How to decorate your home for the holidays without going overboard

There's a chill in the air, and the scent of burning logs is drifting on the breeze. Holiday festivities are upon us and with them the rush to decorate. Each year the holidays inspire homeowners to stretch their creative wings. Embellishing front entrances and yards is a wonderful way to welcome guests and help them feel the magic of the season.

Exterior features like these tall columns wrapped in a wide garland draw attention to a doorway. 


"When it comes to the exterior, the style of the home isn't important. It's quality over quantity," says Kelli McMullen, director of marketing at Holiday Warehouse, Plano.

Beauty in outdoor decorating hinges on having a theme and maintaining simplicity. In fact, holiday decorators are fielding calls from customers looking for artful economy of design.

"Things are trending more upscale. They don't want kitschy," says Nancy Intrator, creative director at Holiday Warehouse.

Décor elements for entrances, railings, columns and covered porches are trending toward timeless, classic looks that never go out of style. Swags have replaced wreaths as the favored accent for doors, while garlands are the go-to component for every exterior display. This year, the focus is on size.

"Go with a 24-inch garland. When you have a big entrance, you better have a big garland. It looks much more substantial than smaller ones," says Intrator.

A wide, bold garland on a stone archway, along with a coordinating wreath, creates a timeless statement and defines the entrance to this home. (Clint Brewer)

The more natural-looking the conifer, the better. Cedar and other long-needle pines transition well from autumn to winter decorating.

Ornaments, too, are expanding in size, from 4-inch to 12-inch orbs.

Gleaming finishes enhance neutral and bold colors.

"People are pulling in metallic colors. I'm seeing a lot of matte, shiny and sequin ornaments in different sizes," McMullen says.

A garland with white and gold ornaments adorns a wine closet tucked under a covered porch. (Clint Brewer)

Rather than a mix of colors, ornament hues are best displayed in two-color combinations. Traditional red and green remain popular, as do red and gold, white and gold, and white and teal.

In a yard or doorway, a single, grand statement is all that's needed to gather the attention of Santa's elves. Existing pots, urns and planters can quickly become festive with the addition of berries, twigs, vines and colorful, cascading ornaments.

"One magnificent tree or the entryway, anything on either side of the door, is all it takes," Intrator says.

Red ornaments and ribbon, along with white lights, create a colorful contrast to the white facade of this traditional home. 


Exterior lighting for the holidays mirrors the trend toward simplicity. Illuminating every tree and bush isn't necessary to create a striking atmosphere.

"Sometimes less is more. What's tasteful is well-placed lighting," says Eddie Hill, owner of Christmas Creations in Garland.

Hill recommends homeowners go for an evening drive and look for lighting on homes similar in shape to their own, then create a theme. A basic concept can be updated year after year.

"The first rule of lighting is, 'What does it look like at night?'" Hill says.

With a concept in mind, a homeowner can decide on locations to light. The entrance to a home and significant features lend themselves to illumination.

"A roofline is beautiful, especially if it has triangle pitches. Anytime a homeowner can light dormers, they're beautiful too," says Hill.

Other places to consider lighting include prominent trees, square windows and curved flower beds. The porch and doorway to a home should not be missed.

"The door is a focal point. Always do a garland around the door, simply lighted. Add a bow on each corner. Think of a Christmas card," Hill says.

As with décor, trends abound in exterior holiday lighting. While color is back in vogue, another trend is taking center stage.

"The biggest change in lighting in the last five years is LED lighting. They almost look exactly like the old white lights. I can do multiple stands end-to-end in one outlet," Hill says.

Outdoor decorations may be breathtaking and inspirational, or bright and whimsical. Either way, they reflect the charm of the season.

"It's instant gratification. Have fun with it," Hill says.

A mix of colorful, oversized ornaments spill over the sides of two large planters and embellish a doorway mantle.

10 tips for outdoor decorating

Here are tips from Holiday Warehouse to add panache to outdoor decorations.

* Be consistent with your theme in all decorations.

* Go with a clean, bold garland.

* When using a garland, measure the door frame. Garlands are each typically 9 feet long.

* The color of the entry door is important. Choose ornaments that complement it.

* Consider unusual color combinations: red and lime green, or pink and lime green.

* When selecting a wreath, keep it in proportion to the door. Leave a hand width on either side when hanging.

* Gather berries, holly and twigs from the yard to add to wreaths and planters.

* Hang a swag on a lantern or over an outdoor fireplace.

* Add greenery to a balcony.

* Float giant ornamental balls in the pool.

Tips for handling holiday lights

Ready to hang holiday lights? Here are suggestions and reminders from Eddie Hill of Christmas Creations:

* Pick two or three colors. "When you mix more than three colors, it looks tacky."

* Wrap small- to medium-size trees with strands two inches apart. Wrap large trees four inches apart.

* Avoid moisture by wrapping light connections with tape.

* Exercise caution. Most accidents occur with 6-foot ladders.

* Avoid going up too high on a ladder. If necessary, hire a lift.

* Make sure gutters and other surfaces are secure.

* To keep lights in place on a gutter, use a C-clip every 4 to 5 feet.

* On wood surfaces, use a light duty stapler to keep lights secure.

* When hiring a professional, make sure the company is insured.

* Confirm the fee includes both putting up and taking down the lights, and a service call.

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