Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree… (Part 2) My Top 10 Tips for decorating the perfect Tree
Ok, so following on from yesterday’s little exhibition of my Christmas decoration winter wonderland here at The Daily Norm offices, here, just in time for the weekend, are my top-10 fail-proof tips on decorating the perfect Christmas tree.
Real tree or fake tree? That is the question? It’s a personal choice, but a lot will depend on the house you live in, the kind of theme you are going for with your decorations, and also the degree of control you want over your tree. I live in very modern house, with contemporary interiors. I want my christmas trees to bring festive sparkle into the space, but also to compliment my modern lines. I also want a very controlled, “designed” look. I therefore go for fake trees of varying colours. I love real trees, particularly the smell, but I think they look a lot better in a more traditional home environment. If you have a period property with a big open fireplace and high ceilings, your home is just made for a large bushy tree plucked straight out of the forest. Also keep in mind that real trees, with their floppy branches (which get floppier still as the days go on) are harder to control and are not really for the perfectionists amongst us. They also make a dreadful mess so think about disposal, floor surfaces and so on.
2. The Decorations
Colour co-ordination is the key to success. This is my mantra in life. I think that trees which do not follow some kind of dominant colour theme are difficult to control and can end up looking disorganised and consequently unglamorous. Not that I am adverse to this look. Some people, like my family or Kirsty Allsopp, like a tree to be sentimental, and consequently they bring out old decorations which have been in the family for generations, none of which match each other, but each of which has its own history, more and more being added every year. If you do want to go for a miscellany of decorations, my tip would be to try and pull the tree together with strong tinsel co-ordination (see below). Don’t try and place single-coloured lights on a tree which is going to be full of different decorations – multi-coloured will probably work best.
My preference is always to go for a more controlled, coordinated look. Thus, when you are thinking about buying decorations, and you like a particular bauble, always go for 4-6 of the same design. That way, when you are decorating the tree, you will be able to instil balance into the design. I think it’s also best if you chose a mixture of decoration designs, some more complex and some simpler – you don’t want all of your baubles to be complex designs or the tree will appear too overbearing. I always have about 3-4 complex designs (such as the polka dot bauble above) and compliment this with some plain baubles of the same colours (i.e. some plain red and plain turquoise). As for colours, a tree decorated in a single colour is invariably boring. Go for at least two bold colour opposites, such as green with pink, or red with black, and then fill in those colours with various shades in between (e.g. different shades of green, different shades of greys, silvers, etc) and different textures (matt/ shiny/ glittery etc). I think the best decorations have lots of glitter on them to catch the lights. And asides from baubles, don’t be scared of novelty decorations such as my kitsch deer and robots – just remember to get a few of them to give balance to your scheme.
3. First step: tree branches
The first thing you need to do when decorating the perfect tree is to take time preparing the tree. If you have a real tree, take some time to check which side of the tree looks the best, and have that in mind when you are decorating the rest of the tree (there is no point spending hours on, and using all your best decorations for, the back of the tree that will never be seen). If you have a fake tree, your branches will inevitably need assembling in some form, and probably splayed out after a year squashed away in a cupboard/ the loft/ under the bed. Spend some time doing this carefully as it’s really important for achieving the fullest possible shape to your tree. It can be tedious, and for the more robust of trees, I suggest wearing gloves when splaying out branches, as your hands can get pretty sore after a while.
Once your branches are prepared, it’s time to attach your lights. The lights you buy are again a matter of preference. I like lights which have the option of being static and moving so that I can adjust them to my mood as appropriate. I’d recommend you buy LED lights rather than traditional bulbs, as the latter invariably fuse and go wrong at least once every year – usually it’s the fuse bulb with the white painted end which goes first, but these are a pain to replace and hardly any shops seem to sell spares these days. LEDs seem to last longer and tend to be more fuse proof. I’d recommend buying as many lights as possible, especially with LEDs which have small bulbs – the brighter your tree, the more spectacular it will look.
Placing lights on the tree is inevitably one of the most tricky parts of the whole tree operation. I tend to start at the top of the tree so that the plug end of the lights is at the bottom. I start by laying the lights lightly around the tree where I think they should be placed. I then stand back and check them for even balance. Only when I am satisfied do I place them more neatly within the branches, trying to hide the wires as much as possible. Don’t worry too much about this though – the tinsel and other decorations will hide much of the wire. Also, try to go for lights which have the same coloured wire as your tree. As for placing the lights, I tend to wind them in a circular fashion around the top of the tree. Once I get to the bottom, i tend to cheat and place more lights at the front of the tree. However you should only do this if your tree is going to stand in a corner and the back won’t be seen.
A few years back, during the somewhat dubious days of the 90s, tinsel went a bit out of fashion. People dressed their trees in a more minimalist fashion, opting for beads or ribbons instead. Personally I think this is a mistake. I am a big proponent of tinsel as it is very useful for three reasons. First, it enables you to really shape the tree and fill out any gaps in the branches. Secondly, it enables you to coverup any unsightly fairy light wires. Thirdly, it can be integral to providing colour balance to a tree, enabling you to bind the tree in striking colours at intermittent intervals. As a fourth, bonus point, it also beautifully reflects the lights on your tree, making your sparkle go further.
