Holiday Home: How to Prepare Like a Pro

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If scrambling to prepare seems like your only pastime this holiday season, take a tip from local experts to reduce the hustle and sweeten the season.

Local interior designers Chris Spang of Christopher Designs and Susan Tremont of By Design Interiors, offer advice on seasonal decorating that enhances your holiday entertaining. 

Don’t Break the Bank

Before getting started on any decorating spree, Spang encourages entertainers to first set a theme for what each room will look like. Then set a realistic budget of what you can afford to spend. Next make a list of what you have and a list of what items still need to be purchased. Most of all, get creative. Spang offers these steps for an inexpensive yet lovely centerpiece fit for any Christmas table:

Take boxes (shoe boxes, cereal, etc) and wrap them in gold foil tied with colorful ribbon. If you are reusing ribbons from previous years, iron the wrinkles out so that they will not look used. 

• Drape red and green beads and place votive candles on different levels of the boxes to reflect the gold foil beautifully.

• Place candles in hurricane glass because likely the air conditioning will be running to accommodate large groups of people in the house making it hard to keep candles lit. 

Tremont offers these suggestions for inexpensive decorating flair:

• Add seasonal pillows! Whether it is a turkey-laden cushion for Thanksgiving or a pillow canvassed with a Nativity scene for Christmas, these are inexpensive ways to enhance the festive feel of your lounging areas.

• Fill hurricane glass cylinders with common items such as nuts and berries or ornaments and tinsel for a unique touch.

by Amber Cassady

If scrambling to prepare seems like your only pastime this holiday season, take a tip from local experts to reduce the hustle and sweeten the season.

Local interior designers Chris Spang of Christopher Designs and Susan Tremont of By Design Interiors, offer advice on seasonal decorating that enhances your holiday entertaining. 

Don’t Break the Bank

Before getting started on any decorating spree, Spang encourages entertainers to first set a theme for what each room will look like. Then set a realistic budget of what you can afford to spend. Next make a list of what you have and a list of what items still need to be purchased. Most of all, get creative. Spang offers these steps for an inexpensive yet lovely centerpiece fit for any Christmas table:

Take boxes (shoe boxes, cereal, etc) and wrap them in gold foil tied with colorful ribbon. If you are reusing ribbons from previous years, iron the wrinkles out so that they will not look used. 

• Drape red and green beads and place votive candles on different levels of the boxes to reflect the gold foil beautifully.

• Place candles in hurricane glass because likely the air conditioning will be running to accommodate large groups of people in the house making it hard to keep candles lit. 

Tremont offers these suggestions for inexpensive decorating flair:

• Add seasonal pillows! Whether it is a turkey-laden cushion for Thanksgiving or a pillow canvassed with a Nativity scene for Christmas, these are inexpensive ways to enhance the festive feel of your lounging areas.

• Fill hurricane glass cylinders with common items such as nuts and berries or ornaments and tinsel for a unique touch.

 Dining Area Do’s

Spang recommends:

• Lay out serving pieces a couple of days before your event to play with the arrangement and make sure there is room for guests plus dishes.

• Make sure the silverware and dishes are clean and polished before that first guest arrives.

• Use a centerpiece that will last throughout the holiday, unlike flowers or fruit that won’t stay fresh and may become messy during holiday entertaining.

• Instead of using a tablecloth, try wrapping the table in heavy gold foil paper that is low-maintenance by not showing stains from liquids and insulates so that hot pads are no longer needed.

• Experiment with draping a lace cloth over a foil-topped table. “It has a cool affect with the gold color underneath,” says Spang.

Color Cohesion

“Take into consideration the color of décor that is already in your home and make sure that your holiday decorations don’t look out of place with the rest of the house,” shares Tremont.

• Traditional Christmas red does not match well in many homes. Cranberry still hints holiday and may blend better.

• Play up metallics like silver and gold and let green and red be accents.

• If your home has a more natural feel keep with that and use lots of greenery, poinsettias and cedars.

• For more modern homes, cool blues, silvers and other metallic colors often are a better fit than traditional shades.

Display for Impact

“The trend right now is to go back to some old classics, and I say go for it,” advises Tremont. “I think that is something that is missing. Use those special items for tradition.” However, many people have trouble figuring out how to display the knickknacks and Christmas collections that have accumulated throughout the years. “A lot of people have a good number of small things and the impact can get lost,” says Spang.

