The cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, the gift-wrapping unfortunately, visions of never-ending work, not sugarplums, are what dance in many people's heads when they see those first Christmas decorations in store windows. The very thought of the effort is enough to overwhelm all but the most dedicated holiday enthusiast long before the Thanksgiving turkey is ordered. And the idea of decorating the same ol' house with the same ol' stuff isn't exactly a source of motivation. But interior decorators say you don't have to invest a lot of time, effort or, for that matter, money, to welcome friends and family in style for the season's celebrations. Following are 25 of their best suggestions.
1. Line the front walk with those votive stakes you bought for the back ard and light the candles on evenings when you expect guests. University Heights interior designer Kevin Bruggeman says they cast a glow that's especially romantic in falling snow.
2.Fill your home with a fresh, spicy fragrance by putting the peel of one orange, a stick of cinnamon and a half-dozen cloves in a small saucepan, covering them with water and simmering on low heat. Mayfield Heights interior designer John Koncar says you can scent the house for days if you so desire by simply maintaining the water level. "It's a very lovely scent and it's lovely all winter long."
3. Convert a sofa table, writing desk or serving cart into a bar and keep it stocked so you can offer drinks to unexpected guests without fetching anything more than a bucket of ice from the kitchen. Rocky River interior designer Kevin Steffanni says a simple setup decanters of vodka, gin and scotch, a tray of the appropriate glassware, individual bottles of club soda, tonic water and soft drinks also acts as a visual invitation to sit and stay awhile.
4. Turn those neat rows of glassware on or behind the bar into an ornamental display by adding colored counterparts that complement your decor. Dorene White of Cottonwood in Chagrin Falls says martini glasses and wine goblets are available in everything from red to amber to amethyst. And at a few dollars a stem, they're more affordable and infinitely more useful than many other seasonal decorations.
5.Have far more people coming for cocktails than wineglass charms? White suggests picking up some wire and an array of decorative beads at a craft store and making your own. Slip beads on short pieces of wire and wrap one around the stem of each wine goblet, champagne flute and/or martini glass before you serve the first round so guests will be able to tell which one is theirs.
6. Invest in good down or down-blend pillow forms in standard sizes for your sofas, chairs and beds, then change the fabric covers with the seasons. Barbara Krantz of K Design Associates in Beachwood points out that an entire stack of covers can be stored in the space taken up by one accent pillow. And replacing the polyester fill in a cheap holiday pillow with a top-of-the-line form "takes it from feeling like a Ford to feeling like a Mercedes." Larger, 28- to 35-inch-square pillows can be used to provide additional seating for casual get-togethers.
7. Think big when buying everything from buffet-table arrangements to candles to tree ornaments. Koncar points out that you'll have fewer items to unpack, need fewer to decorate and have fewer to put away after the holiday season ends.
8. Fill that black hole of a never-used fireplace with an arrangement of plain silk greenery augmented by a few easy-to-clean seasonal decorations. Krantz suggests ceramic Thanksgiving pumpkins or those elaborately decorated gift boxes available in craft stores. Our alternative: an arrangement of large candles in staggered heights that provide the warmth and glow of firelight without the hassle of starting a wood-burning fire.
9. Look to your landscaping to add interest to your holiday decorating. Brian Geer of Petitti's Garden Center in Oakwood suggests cutting plumes from ornamental grasses, allowing them to dry, spraying them with an aerosol hairspray so they don't fall apart, and slipping them into fall floral arrangements. Arnie Klein of Blooms by Plantscaping in Cleveland decorated last year's Christmas tree by first hanging his collection of glass pine-cone ornaments, then filling in the bare spots with dried hydrangea cut from the shrubs in his yard.
10. Use fruits and vegetables instead of flowers to create your Thanksgiving centerpiece. Klein combines red, yellow and green apples, bosc pears, grapes, berries, carrots, artichokes, nuts, even herbs, mosses, branches and pheasant feathers, depending on the client's dining-room color scheme. Decorative bowls, cachepots, soup tureens, antique boxes and silver trays replace the cornucopia usually associated with such abundance. "It's a fabulous look, very rich and earthy," Klein says. The relatively few flowers he does incorporate are roses in brownish oranges, two-tone reds and other "interesting colors."
11. Incorporate alternatives to the usual pine boughs and poinsettias in your Christmas decorating. Klein suggests trying branches of laurel, magnolia and boxwood and pots of amaryllis, lilies, tulips, paperwhites, cyclamen and begonias. Make sure, he adds, that you put those foil-wrapped plastic pots in an attractive container. Baskets, cachepots, soup tureens and antique window boxes are all options.
12. All thumbs when it comes to arranging flowers? End the frustration once and for all by taking your favorite vase to your florist and having him or her fill it with your favorite flower a simple arrangement that packs a lot of punch, according to Steffanni. (A Christmas staple in Koncar's contemporary home is a tall vase of tropical ginger cane.) Note the number of flowers and length of the stem. Although the sizes of flower heads do differ, the information will help you re-create the look without making a second trip to the flower shop or supermarket.
