Here's what people will remember.

December 5, 2023

Most people haul out the same old holiday lights and decorations each December. But with the world feeling especially bereft of wonder, we’re ready to approach decorating almost like set design. Here’s how.

For the holidays that inspire us to decorate, notably Christmas, people tend to repeat things year after year. We haul out the same old strings of lights and decorating from storage, and usually, that’s sort of nice. But this year, with the world feeling increasingly out of whack, we’ve found ourselves craving a holiday season that feels more than sort of nice.

We don’t want to ignore what’s going on around us, but we do want a reminder that there’s also whimsy and glitter in the world.

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Is it frivolous to want this? Those who are increasingly turning off the TV news to instead obsessively google ‘mistletoe balls.’ Anyone living with stress or mental health issues knows it’s important to create a safe space that lifts us up. That’s what home is.

Coincidentally, it turns out that one of the best ways to chase away doldrums might be to change your décor. There’s a long-standing study of psychology that’s interested in ambient environments and what they do for us. Holiday time tends to be good for us and for our endorphins, research says. “Lights, and colours have proven neurological effects and can lift our spirits,” according to a recent feature on the subject in the WSJ. Read more, ‘Christmas is the best time for entertaining.’

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So maybe this is the year to go a little over the top, with a theme that extends throughout the house. Think of it as holiday décor as a set design.

Starting with “Victorian Yuletide”—with old-fashioned jingle bells hanging on the doorknob, a holly kissing ball and clip-on candles on the tree. Or a Regency Christmas, Bridgerton-style, with a shot of upscale glamour and a refined palette of blue, white, and champagne, inspired by Wedgwood china. You don’t want to turn your home into a Georgian villa, but it could be the refreshing change of scenery we all need right now decking everything in all over pattern and clear, fresh colours. Read more, ‘Christmas Day Etiquette.’

Legendary parties are not always lavish ones. In fact, it’s notable that the most expensive parties ever are often remembered as tasteless at best, era-ending at worst. The best hosts know that if the company is sparkling enough, you can have a fantastic time with nothing more than a good house red wine and leftovers.

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But it’s also true that the best parties are exercises in world-class decorating and plentiful catering that transport guests to a temporary, alternative paradise. Start by stuffing all your worldly belongings into cupboards before the real fun can begin.

The approach is popular in Europe, where Christmas markets pop up in November to tout new trends, and where interior design magazine House and Garden U.K. exhorted fashionable Londoners earlier this year to consider turning their homes into full-blown holiday backdrops with themes such as “Venetian Palazzo at Christmas” or “Winter on the Swedish Archipelago.”

This year, Nicole Salvesen, an interior designer in London, plans to bedeck her Victorian-era house with homemade décor that harks back to a simpler, 19th-century holiday season: wrapping the base of the Christmas tree in a leftover bolt of checked fabric and pushing candles into bases made from orange rinds.

In fact, orange rinds are big news for the holiday season this year.

A trend in Europe and America for 2023  is ‘Simpler Times, Simpler Lives”. Photo: Christopher Horwood.

New York City interior designer Harry Heissmann, who grew up in Germany, suggests creating a winter woodland indoors. Have at least one real tree in the house and fresh garlands because it’s all about the scents. It’s about creating the feeling of excitement and merriment, to be able to say ‘Oh goodness, this feels like being in a chalet in Switzerland because everything is woody and furry and smells like tobacco’.

Look to the architectural details of your home for  inspiration. Be true to your house because the most beautiful holiday decorations are the ones that look like a natural extension of your homc. Photo: Christopher Horwood.

How to Choose a Holiday Theme

One approach is to look to the architectural details of your home for inspiration. Be true to your house because the most beautiful holiday decorations are the ones that look like a natural extension of your home. In a turn-of-the-century Tudor, giant nutcrackers won’t look out of place. But a midcentury house might look better decorated with paper stars hanging from the ceiling. The architecture of a 1920s  California bungalow or Spanish-colonial bungalow, with a red-tile roof and a wrought-iron railing on the outside, might call for something more traditionally focused festive theme.

Whether your interior is cottage-y or minimal or somewhere in between….create your festive theme by starting small. Buy a single object or accessory that feels exciting, and then build a new holiday décor theme around it.

For the holidays, we always start with a cloth, a textile for a table.

A trend we saw a lot of this year in Europe and America is ‘Simpler Times, Simpler Lives”. You could take this theme to the next level with inherited antique dishes and old-fashioned etched Champagne coupes. Cut crystal is the glass of the moment. If you have an antique, embroidered white tablecloth, now is the time to bring it out. And your set of inherited dishes with gold rims.

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Festive Themes to Consider:

Cotswold Cottage Christmas

Strings of pinecone lights and dried oranges on the tree, or a Cotswolds Cottage Christmas. You can buy floating taper candles on Amazon, it turns out, and they come attached to invisible fishing line you can suspend from the ceiling. Don’t stop with the tree – hanging bushels of foliage around the house can look wonderful. Read more, ‘What Your Dinner Party Says about You.’

Zara Home UK

Aspen Cabin Christmas

Grab a Faux Moose Wall Hanging, pile bowls and trees with Orange Slice Ornaments and search for pre-lit fir cone garlands to hang on stairways and mantels.

Winter on the Swedish Archipelago

Hang Paper Shape Ornaments, (West Elm does good versions), gather your flickering flameless wax table candles in white from Pottery Barn, then add red amaryllis bulbs and hurricane vases.

Holiday in a Venetian Palazzo

Pile on the Mistletoe Paper Tinsel, floral candelabras, and candles.

The bizarre and beautiful moments from epic occasions are absolutely not useful on a daily basis, but as we approach the festive season, they do  come in handy for some inspiration, especially for decorations and details. Photo: Christmas at Annabel’s Mayfair, London.

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