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Expert holiday decorating tips

Intern Andrea Crivello wraps presents at Coe Hall

Intern Andrea Crivello wraps presents at Coe Hall at Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park in Oyster Bay. (Dec. 4, 2013) Credit: Uli Seit

When it comes to Christmas decorations, everyone has a plan and a vision. Unfortunately, the plan seldom successfully translates the vision. You go to a store, see what the professionals have done and can't seem to understand why your ribbon doesn't cascade, the tree has gaps and your mantel looks cluttered instead of lush.

Well, DIYers, this year the professionals are giving the gift of knowledge, sharing tips and techniques to elevate even the most dismal Christmas decor.


Cardinals are the inspiration for this bird tree at Dodds & Eder in Oyster Bay that incorporates a bird house, burlap, basket-weave balls and other natural elements. A tree is a great place to show off collections and varied interests. Following a theme and a definite color scheme gives the tree a pulled-together look. And, instead of the usual topper, pull together elements from the tree to give the topper a contemporary feel.


Scale is important, says Nancy Melius of Oheka Castle in Huntington. "If you have a small space, you think you should use smaller elements, but not necessarily. Do something simple, but on a larger scale." Echoing the room's colors gives decorations polish. For example, Oheka's library is traditional, with wood paneling, rich red drapes, comfy furniture and lots of books. While only the mantel and a tree are decorated, they share elements tying them together, such as red and gold ornaments, poinsettia picks (artificial, individual flowers), red ribbons and large red mantel urns. The matching urns' symmetry gives the decorations a traditional feel.


"You want to go all-out on the stairs," says Henry Joyce, executive director of the Planting Fields Foundation. "Load up the banister with greenery, garland, ribbons and ornaments. Make it a focal point as you enter the house." He starts the decorations with the garland, then poinsettia picks and ornaments. The use of nutcrackers in the foreground and on the stairs helps draw the eye upward to enjoy the full effect of the decorations. "A staircase is meant to make an impact at any time of the year," Joyce says. "It is visually exciting. You want to seduce people with your decorations."


Don't forget to look to your yard for decorating essentials. Nelson Sterner, executive director of Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River, turns to nature for decorating inspiration and supplies. This dining table centerpiece includes different species of evergreen, ornaments, frosted fruit, sprigs and leaves. He also suggests spray-painting and using dried hydrangea flowers in arrangements and incorporating holly, birch branches, fir and pines to bring the outside in for the holidays.


Lorraine Tully, floral designer at Martin Viette Nurseries in East Norwich, is an advocate of using holiday touches to spruce up existing decor. In the conservatory at Martin Viette, she added candles and an arrangement to an existing table with urns, encircled a plant with poinsettia and accented the couch with Christmassy pillows. Tully also explains that using different textures makes artificial greenery look more real. For example, she makes swags and mantel pieces combining spruce, cedar and yew greenery. Tie different elements and areas together by using the same elements in various display areas.


Owner Laura Merlein of Laura's Floral Elegance in East Northport says variety is the key to a wreath that sings. "You want things that add interest, different textures, matte and shiny finishes" Merlein says. "You also need a focal point." A wreath with a defined color scheme -- ornaments, picks, ribbons, etc. -- automatically looks more professional. The common door-size wreath is 24 inches and a 30-inch one works for most fireplaces. Merlein estimates that a budget of $50-$60 will cover most DIY wreaths.


"Gold makes anything seem more precious," says Henry Joyce, executive director of the Planting Fields Foundation in Oyster Bay, of his love of all things shiny at this time of the year. Sticking to a few complementary patterns of wrapping paper will make the gifts underneath seem more special. And, don't just use bows to top a present. Consider acorns from the yard, spray-painted magnolia leaves for a name tag, pine cones or a tiny ornament to dress up a package. Maybe use a tiny toy, Lego blocks or stuffed animal to jazz up a child's present.

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