When the calendar flips to December, we know it’s end-of-the-year crunch time. Holiday decorating can seem daunting, but doesn’t have to be, with a little thought and planning. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or are just looking to welcome winter with some festivity, decorating your home for the holidays should be fun and satisfying. By applying a few simple tips, your home can feel more festive and be party-ready.

In October when stores begin putting out holiday-season décor, I get inspired and select an overall theme for my own home, as well as those I decorate for clients. It’s important to choose a color palette that easily incorporates your existing holiday décor while adding a few new fun touches.           

Here’s my advice on how to take on the three key areas of most homes:


Start with plain green garland. Decide first whether to swag your garland or closely follow your railing. I use a beautiful ribbon to tie the garland to the railing; this keeps railings damage-free, and the ribbon becomes part of the design. Add your own touches each year to tie together your theme or color. For example, add pine cones, ornaments, ribbons, floral picks; anything you can wrap a thin floral wire around can attach to your garland. Occasionally take a step back to get a different perspective.

Fireplace Mantle

First, lay a plain garland across the mantle. Second, add height: nestle in candlesticks, trees, snowmen, menorah, Santas, lanterns or nativity figures. Vary your heights, remembering to add items in groups of odd numbers. Third, add ornaments along the garland that will reflect light. Finally, layer ribbon over the top and fill in any holes in the garland.

Christmas Tree

Start from the inside and work out. Use solid glass ornaments to line the trunk; this will fill any holes as well as reflect light and make your tree look fuller. (Try using floral wire to attach ornaments; it’s more flexible than hooks.) Think of your tree as a cake; add one layer at a time from the inside out. When done, step back and squint at your tree. (Sure, this may seem strange, but it will help reveal any dark spots that need filling in.)

For most of us the holidays are a busy and occasionally overwhelming time of year. If you don’t feel up to decorating by yourself, professional designers are happy to jump in and take care of it for you. Look for one whose services include unpacking and installing all of your décor, as well as finding beautiful new pieces to incorporate into your chosen theme. Depending on the scope and scale, typically it takes a professional about a day… and all YOU have to do is sit back and enjoy it all holiday long.

Whether you choose to DIY (do-it-yourself) or hire a professional, remember that creating a festive atmosphere should be a FUN part of the season. Be sure to take lots of photos, and when the holidays are done and it’s still fresh in your mind, scour the after-season sales for pieces you’d like to use next year.

May your holidays be merry and bright… and beautiful!

About the Author: Mollee Johnson is the owner of Style 1519, a Lake Zurich-based interior design firm. Learn more at style1519.com.