13. Consider a silk floral arrangement instead of the real thing, which must be refreshed and/or replaced a number of times throughout the holidays. "You can spend a fair amount of money on a couple of really good ones that will last many years," Krantz says. "When you're done for that season, you just bag 'em up and put 'em away."
14. Create a luxuriously dramatic buffet on your glass-topped dining-room table by draping a length of black velvet over a stable, 6- to 8-inch platform of some sort to elevate the centerpiece, arranging the fabric in a cascade of swirls, and then scattering several votive candles in holders between them. Bruggeman says it sets off even the simplest china, silver and crystal superbly and, unlike traditional holiday colors, complements a wide range of color schemes.
15. Add some sparkle to your dining table by finishing the ends of a narrow length of glittery or sequined material with fabric tape and using it as a table runner. Not in the mood to measure and cut? White suggests placing a piece of mirrored glass under your centerpiece and candles, then sprinkling the table with metallic confetti. The latter is available in colors and shapes ranging from green Christmas trees to silver crescent moons and stars.
16. Do a tree that's literally for the birds. Ann Thompson of Fat Cat Interiors in Chagrin Falls and her children decorate a pine tree visible from a family-room window with strings of plain popcorn, pine cones rolled in peanut butter and birdseed, and pieces of hay for nest building. (Bits of yarn; strings of cranberries; apple, pear and pomegranate halves; and ready-made birdseed bells, balls and so on are other options, according to Nick Ballistrea of Wild Birds Unlimited in Mayfield Heights.) The real ornaments, however, are the feathered friends who stop for a snack.
17. Skip the hassle of taking the Christmas tree down before heading off on a holiday vacation. Each year, Trip Ayers of J.B. Ayers III Antiques and Interiors in Cleveland Heights and Waite Hill places three 6-foot-tall, balled and burlapped blue spruce trees just outside a bay window overlooking his terrace, then wraps them in strings of tiny white lights and ties red and green ribbons around the root balls. "They're really pretty for a nighttime party," he says. A landscaper stops by in early January to plant them in the back yard. (Consult a garden center or landscaper for proper care. Geer suggests insulating the root ball in a pile of mulch and watering it thoroughly every month if the tree is left unplanted for any length of time.)
18. Or skip the tree entirely and display your favorite ornaments on other greenery. Ayers decorates an enormous wreath 5 feet in diameter hung over his living-room fireplace, while Bruggeman uses beads, crystals and smaller decorations to dress up pine roping on his front-hall banister and a towering arrangement of evergreen and deciduous branches on his dining-room table. In fact, he suggests the latter as an alternative to a tree for those living in small spaces. "You can cover your tabletop with your packages," he says.
19. Invite kids of all ages to join in the holiday fun by decorating unbreakable gifts wrapped in environmentally friendly plain recycled paper. Thompson says they can use crayons, stickers and rubber ink stamps.
20. Gift-wrap empty boxes and use them to fill those sad-looking bare spots that appear under the Christmas tree as friends and relatives stop by to collect their presents. White uses premium papers, velvet fabric and wired French ribbon on her fabulous fakes. (Remember to attach gift tags to avoid unwelcome Christmas-morning surprises.)
21. No time to redecorate the guest room? At least pick up the basics to make an inviting bed high-thread-count sheets, a nice comforter, blanket, pillows and lamps for either side of it. If your guest is arriving in the evening, make sure the lamps are on and adjusted to a setting that makes the room look warm and inviting "instead of flipping on the overhead light and having a 100-watt bulb go off," Koncar says.
22. Stock the guest room with a few things to occupy visitors if they can't get to sleep. Koncar suggests a basket of holiday cards you've received from mutual relatives, friends and acquaintances (omit those obviously meant for your eyes only); a basket of interesting postcards you've collected in and around Cleveland, along with a roll of stamps and a pen, so they can send a few of their own; and a current magazine or two you think they'd like to read.
23. Prepare a basket of full-sized bath-time indulgences appropriate to your overnight guest's skin type even a product or two that you enjoy and leave it on his or her bed. "Most of us do travel with our own toiletries," Koncar says. "But if someone leaves something special for you, it's really nice. I've picked up some product tips when I've been a guest in other people's homes." Bruggeman suggests throwing in some individually wrapped chocolates, maybe even a pair of socks in a holiday pattern.
24. Rent a helium tank and fill enough balloons to load the ceiling of your living room, dining room, wherever you're throwing that New Year's Eve bash. Ed Poderis of Suburban Balloon & Helium in Wickliffe says a helium tank rental, 100 latex balloons and ribbon streamers go for about $40. Steffanni recommends adding some sparkles by mixing metallic balloons into whatever color combination you choose.
25. Our idea: Place a coffeemaker in the guest bath, along with coffee, sugar, creamer, mugs and spoons, so your guests won't have to venture into the kitchen in their bathrobes for that vital first cup or go without until they've showered and dressed.