Home & Garden

Spice Up Your Holiday Decorating

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Traditional colors and accents are still the trendiest look you’ll find for holiday decorating, but there are plenty of fun twists available. Learn from three decorators how to craft a stylish holiday home.

Classic gold and green tones are still one of the best starting points for holiday home decor, as in this display at Seasons by Peg, in Woodstock.

Classic gold and green tones are still one of the best starting points for holiday home decor, as in this display at Seasons by Peg, in Woodstock.

When it comes to decorating your home for the holidays, some of the most traditional looks also are the trendiest. And, when personal twists are added for fun and flair, your home is transformed into a winter wonderland. Whether your holiday decor is more Frozen or more fancy, some simple accessories can make all the difference.

This time of year, the floral department at Strawflower Shop, 210 W. State St., Geneva, adds accents throughout the store. Co-owner Mike Haas says his staff designs everlasting floral arrangements with silk flowers, dried pods and berries, and wired ribbon. “We make beautiful mantle pieces that highlight fireplaces,” he says. “Christmas really gives them a chance to show off. We decorate the store to the hilt.”

Beginning around late October, the Christmas spirit starts to take over, as Christmas trees and decorations steadily consume the first-floor retail space. Eventually, holiday decorating ideas are scattered throughout the store. While all that decorating might seem overwhelming, it’s best to begin simply.

“When we advise clients, we tell them they can start with something as simple as a ribbon they like, and we can build on the theme from there,” says Kelsey Haas, Mike’s daughter.

Strawflower Shop also offers decorating services, and helps clients to fully prepare their home for the holidays. Mike’s wife, Susan, is director of decorating. Design discussions with clients may begin as early as September.

“It’s a short window to get everything done,” Mike says. “We start decorating after Halloween and continue through the second week of December, when we get very busy. One or two designers will go out to the home. We use some of the products they already own and love, and we add some of ours. Working with the direction of the homeowner, we can showcase some new products.”

For the four floral designers and three interior designers on staff, there’s no shortage of creative ideas. “They decorate the mantels, help with the dining room – and we can do extraordinary things with staircases,” says Mike.

It begins with clever use of accents. Think ribbon, garland and berries. “We try to introduce festive colors and work with the decor the homeowner already has,” Kelsey says.

Around the Geneva area, many homeowners integrate their holiday decor into a Tuscan- or Old World-style home – looks that blend perfectly with the Norwegian and Old World Christmas designs that have been popular recently.

“We’re introducing gnomes with brighter colors, moose, bears, squirrels – and of course, we’re very strong on foxes here in the Fox Valley,” Mike says. “We use a lot of branches, birch especially, and we’ve introduced lighted branches into a lot of themes.”

Winter accessories like skates, mittens and sleighs are always popular accents.

Mike says another popular item is decorated “gifts,” 8- or 12-inch wire mesh cubes, brightly colored and covered in sequins. “We tie a bow on the top and add other decorations,” he says. “We make them in sets so clients can group them together.”

As for colors, traditional reds, greens and golds will always stand the test of time, according to Kelsey. Add on to those colors with something glittery and textured, such as heavy tapestry and Christmas-design ribbons. On the other hand, the Strawflower team has started to integrate feathers into the floral arrangements and wall decor.

“We decided we need more feathers, and they make sense in the woodland themes, but they work in traditional designs, too,” Mike says.

Strawflower Shop carries an array of holiday ornaments, including Inge-Glas, blown glass ornaments made in Germany. These colorful ornaments include Santas and angels, in addition to happy snowmen, teddy bears and rocking horses.

“We always carry a large selection, and our repeat customers start buying them in October,” Mike says. “We have a beautiful selection, but it does dwindle toward the end of our season.”

Disney-Inspired Decor

Peg Fenstermaker, co-owner of Seasons by Peg, 111 E. Van Buren St., Woodstock, is convinced that the hit Disney movie Frozen will be popular this holiday season.

Expect to see plenty of ice, snow and Disney-inspired accents when decorating.

“When Frozen was released, nobody expected it to be such a big hit, so they didn’t have product,” she says. “Now they have the dolls, and kids love it. I love this theme, because it’s compatible with Illinois weather. I think customers enjoy the snow and ice accents on their trees and holiday decorations.”

To carry out a Frozen design, rely on white, silver and clear ice with a touch of blue, reminiscent of Queen Elsa’s dress.

“The iconic look would best be played out on a white tree, wreath or garland,” says Fenstermaker. “A modified – but still beautiful look – could be achieved on regular greens, accented with garlands, ornaments and ribbons of white, silver, ice and that special blue.”

For a more traditional look, don’t forget about those reds and greens, or the increasingly popular metallics – gold, silver and copper. “And you can always find a small percentage of unusual colors – teals and purples, for example,” Fenstermaker says.

For about five years now, Fenstermaker and her staff have worked from late October through mid-December to transform homes and country clubs for the holidays.

