During November and December, a decorating fervor sweeps through as people prepare their homes for the season. Furniture is displaced to make room for a tree, mantels and staircases are draped with swags of greenery, and homes are illuminated with strings of twinkling lights. The winter holidays unleash a commitment to tradition, and, for many, strong decorating convictions. People know how they want their homes to look for Christmas. If only everyone were as decisive about decorating the rest of the year.
The same people who have no problem deciding where to put a Christmas tree can become paralyzed when they have to decide where to place a new bed. My remedy for such uncertainty is to channel holiday behavior. Follow these six decorating principles — all ones you probably practice as you’re readying your home for the season — throughout the rest of the year and your rooms will undoubtedly be merry, bright and full of joy.
1. Limit your color scheme. It’s likely that you trim your house for the winter with two, maybe three colors, at most. If you are a traditionalist, you decorate with red and green, but if you are a modernist you might choose turquoise and silver, or fuchsia and white. Regardless of the colors you choose, limiting your color palette in all your decorating endeavors not only makes the process easier, because you narrow down your choices, but it also makes your rooms flow better. It can be jarring to go from a red room to a green room to a turquoise room and then to a fuchsia room. It’s better to stick to a few colors and vary their shade from one room to the next.
2. Rearrange your furniture from time to time. Most of us have to shift furniture around or even remove a piece entirely to accommodate a big spruce Christmas tree. Although it’s a hassle, the change is good. We all get too set in our ways or lazy and forget that a different furniture arrangement can give a room a fresh look.
3. Always have something green or natural in your rooms. The pleasure many of us get from having a fresh evergreen tree indoors (the smell alone!) is worth the nuisance of regularly watering it and dealing with the messy fallen needles when we forget. Something green adds texture, scent and life to your rooms.
4. Rely mostly on ambient light. Everyone I know loves sitting in a room illuminated only by the glow of a well-lit Christmas tree. I am not advocating that you do away with all overhead lighting, but I do think that rooms (and people) look better in less-harsh lighting. In general, opt for strategically placed table and floor lamps throughout your rooms, use candlelight when appropriate, and limit overhead lighting to bathrooms, laundry rooms, and kitchens.
5. Buy what you love. When you buy Christmas ornaments, you don’t buy them because they are modern or traditional; you buy them because they speak to you. Perhaps they remind you of a moment in time, a place or a person. The more you channel that gut feeling into your bigger decorating decisions, the more likely you are to love your rooms. I have always maintained that the closer you come to loving every single thing about every object in your home, the more consistent the style of your home will be.
6. Have a party! The holiday season might indeed be the only time of the year that you entertain, but don’t let it be! The easiest way to see whether your rooms work is to host a party. There is wisdom in groups, so invite people over and see how they interact with your rooms. Observe whether they sit comfortably on your sofa or whether they are constantly rearranging themselves. See whether they move nimbly around your room or they have to move things aside. Watch to see whether anyone scoots a chair out of its place to better talk with someone and people have a place to put their drinks. Take stock and then make adjustments.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of "Flip! for Decorating.”