Seven Things You Need to Go from Dull to Designed

Tree308Do you walk through the malls and department stores every year admiring beautifully designed Christmas trees and then come home and drag out the same old decorations  and hang them in the same old way on the same old tree?  Well, this is the year to declare your independence from the same old.  With a bit of effort and creative thought you can have a stunning designer tree in your own home.  Here are the supplies and techniques you will need:


It may seem obvious, but the first thing to consider when attempting to create a designer Christmas tree is the tree itself. It is preferable to use an artificial Christmas tree when going for a designer look because it will be stronger, more flexible and more durable than a live tree. Go for the tallest tree you can afford and fit into  your home.  If the tree you are using is not as tall as you would like, add some height by setting it on some sturdy blocks of wood camouflaged inside a jardinière  or a  box covered in wrapping paper or fabric.   While it is nice to have a brand new, pre-lit, perfectly formed tree, any artificial tree will do in a pinch since very little of it will show when it's decorated.  So, if necessary, dig out your mother's old Christmas tree that you couldn't bear to throw out or head to the bargain store and buy the cheapest tree you can find.

Whatever tree you decide to use, take the time to carefully open every branch of the tree, twisting some of the smaller branches up and some down so the tree looks fuller and more natural and you have more spaces to place ornaments. It is amazing how many people skip this step because it is time consuming; but it is also amazing what a difference it makes in the look of the tree. If any of the branches is broken and hanging, suspend it with green florist wire from the branch above it at the appropriate distance.  If your tree is really of the Charlie Brown variety, push it into a corner with the best side facing out.  Pull the back branches toward the front to make the part of the tree that is showing look fuller.  If the back branches are detachable, remove them from the back and suspend them from other branches where the tree looks skimpy.


While traditional family trees are a mix of many colors, a designer tree has a color scheme and, more often than not, a theme.  A safe bet, if you are new to this type of tree decorating, is a monochromatic color scheme.  An all-white palette is elegant and easy to place in any room. Or pick either the predominate or the accent color of the room in which the tree will be placed.  Whatever color you settle on, vary the intensity and the shades of the color when choosing your decorations in order to avoid a boring tree.

If you decide to use more than one color, consider the feeling you are going for.  Red and white is bold and bright and can have a playful, child-pleasing look if you use things like striped candy canes or a collection of Santas.  Gold and white looks rich and formal, while silver and white will have a more contemporary look.  Burgundy, forest green and ivory is the traditional Victorian color scheme.  A jewel-toned color scheme of turquoise, hot pink and purple creates an exciting, non-traditional look. Pale blues and greens mixed with a selection of sea shells is the perfect combination for a beach home.  There are even many beautiful black ornaments available now, which would be striking on a white tree.   A traditional color scheme of red, green and white is the probably the least expensive and easiest of color schemes to use.  Trimmings in those colors are the most readily available in any price range and are easy to beg and borrow from friends and relatives who have extra Christmas material.  To keep it fresh, add bling by glittering some of the plainer ornaments or use a non-traditional shade of green such as the acid green shown in the pictures.

The theme can be subtle, such as a repeated shape, or obvious, such as aTree331 woodland or  beach theme.  A favorite collection of apples, unicorns, elves, pigs etc., can be the take off point for an interesting theme.  Family photos from Christmases past,  scanned and  printed in black and white and  framed in your color scheme will produce a tree people will spend time looking at.  The possibilities are endless once you start thinking about it.


Once you have a plan, it’s time to start placing things on the tree and the first thing you should put on is lights.  When it comes to lights on a Christmas tree, the more the better.  If you are using a pre-lit tree, put a second layer of lights on it.  If you are using an unlit tree, use at least twice as many lights as you normally would.

Think of lights as you would ornaments and vary their size and their style.  If you are starting with white mini lights, add  strings of larger white lights that have a different shaped bulb. Or add strings of colored lights that match your color scheme. You may be able to find lights in a shape that matches your theme such as stars, shells, or snowflakes.  Or consider adding movement with your lights using twinkle lights or sets of lights that offer a variety of running patterns.  Whatever type lights you choose, use a lot and use two different varieties.


Most people think of garlands as strings of beads or popcorn, but garlands can be anything you can tuck and twist into a tree.  Garlands add horizontal movement to a tree and the thicker ones can be used to create a lush look and fill in bare spots on a skimpy tree.  Putting garland on before the ornaments instead of saving it until last makes it a more integrated part of the design and saves it from looking like an afterthought hanging on top of everything else.

On a designer tree you should see more decorations than tree and this is where a thick garland helps.  Start with the thickest garland you intend to use such as fabric or wide ribbon. Fluff and tuck as you go along, starting at the top and working down and around.  The thick garland should ‘sit’ on the layers of branches.  Tulle or the starched netting sold on rolls in craft stores works particularly well on a sparse tree.  Wide ribbon with an occasional bow tacked on works well also. Cotton batting cut into strips and pulled apart and fluffed up works as snow on a woodland tree.  Feather boas in a color to match your scheme look totally outrageous and contribute to an over-the-top design.