“We put up customers’ treasured things and work around them, and we help those who don’t have anything to get started,” Fenstermaker says. “We have a whole range of clients. We have some customers who are older, some who are too busy but still want their homes decorated. We take the worry off their shoulders of decorating for the holidays.”

The whole time they’re working with clients in their homes, Fenstermaker and her designers are also turning their store on the historic Woodstock Square into a winter wonderland, filled from top to bottom with holiday accents.

“It takes three weeks to completely transform the store, starting in late October,” Fenstermaker says. “We put up curtains covering the back third of the store and slowly move forward, finishing with the food and the front windows. We actually have to close our doors for a few days to finish up.”

It takes a lot of planning to prepare the store – much less than it’ll take to prepare your home.

“We plan a year ahead,” says Fenstermaker. “We figure out the props we need early on. “It’s a long planning process. We knew what our windows would be a year ago.”

The Unusual Can Be Elegant

Trends in home decor shift from year to year, but that’s not so much the case for holiday decor, which is still very much the same as it’s been the past few years, says Lynne Wickham, owner of Wickham Interiors, 67 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake.

“Traditional, classic greens and reds can be tweaked with silver and gold,” she says. “And you can even add some purples and turquoises to make your look unique. I’ve even seen some black trees that were very elegant, but I don’t think that would fly here in the Midwest.”

In general, clients around Crystal Lake tend to be more conservative in their tastes, so Wickham advises others to plan for longevity, rather than jumping on the latest trend.

“Look for traditional with a spark,” she says.

Wickham decorates nine Christmas trees in her store, each with a particular theme. There’s a nutcracker tree that appeals to dancers, and another that shows religious symbolism connected with the Christmas holiday. “Of course, Santas and snowmen will always be popular,” she says. “I love wildlife and birds, too.”

Themes cover everything from the seasons, color schemes and specific locales to a particular sport, hobby or interest. Because Wickham places hundreds of ornaments on each tree, a single tree can take up to three days for Wickham to decorate. It takes about six weeks to completely decorate the store.

Among the many ornaments, which customers can pick directly from the trees, Wickham, sells the handmade German Inge-Glas figures. Best-sellers include dogs, horses, snowmen and birds. They’re a great complement to the traditional glass orbs.

“I tend to sell more figures than just the simple balls,” she says. “I think you need to mix them to get a good tree. One of my tips is to put the plainer balls on the inside, as a backdrop for the figures. It gives the tree more depth.”

When preparing your own tree, take some time to hang the ornaments creatively. Tie some onto the branches, with ribbons, close to the branch, and hang some to provide variety.

Wickham enjoys using ribbon as garland, and accenting the tree with feathers, leaves and berries. She’s always dreaming about new, creative decorating ideas.

“You can also use collectibles,” she says. “One of the most charming trees I’ve ever seen was a blue and white tree decorated with blue-and-white dishes. Of course it was a huge tree, but it was lovely.”

Wickham also enjoys creating vignettes with figures or sculptures. “That works really well on a religious tree, or one with snowmen or pixies,” she says.

Outdoor Decorations

While decorators excel at preparing the indoors environment for the holidays, few work outside the homes.

“For outside, we do everlasting product in urns at the doorways and flower boxes,” says Mike Haas, of the Strawflower Shop. “In the urns we use willow sticks and lighted branches – a lot of lighted branches inside and out.”

Wickham typically keeps her decorating ideas indoors, but she’s happy to provide inspiration for outdoors.

“Outside decorations need to complement the exterior,” she says. “I like to see bushes and trees with lights. I like to see pots with winter greens and sticks. Sometimes lights work on those. Exterior lights can be decorated with wreaths or swags. Mailboxes can have a display of greens and ribbons. Spotlight on a display piece like a creche, Santa and reindeer, or a snowman – generally not all of those in one yard, though.”

Whatever you use to decorate your home, both indoors and out, maintain a consistent theme. Keep the decorations coordinated.

“Make the entrance warm and inviting, not overly busy and gaudy,” Wickham says.

Working With a Decorator

When working with clients, Mike Haas asks many questions, not only about the family and its past decorating, but also its lifestyle.

“We want to know if the family plans to entertain at home – either family or corporate colleagues,” he says. “Many professionals have holiday parties, and we need to keep that in mind when deciding on a theme.”

Fenstermaker says her initial visit with a new design client is offered at no charge. She gets right down to work during that first consultation, taking pictures of the locations for decorations, making note of the placement of electrical outlets and where she can anchor decorations.

“I ask many questions and budget is very important,” she says. “We try to work within every size budget.”

It’s also important to see what treasured ornaments or decorations the client already has and wants to include. Together, Fenstermaker and her client decide on a color scheme and a theme to follow, and then plan a time to make it happen.

“We love our clients, and we’ve traveled as far as Rockford, Lake Geneva and downtown Chicago to help them,” Fenstermaker says.

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