows, perhaps, or by the fireplace. But this year, take a minute to reevaluate and consider some less traditional — but perhaps more convenient — spaces. There’s no rule, after all, that says you have to side-step branches every time you walk through the living room.
“The best place for your tree is wherever you have extra room — remember, you’re going to have to fit presents under it, too,” says Neave. “We do a lot of slim trees tucked near the staircase, and even in entryways. If the room is too crowded, the tree will never look good.”
Choose Your Theme
Christmas tree décor is a highly personal affair. Some like to cover every inch with homemade ornaments, while others prefer a more edited approach. Some insist on uniform white lights, while others insist these control freaks are out to ruin Christmas. Whatever your preference, choose one approach and commit fully.
“You can’t please everyone,” says Neave. “Decide if you want to do traditional or modern or whatever you’d like, and then stick with it — if you try to do it all, everything will compete for attention.”
Torn between cute and chic? Why not decorate two trees? According to the American Christmas Tree Association, over 10 percent of households have more than one tree. “Most people keep the more formal tree in the living room,” explains Harman. “And then the eclectic one, with say, handmade ornaments, in the family room where the Xbox lives.”
Plan Your Lights
How many lights do you need? No matter how big the tree, the answer is always the same: one more string than you have on hand. Harman has a rule for determining the perfect amount of twinkle, and it’s beautifully simple: “You want to about 100 lights per foot of tree,” he says. “That a good starting point.” And, if like Balsam Hill you go crazy for lights, continue to load them up.
As for actually hanging the lights, start at the top and be sure to tuck them deep inside the branches says Neave. This will not only hide pesky wires, but snuggled-in lights provide a cozier glow.
Layer In Ornaments
Once the lights are on, it’s time to hang the ornaments. The secret here is mixing things up.
“You want a variety of ornament sizes to add depth to your tree,” says Neave. Harman agrees. He says in addition to various sizes, try ribbons and floral picks to add some contrast and really dress the tree up. His tip: Add ribbons after the lights go on.
“As for placement, the same rule applies — you want a good mix. Don’t hang them all on the outer branches,” says Neave. “To start, place the most important ornaments at eye level so more people will see them,” says Harman. Next, add decoration to the top tier of the tree. The bottom, he says, is reserved for ornaments that aren’t precious, meaning if they break, it won’t be the end of the world. As far as the back of the tree? “That’s where you hide your least favorites, like ones your aunt gave you, he says.”
While placing always make sure to take size into account says Neave. Place larger, heavier ornaments on thicker interior branches, and more delicate decorations on branch ends (being mindful, of course, that these might be reachable by little hands and paws).
To prevent precious ornaments from being knocked off your tree, use floral wire from a craft store to secure them on says Harman. Run the wire through the ornament, and fasten it to the tree.
As you go, make sure to take a few steps back every so often to evaluate gaps and overcrowding.