Think Function, Style for Holiday Entertaining

Whether you opt for the grand Christmas tree centerpiece or snowflake-covered throw pillows,  the perfect blend of function and style can create lasting memories this holiday season.

The holiday season always brings out our special decor and accessories. As we entertain family and friends in our homes, these things help us to communicate love and warmth, and they set the stage for lasting memories.

No matter if you’re hosting a small group or the entire clan, you want your gatherings to shine, and that begins with setting the right details for a gathering to remember. Christmas trees, holiday decor, lighting and serving ware go a long way toward this goal.

Treetime Christmas Creations photo

Trees Set the Stage

For many people, the holiday season starts with finding the perfect Christmas tree.
It’s hard not a difficult search at Treetime, 22102 N. Pepper Road in Lake Barrington, a Christmas store that’s known for a wide selection, quality products and top customer service.

“We hold a deep affection for Christmas because it serves as a reminder of the invaluable aspects of life, often overshadowed by the hustle and bustle of our lives,” says Laurie Kane, who co-founded Treetime and is the co-owner of the store with her husband, Joe.

Treetime is filled with all sorts of holiday decor and related accessories – not just ornaments and floral arrangements but also custom and handmade wreaths and garlands. There’s also a collection of more than 200 decorated trees representing all variety of styles. There’s even more offered on the company’s website, These specially designed trees come with different types of needles and densities, but they also come with options such as flocking (fake snow) and pre-lit trees with a variety of settings that range from steady lights to twinkling or color-changing options.

One of the newest trends is trees decorated with RGB (red, green, blue) that can be mixed, matched and programmed to create endless color variations and patterns. The color-controlled LED string of lights can be operated with a smartphone app and can also be synchronized to music.

Treetime works directly with tree manufacturers to produce items that adhere to functional quality and durability that are unmatched by competing brands. The lifelike, fade-resistant evergreen foliage is created using “real-needle” technology, which means a real tree branch is used to make the mold for these artificial branches.

The most realistic trees are modeled after natural evergreens like the Douglas, Noble, Frasier, and Balsam firs and come with a stunning amount of detail.

These trees are, of course, safe, flame-resistant, non-toxic, lightweight, easy to handle with hinged sections, and equipped with end-to-end electrical connections for fast assembly. There are no hook-on branches.

Pre-lit artificial trees are made with commercial-grade lighting to ensure longevity and trouble-free usage. The premium mini-lights are guaranteed to burn for six months, 24 hours a day, Kane says.
Trees on the showroom floor offer all sorts of convenient features to make your home merry and bright, including retro looks and botanical styles with flowers and seed pods. Some are decorated with glass ornaments, traditional designs, or elegant color pairings of blue and silver, pink and silver, green and white, and platinum.

The most important step when planning to set up a tree and other holiday decor is to measure the space where it will go.

“The biggest mistake people make is trying to put a tree in a space that doesn’t fit,” Kane says.
Many people are also opting to install more than one tree in their homes. The main tree may be more traditional, while trees in other rooms may be smaller, tabletop size, or filled with decor that’s particular to that room.

Those who need a little help completing their look or troubleshooting a problem with their tree need only ask. Treetime’s customer service center is staffed with seasoned industry experts who understand the products, and the showroom is filled with salespeople who genuinely love everything about the Christmas season.

The store is open from July through January, which offers plenty of time for people who like a head start on next Christmas and other holidays in between.

The Decor is in the Details

Amanda Nicolai is a certified floral designer who has been recognized and is affiliated with several state, national and international professional associations. As the head designer at Countryside Flower Shop, Nursery and Garden Center in Crystal Lake, she specializes in floral arrangements but also has a keen eye for interior decorating.

Countryside’s locations in Crystal Lake and Elburn carry floral designs and garden supplies, but this time of year they’re also stocked with decor that makes a great hostess gift or an accent for your own home.

“I’m thinking of the holidays as a time to make things at home look and feel cozy and warm with decorative pillows, throws, candles, scents, and more, while stressing simplicity,” Nicolai says.

One of the newest ornaments in the store’s collection can make a lasting impression long after the holidays are gone. The Santa Kindness ornament has a QR code you can scan every day in December to see a video clip of Santa sharing ways to show kindness to others. The ornament includes a journal to record what you can do and what you have done to spread goodwill.

“It’s great for kids and adults and is a super-fun way to bring our attention to something the world especially needs today,” Nicolai says. “It’s a simple thing, but it will have great impact on the people who use it because they will be thinking of ways to be kind and show kindness, when they otherwise might not be giving it much thought.”

Ornaments and decor set a good visual tone for the season, but our noses fill us with Christmas spirit, as well. New diffusers at Countryside use essential oils to carry a soft fragrance throughout a home.

Similarly, pillar candles in one or more colors add varying heights when placed in a large cylinder vase on a table runner, by a mirror, or surrounded with garland. Scents like cinnamon, apple, pumpkin spice, vanilla and balsam fir create ambience around places like the bathroom and kitchen, especially when tucked into an out-of-the-way niche. Nicolai recommends going for soft and subtle, rather than strong and overwhelming.

This is especially true when candles are in a table centerpiece or a crowded room, where unscented candles are more effective, Nicolai says.