The important thing about tinsel is putting it on right. As it’s often a bold string of colour, it will be very obvious if it’s not well balanced. I try to use tinsel a bit like decorative icing on a wedding cake. I treat my tree as though it has tiers, and at the top of each tier, I place tinsel. Thus I end up placing tinsel in about 4-5 even intervals down the tiers of the tree. Try not to hang the tinsel diagonally across the tree. This makes your tree look a bit like a helter-skelter. The best way is to place the tinsel horizontally across the tree, but make sure you place your tinsel with nice curves and undulations so that your tree looks full and curvy. You’ll probably need to cut your tinsel to correspond to the width of the tree at the various “tiers” – i.e. short pieces to go around the top tier, long pieces to go around the bottom. Also make sure your tinsel is full and lustrous, not thin and straggly or its advantages will all be lost.
Finally, if you are opting for a tree with multi-coloured, multi-various decorations, try choosing one bold colour of tinsel which tends to feature in the majority of your decorations. Generally most christmas decorations will have red or gold in them. Choosing a single unifying colour for the tinsel will really help to bind your miscellaneous decorations together and give the tree overall balance. You can, of course, opt for two tinsel colours, alternating the colours intermittently between tiers. No more than two though – it will start looking like a fairground again.
So you’ve done all the technical bits, now on to the fun bit – hanging the baubles and other decorations on the tree. If you’re going for the more controlled look of which I am a fan, and you have 4-6 of each bauble design, my advice is to go with one set of bauble design at a time. This will enable you to balance each design across the entirety of the tree. If you have two or three different colours in your scheme, make sure you alternate putting the colour sets onto the tree evenly, so that you achieve good colour balance too. As a rule, you should put bigger baubles towards the bottom of the tree, but I’m not too fussy about this. Try if you can to hook as many baubles as you can under tinsel or other branches so that you are not seeing unsightly bauble hooks. And don’t worry if you break a few – I inevitably break at least 5 baubles a year!
Don’t forget to crown your tree with a sufficiently spectacular tree-topper. Angels used to be the in thing – personally I think a spectacular star looks the best, although I have also tried other similarly striking options, from a glittery deer on one tree, to a large pink glittery butterfly on the other. Try, if you can, to intertwine a few fairy lights near the tree top, so that it too can be lit up and finish off your tree in spectacular fashion!
Wouldn’t it be shame to go to all that effort to coordinate your tree, only then to place multicoloured presents underneath it? My advice is to try and wrap your presents in matching colours (although this does demonstrate how pedantic I am). Also, try wrapping a few empty boxes at the time if you have any spare wrapping paper left over, as trees look depressingly empty when Christmas day is over, and a few fake presents remaining underneath will help to quench the Boxing Day depression which inevitably sets in.
9. Finishing touches/ alternatives to trees
Christmas isn’t all about the tree. I don’t think a house fully enters the Christmas spirit until you sprinkle a little of that Christmas magic in other areas of the house too. I like to compliment my trees with other smaller scale decorations in other corners of my rooms to ensure Christmas is alive throughout. One good idea is to fill a vase with a few spare baubles and a few fairy lights. This makes for a really contemporary decoration, and helps to balance out the fairy lights throughout your room. It is also a good decoration for anyone who does not have room for a tree.
I also sneak Christmas into my rooms with small installations of Christmas figurines and baby Christmas trees. Figurines can easily look tacky, but not so if you collect together similarly coloured items which also compliment your interior design. Here for example, I have collected together a golden reindeer, a rather lavish golden crown, and a small gold tree with little golden shell decorations on it. I have then balanced the red of my wallpaper by adding a few miniature crackers beneath the small golden tree.
10. Putting it all away
Perhaps the most valuable piece of advice I can give you about Christmas decorations is in respect of putting the decorations away! If you put the decorations away carefully and in an organised fashion, it will make your life SO much easier when they come out again 11 months later. Firstly, for the baubles, I suggest getting some flat storage boxes (from ikea or the like) and cutting out lots and lots of square pieces of bubble wrap (about 15 cm x 15 cm). Then, all you need to do is wrap each of your baubles in the pieces of bubble wrap and line them up side by side in boxes. Don’t sellotape the bubble wrap closed, or you wont be able to use it again next year. As for your lights, wind them up carefully to avoid next year’s tangles, and if they are showing any signs of breaking, try and buy some replacement lights there and then, otherwise you will forget and kick yourself the following year when you decorate your whole tree only to find that 5 minutes later your lights have gone bust.
So, that’s it. Have fun decorating your trees, and remember, this is only advice (and should not be treated as any kind of legally binding advice either – I exclude any liability if your lights blow up or there is any other mishap as a result of following this advice) – it’s really up to you how you do it. Just enjoy it and don’t get stressed, because putting up decorations is so much nicer than the ultimate depression of taking them down in the cold new year. Merry Christmas!
© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2005-2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
- Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree, How Lavishly Decorated Are Your Branches… (Part 1) (normsonline.wordpress.com)