Decorating themes help keep the christmas spirit under control

December 11, 2009|By ROSE BENNETT GILBERT / Creators Syndicate

Q: I have inherited six boxes of antique Christmas ornaments from my German great-aunt, who collected them all her life. We always go big on decorations, but I am kind of overwhelmed. I don't want the house to look like a department store! Any good ideas on how to use many ornaments so they look tasteful?

A: 'Tis the season to go a bit over-the-top, but try to keep remembering that good taste, aka restraint, is always in season.

My best advice - offered after consultation with design expert Benjamin Bradley (more about him in a minute) - is to handle Christmas ornaments much as you would other accessories. You may be dealing with beloved family heirlooms, so plan to use displays that highlight the ornaments without strangling the rest of the room.

One tactic: Group ornaments according to theme or color - they will make a design statement, not just visual clutter. Take advantage of seasonal showoff opportunities you don't usually have for year-round accessories, such as ornamenting garlands of evergreens under a mantel or over windows and putting groupings on tabletops or over kitchen cabinets.


Just don't get so carried away that you lose sight of your living space, literally. That could be a real hazard for interior designer Benjamin Bradley of Bradley Thiergartner Interiors ( His collection of Christmas ornaments numbers 25,000 ... and still counting. This year, it took 14.5 hours for him and his helper elves to find ways to place them all tastefully throughout his New York apartment.

"Every year, I look for different ways to display the ornaments," he says. But he always works around themes: There's the deer theme over the mantel, centered around an old terra-cotta deer head. Another grouping stars antique German candy containers made of papier-mache. Elves and candy ornaments dominate the kitchen display ... you get the idea.

Another pro tip is to establish a visual link between the disparate decorations. This year's secret: Bradley ordered a case of giant sugar pine cones from California and worked in all 80 cones wherever it was possible. They provide exactly the right touch of color that complements his year-round decorating scheme of greens, browns and other naturals.

No Christmas color cliches for this pro. "I use reds sparingly," he says.

Q: Need new ideas for decorating your holiday table?

A: Pinch a few from the New York interior designers who dreamed up tabletop delights at the annual Holiday House fundraiser for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure fund.

Among the most fun was the Santa Supper set up by Charles Pavarini III Design Associates ( around a soaring centerpiece of white-painted twigs touched with birds and flowers. Santa's seat was a glass throne made by the Corning Co. in 1880, but the "guests" were all contemporary heroes of the designer's choosing, among them Michelle Obama (he admires her White House garden) and pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger (who landed that bird-battered plane safely in the Hudson River last January).

Ideas more easily borrowed include MH Studio designers' ( giant fabric bows tied on the seat backs of dining chairs; Stedila Design's ( starburst of a crystal chandelier hung inside the fireplace; and David Zisa's large Hanukkah table - designed for Greenbaum Interiors ( - lighted with two white metal candelabras, each nearly 5 feet high.

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