Holiday Hints

15 ideas for making your decorating, shopping and entertaining a little easier this year
Yes, Virginia, holiday entertaining really can be enjoyable, with minimal stress and hassle. We surveyed party and design professionals to get their advice for keeping your festivities affordable and running smoothly.

  1. Organize and decorate simultaneously, suggests Organizing 4 U’s JoEllen Salkin. “When you’re bringing things out, start thinking now about how you’ll store them,” she says. For instance, create an “open me first” box for those early-season decorations, and have another just for the tree trimmings. All those never-used ornaments at the bottom of your box? “Now is the time to donate them,” says Salkin.

  2. Throw a handful of pinecones or citrus peels into your fireplace during a party, suggests Ann Boron of Ann Boron Interiors, for a nature-inspired holiday aroma. To bring even more scents of the outdoors inside, she says, skip the artificial garlands and make your own decorative swags with pine trimmings.

  3. A great centerpiece can last all season long — not just through New Year’s — if you follow these tips from floral designer John Ferguson of Vanderbrook:

    1. POSITION a plain grapevine wreath on a flat, mirrored panel.
    2. PLACE CANDLESTICKS in the wreath’s center and votives around the perimeter.
    3. TUCK SPRIGS OF PINE or fresh flowers into the wreath and around its base and drape a garland of fresh or wooden cranberries throughout.
    4. LIGHT THE CANDLES and watch the mirror magnify their brightness.

  4. A holiday party doesn’t have to mean a sit-down dinner for 20. Party planner Meghan Thornton of Savvy Soiree suggests a themed party that avoids the dinner hour, which reduces costs and hassles. Create a display of assorted store-bought desserts for a holiday dessert cocktail party, Thornton recommends, or serve up a holiday brunch with simple, budget-friendly breakfast foods.

  5. Did that brunch idea catch your fancy? Then try this recipe for Yuletide French toast with eggnog and challah bread, provided by Heinen’s chef Jackie Novotny:

    ❉ COMBINE 1 1/2 cups Hartzler’s eggnog, three eggs and one teaspoon chopped orange zest, and mix well.
    ❉ CUT CHALLAH (or other dense bread) into 1-inch-thick slices. Soak in eggnog mixture for five minutes, turning halfway.
    ❉ MELT BUTTER in a skillet or griddle over medium-high heat, and transfer soaked bread slices to pan with a slotted spatula.
    ❉ COOK until golden brown (about one minute each side), and serve with warm Ohio maple syrup and a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

  6. Locally made gifts no longer require hours of searching and tromping through shops and galleries. Savvy Soiree’s Thornton recommends the “Shop Local” feature on, the online marketplace for all things handmade. You can also shop for interesting handmade holiday party invitations while you’re there.

  7. Stuck with too much or (horrors!) too little food when cooking for large groups? Catering pro Bill Rini of A Taste of Excellence offers this simple food equation: assume 3 to 4 ounces per side dish per guest, then multiply by the number of guests. So a group of 25 will require 100 ounces, or 6.25 pounds, of each side dish. (Hint: Cooked pasta weighs 2 1/2 times more than dry pasta.)

  8. Ask for help preparing your holiday meals at your neighborhood butcher shop. “We’ll tie your roast, stuff your veal breast, bone and tie your leg of lamb,” says Tom Heinen of Heinen’s. “[We’ll do] pretty much anything.” Plus, Heinen’s can vacuum-marinate your meat with its own homemade marinades, a process that infuses large cuts with more flavor in less time.

  9. You’ll thank us for this tip when a full glass of red wine hits that brand-new white carpeting in the midst of your cocktail hour. Pat Hurst of Hurst Design-Build-Remodeling recommends covering your light-colored carpets with adhesive carpet protection film during the party-heavy holiday season. You can pull it up when Jan. 1 arrives, and the dirt and spills go with it. Find it at

  10. Is it a festive plant or a hostess gift? At her own parties, Boron of Ann Boron Interiors fills a large punch bowl with individually potted plants — try orchids, amaryllis or paper whites, she says — covered with decorative moss. As each guest leaves, she pops out one plant as a gift.

  11. Don’t let gravity restrict your tree-decorating creativity. Master tree decorator Amy Bittner-Ludwig of Don Drumm Studios hangs trees upside down and even horizontally to create themes like a rocket ship tree. “It’s a space-saving measure, but it’s also breaking away from the same old, same old,” she says. Plus, ornaments hang away from the tree’s natural slope, making them easier to see.

  12. A new tradition for the holidays: preparing an Old World favorite, chocolate chestnut (Gesztenye) torte, shared by Michael Feigenbaum of classic Cleveland bakery Lucy’s Sweet Surrender. Get fresh chestnuts when they come into season in November, and follow Feigenbaum’s instructions (available at clevelandmagazine. com/holidayhome) for preparing this delectable dessert, including its signature ingredient — fresh chestnut puree.

  13. Set a gorgeous table for your holiday dinner, but don’t clean a thing afterward — that’s what Barbara Krantz of K Design Associates does. She purchases disposable silver-look plastic flatware and faux plastic china for even formal dinner parties. “Normally we’d spend the whole evening cleaning,” she says, “but now, in less than an hour, we can be out chatting.”

  14. Cut down on drinks without spoiling your party or your budget. Savvy Soirree’s Thornton suggests serving a signature cocktail that suits your party’s theme rather than an open bar with endless variety. Her holiday favorites? Spiked eggnog or hot chocolate, red pomegranate martinis or — to go with that Yuletide French toast — a simple mimosa.

  15. Skip the ribbon and make holiday gift boxes that double as décor, advises Vanderbrook’s Ferguson. Dried hydrangea blossoms adhered with spray adhesive add color and texture to a box’s lid. Tie with a strand of raffia and a burst of small glass ornaments on top. Or cover an entire box with dried leaves, using items such as pine clippings, dried gumballs and colorful leaves in place of bows.

Holiday Resource Guide

Need a little more help getting ready for your holiday parties? Here are some of the local professionals who shared their advice for this story:

Organizing 4 U,

Ann Boron Interiors, (440) 572-1289

Vanderbrook, 1898 S. Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, (216) 371-0164


A Taste of Excellence,

Hurst Design-Build-Remodeling,

Don Drumm Studios,

Lucy’s Sweet Surrender,

K Design Associates, (216) 831-8287

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