There are many other ways to warm up a home while celebrating the holidays.

Throws, lap blankets and pillows invite warmth, especially when they’re made from soft and nubby fabrics like knits, chenille, sherpa, velvet and other textures, says Nicolai. Seasonal wall art and wall hangings are popular, she says, especially when the subject is a winter or holiday theme that lasts beyond November and December.

Another current trend is to bring the outdoors inside with bunches of birch branches, other tree branches, seed pods, stems with berries, and dried grasses. Display them in a tall, clear vase and add fresh or artificial evergreens for a more festive look.

Then again, you could fill that vase instead with ornaments of the same color or combinations of colors that fit the room’s decor. Put some potpourri in a pan of hot water or display it in a crystal or decorative bowl for something that looks nice and smells good. Toss throws over the backs of chairs, change lampshades to a heavier fabric and softer lighting, and use some garland to trim doorways, staircase railings and windows, says Nicolai. Accents around a bookshelf, side table, chair or small piece of furniture add a pop of color.

In general, remember this: the less effort and bulk you use, the more beautiful something can be.
“Simplicity is attractive,” says Nicolai. “When you aim for simplicity, it’s something everyone can do and afford. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to create looks of elegance and warmth.”

Lighting for the Mood

The holidays bring out sparkle and color. Give it the right lighting and watch it truly glitter.
“Home lighting has been described as ‘the jewelry of any home,’” says Joe Kroupa, president and owner of Caravelle Lighting, 9307 S. U.S. Rt. 12, in Richmond. “Lighting is important because it can give an entirely different feel and look to any room and an entire home.”

New lighting fixtures inside and outside the home are a good conversation starter, but they can also help to set the right mood for any family gathering. With a 5,000-square-foot showroom that includes products from more than 50 manufacturers, Caravelle Lighting shows off a wide range of fixtures. The most popular choices are more natural looking with clean, straight lines or simple curves. More lightshades are being made from natural fibers like cotton, rattan, wicker and jute. There are also lamps on display that are made from recycled glass, reclaimed wood and recycled metals.

“Lighting is simpler in design than it used to be,” says Kroupa. “Very ornate designs and even crystal aren’t as popular as they once were because people want to get away from labor-intensive maintenance.”

As much as a new light fixture can set the tone, light bulbs are an even faster way to make a change. Today’s widely available LED bulbs come in a variety of styles, sizes and lighting colors. Options include festive green or red-colored bulbs for outdoors and varying colors for indoors.

The most important thing to watch is a bulb’s Kelvin temperature, which is a scale that indicates the warmth or coolness of the color of light. A comfortable light for the home is a soft white (a more yellowish tone) around 2,000 degrees Kelvin, says Kroupa, while daylight is typically around 5,500-6,500 on the Kelvin scale and has a more blue or white tone.

Technology has made it possible for some bulbs to change color on the Kelvin scale with just the touch of a switch. The warmth or coolness of a color can have a dramatic effect on a room, says Kroupa.

Helping the Hostess

No matter the time of year, there is no other part of the home that has the emotional warmth of the kitchen.

“There’s no doubt cooks spend a lot more time in the kitchen during the holiday months, not only warming up their homes but also the hearts of those they serve,” says Sarah Halvorson, owner of Kitchen Outfitters, 64 N. Williams St., Unit B, in downtown Crystal Lake.

The family-owned store has a wide selection of tools for any culinary creation, from pots, pans and utensils to cookware, small electric appliances and related decor. There’s even a collection of food products like coffees and teas, dips and sauces that help a hostess or make a great gift.

“We specialize in quality items and test everything we bring into the store,” says Halvorson. “If we hear any complaints, we pull the item from the shelves. We are always testing and researching new products.”

Among the newest products is a line of cookware that’s designed to make holiday cooking easier. Heritage Steel is a brand of multi-clad stainless-steel cookware that’s been manufactured in Clarksville, Tenn., for more than 40 years. Multi-clad stainless-steel cookware is built from a layering of metals, generally using aluminum in the center for even and efficient heating and stainless steel on the interior and exterior for strength and corrosion resistance. Heritage Steel uses a special grade of titanium-strengthened stainless steel for the cookware surface.

A tried-and true set of bakeware by Emile Henry has been helping home chefs since it was founded in 1850 in Marcigny, a small town in the province of Burgundy, France. Ceramic ovenware, gourmet cooking products and bakeware like this make it easier to cook family favorites or to serve up a nontraditional new kind of Christmas dinner.

To go along with that dinner, many hosts and hostesses are building a bar cart so guests can help themselves to alcoholic beverages or warm cider and hot cocoa. It doesn’t even have to be a literal cart. Any combination of beer, liquor and cocktail accoutrement will do.

“We have all the equipment to make it happen with strainers, mixing spoons, cocktail shakers, cocktail smokers, jiggers and barware,” says Halvorson.

And when it comes to treating the hostess with a modest thank-you gift, bigger isn’t always better. Think function and practicality for the party.

“Everything we sell can be used in the home or as gift items,” says Halvorson. “People are looking to give things that are useful in the home, not just pretty to look at. Everyone knows someone who loves to be in the kitchen.”