Spang’s advice:

• Try grouping collections into arrangements by stacking books as risers and placing your snow globes or nativities on different levels. You can cover the book risers with festive cloth or leave them uncovered if you enjoy the appearance of the books.

• Utilize the bookcases you may already have in the room. Nutcrackers and cottages can be placed as bookends or in front of the books for a hint of holiday in an everyday piece. 

Tremont’s suggestions:

• Group collections in a spot, like a coffee or side table, making them their own entity.

• Be aware of scale when deciding where to place collections because little knickknacks are often not fit to scale and look awkward on a large mantle. “Little things do not show up well on mantles. You need something large to anchor it.”

• If a special piece does not sit high enough on its display area, place it on a wooden stand to give it some height and make it more noticeable.

• Instead of only using those passed- down family Christmas dishes on Christmas day, try getting them out at the beginning of December so that they are used and remembered by everyone. “Try to establish traditions in your home.”

Traffic Flow

For groups with large numbers of people, circulation is a big issue to keep everyone from feeling packed in or having traffic jams in the hallways and kitchen. Make sure there is a way to get out of each room as well as a way into a room.

• Sprang recommends removing dining room chairs completely. Even lining the outside of the room with the chairs can clog up the room.

• Separate drinks and beverages from the food to prevent a long line at the refreshment table.

• Spread food items out into various rooms instead of keeping all of the dishes in the kitchen or dining room.

• If small children will be around, pick out some snacks ahead of time that kids can have without supervision and place the treats in a place easy for them to reach and away from most of the grown-ups.

Re-thinking Lighting

“I don’t think people realize the impact that a lighting fixture can have on a room,” says Kelly Sisco of Dealer’s lighting. “That’s what people are drawn to when they first walk in a room whether they realize it or not.” Updating the house for the holidays can be a simple fix with a big effect just by changing fixtures to make a more dramatic statement or create a cozier feel.

Tips to keep in mind if you are picking a new chandelier:

• Important measurements to keep in mind when selecting the size are ceiling height, room size and table height.

• A typical chandelier will need to hang 30- to 36-inches above the dining room table, however this can differ slightly on a case-by-case basis.

• Sisco says the next rule of thumb is “bigger is better.” If a chandelier is too small it can be more noticeable and seem awkward.

How to light the room without hanging fixtures:

• Recess lights are a good solution. They are typically 6 inches and go up into the ceiling. Recess lights are subtle but make a big difference in the warmth of the room.

• Don’t have the right type of ceiling for recess lighting? Sconces make for a pretty, homey feel.

For a more economical way to update lighting, try switching the light bulbs. There are improved technologies and better choices of bulbs. Put in a different bulb and the glass on a fixture will have more of the coloring it was intended to. “There are so many choices with bulbs now. They can really warm up a fixture,” says Sisco.

• The higher the Kelvin temperature, the more a room can look like an office building however lower temperatures (2700) takes the light and warms the room and gives a bit more yellow color.

Tasty Tips

What’s the point of having a good-looking house for the holidays if you don’t have the other most important part of entertaining – the food – mastered? Jo Manning of C&J’s Barbeque and Buppy Simank of Buppy’s Catering offer helpful hints for keeping everyone well fed without wearing yourself out in the process.

Think Ahead

The caterers agree that when cooking for a large group during the holidays, preparing as much as possible in advance will make a difference in your stress level on the event day and will allow you to see your guests more.

• Jo recommends making cornbread and veggies for dressing a couple days early and freezing it until the day you want to actually cook.

• “Think ahead about your menu,” says Buppy. Make a menu ahead of time and assign your guests different jobs to get them involved. It can keep everyone together and you can even make it a game; it’s less work for you and more fun for everyone.

• If you are going to have it catered, Jo suggests calling far enough in advance so that you ensure you will be getting your first choice of food and restaurant. She recommends calling your caterer no later than the second week in November.

• Jo says to think about the time that your guests will be eating when deciding when to begin food preparations so everything will be as hot and fresh as possible.

When deciding about when it’s time to call in the professionals, Buppy says to ask yourself what is logistically possible for you to prepare. Does your kitchen have all the resources needed to cook special foods for large numbers? How much do you want to worry about the food? Ultimately, Buppy says to keep it fun so that you will enjoy your company and family during the holidays. “It’s a special time during the holidays to get everyone together and eat a lot of good food,” he says.