The next layer of garland should be thinner and should be wound down in the opposite direction from the first.  Here you can use the traditional beaded garland or one done in shapes that match your theme.  These days it is easy to find garlands with all sorts of themes- candy, stars, teddy bears etc.  For a more natural look, try an artificial roping of holly or long needle pine.  The trim section of a fabric store is  a good place to find unusual garlands.   While you’re there, you can also buy shiny, inexpensive lining material and tear it into strips to use as garland, tucking the raw edges under as you go along.  You can use less expensive netting rather than tulle. Even sheer curtains you have sitting in aOrnaments closet can be called into service to fill in your tree and give a luxurious look.   If your tree is in a corner or against the wall, don’t attempt to go all the way around the tree; rather, run the garland from side to side.


It is difficult to have a successful designer tree without the use of large ornaments.  If a tree is 7 ft or taller you should use some ornaments that are at least a foot high or larger. Start with the largest ornaments and space them in an alternating pattern down the tree.  This lends a sense of balance to the overall look of the tree.  After establishing this balance with the largest ornaments, however, resist the urge to create perfect symmetry.  A degree of randomization in the placement of the ornaments will create interest and movement in the overall design. Continue putting on ornaments, varying the size and shape and working from largest first down to smallest last. The easiest way to do this is to first lay out all the available ornaments by size and type on a large table.  When you can see at a glance just how many of each type of ornament you have, it is easier to decide where to put them. Use as many ornaments as you can, varying size, texture and finish.

Large ornament does not necessarily mean big round Christmas ball.  With a little green wire you can hang almost anything on a tree.  Large stars, gift boxes, teddy bears, santas- they are all possibilities.  For a music-themed tree, buy plastic toy instruments and large musical notes (sold at party stores for wall decorations), spray them gold and use as ornaments. Print out Christmas sheet music, roll it up, tie it with a bow and add it to the tree. Three foot crayons, sold as coin banks and often found in dollar stores, are an unexpected addition to a child-themed tree as are large plastic piggy banks spray painted an appropriate color and tied with a holiday bow. For a candy-themed red and white tree, use readily available giant plastic candy canes and  large Styrofoam  or children’s  balls wrapped in red cellophane and tied with string on either side to look like oversized pieces of hard candy.  Party store cowboy hats or plastic firefighter helmets may work with certain themes. Once you start thinking aTree303bout it you will see possibilities everywhere.


Once you’ve filled up the tree, extend its boundaries.  Tuck one or two types of artificial sprays, stem side first, into the tree so they extend  8-10 inches past the end of the  tree branch. Shiny branches, tinsel sprays, sprays of shiny leaves, stems of small silk flowers , feathers,  holiday picks, berry sprays-  anything that extends the boundaries of the tree will work.  These materials will also add a different texture to the mix.  Step back and look at the tree.  The addition of these sprays should loosely maintain the original shape of the tree.

Next check the bottom of the tree.  Make sure that what is hanging down from the bottom branch forms an attractive pattern.  Cover the mechanics at the bottom of the tree with a formal tree skirt or a piece of fabric that matches the color scheme of the tree. If you have used fabric as a garland on the tree, using it as a tree skirt will produce a unified look. When placing your presents under the tree, choose wrapping paper and ribbons that match your color scheme so that your gifts become part of the design.

Finally, decorate the top of the tree. See if what you’ve used as your largest ornament can be used as a tree topper.  A teddy bear or Santa or large Mardi Gras mask that is part of  the tree’s decorations will also serve as an effective tree topper.  Or go with a commercial star, angel or tree topper that fits in with the tree’s theme and color scheme.  Once you have the topper on the tree surround it with sprays of whatever you’ve used on the sides of the tree.  Place them vertically at different heights shooting out of the top of the tree.  Once again, step back and check the overall shape of the tree.Tree300


Once you’ve finished your tree you should make sure that’s its design, theme and color scheme is echoed in its surroundings.  Use the same decorations and layering technique to decorate a mantle or the top of a server or bookcase in the same and/or adjoining room.  Add garland to your staircase and decorate it with ribbons and ornaments in the same color scheme.  Add a centerpiece or flower arrangement somewhere in the room that matches your tree’s decorations. And you can take it all the way and coordinate your outdoor decorations with those inside your home.  This will give your guests a preview of what’s to come once they walk through your front door.

With some thought and planning and a little extra time and effort you can have a designer Christmas tree just like the ones you see in the malls and department stores.  But now you have to figure out what to do with the orange and purple ornament your daughter made you when she was five years old.  Happy decorating!