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Joyous decorations can be tasteful as well

December 20, 2008

By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT

Creators Syndicate

Q: My wife goes crazy with Christmas decorations every year. I don't get it because she has great taste in everything else, but Christmas turns into cutesy stuffed Santas and fake poinsettias everywhere. I always manage to tone down the outside lights - ours is not the neighborhood for blowup plastic snowmen.

How can I get a message across without hurting her feelings - or her Mom's, the original overdecorator?

A: Approach it with great care, like stockings hung by the chimney. 'Tis the season to be enthusiastic - your wife's not alone in going OTT, as the British say over the top in expressing childlike joy, often in childlike images like cutesy stuffed Santas.

However, joy can also be tasteful. The pictured room is an elegant case in point. The homeowners sought the counsel of interior designer Mary Douglas Drysdale (202) 588-0700, who confides that she "loves Christmas and all the efforts that go into decorating a house." She also reminds us that "the decorations are only up a short while," so one can give in to the "need to have fun and express the joy of the season."

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But Drysdale's still mindful of the good taste manta immortalized by Elsie de Wolfe, America's first professional decorator: "Suitability, suitability, suitability!"

"Glittery decorations and bows would have conflicted with this classical, bold room," Drysdale explains. "The decoration underscores the simplicity of the plan."

Practicing what she teaches, Drysdale says she used only simple handmade ornaments for her 1824 farmhouse, including cookies in the shape of horses, goats, pigs and cows. "And as the holiday season advanced, I ate the ornaments!"

More of Drysdale's professional advice on good taste during the holidays:

One-color lighting provides a better backdrop for the other ornaments.

Push the lights deeply into the tree.

Remember to decorate the back of a tree that's seen from outdoors.

Don't throw away the boxes the ornaments came in.

Know when to stop decorating! "When the branches begin to droop, it's a sign to step back and take it all in."

Q: What's black and white and smart all over?

A: Today's wallpapers. If the very idea of adding too much color to your walls scares you, look into the simple chic of black and white designs from studios like Graham & Brown (www.grahambrown.com).

Building on the success of their interactive "Frames" wallpaper, featuring floor-to-ceiling empty picture frames to be filled in - or not - by the room's inhabitants, the hip U.K.-based firm has introduced a slew of new black and white offerings that range from a redux "Mackintosh Roses" to flocks of noir butterflies and New York's "City Scape" by night, rendered room size.

The rationale: Black and white walls are not only sophisticated; they also give visual "pop" to every other color in the room.

But suppose there is no other color in the room? If you're as slick a designer as Eric Cohler (www.ericcohler.com), you don't need any other colors.

Cohler delivered a deft one-two punch in his very masculine black-white billiards room in the Holiday House Designer Show House in New York. He was honoring Father's Day (the Holiday House theme evoked virtually every holiday on the calendar, from Christmas to Kwanzaa to Thanksgiving). Benefiting breast cancer research, the Show House was a first for the Greater New York City Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure (www.komennyc.org).

Father's sophisticated playroom included black patent and white-painted chairs, a black billiards table and - most likely to be plagiarized - a hardwood floor painted allover in dramatic interlocking black and white hexangles.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas.

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