Holiday Decorating Ideas

An Interior Designer’s Tips for Making Your Home Festive

Let’s talk holiday decorating ideas.

Whether it’s delicious food, quality time with family and friends, or a chance to display all of your favorite decorations, the holidays are a time to indulge in all things festive. I love the bustle and celebration and believe that the all-important holiday spirit starts in a well-furnished home. Every year brings a new opportunity for interesting holiday decorating ideas.

It’s up to you to create the right ambiance for your space, so start early. A month or two of planning makes all the difference, and I encourage you to work ahead. Starting early also means avoiding the holiday shopping rush and stress about getting it all done. Below, how to make the most of your space, just in time for the holiday cheer.

Photo by Treetopia

The Tree

When you hear “tree decorating,” you might think only Christmas-time, but the truth of the matter is that stringing up ornaments on branches has its roots in holidays around the world. With a little bit of innovation, a festive tree can be a great decorative piece no matter the event.

What’s trendy now: rustic-style Thanksgiving trees, laden with cards expressing gratitude. Simply arrange nice branches in a vase to get that homey autumnal feel. (Insider tip: Head to your local flower district or nearby flower market and tell them exactly the vibe you’re looking to convey. They will help you pick the right type of branches for your space.)

Photo by AM Dolce Vita


(left) photo by Marks & Spencer (right) Photo by Louise de Miranda

On tree decorating, I believe there are three distinct paths: one nostalgic, one aesthetic-based, and one that blends the two.

1. Nostalgic

On nostalgia: “The key is to embrace it. Nothing will match, there will be handmade items from your kids, gifts from holidays past and ornaments you’ve picked up along the way.  What’s fun about this décor is that there are no rules, and it’s a great chance to get the whole family together for a tree trim that also provides a walk down memory lane.

2. Aesthetic

For a more glamorous tree, the more dramatic, the better. Break out of expected color pairings and go for something new and interesting. I recommend organizing your ornaments by color and style beforehand to create a cohesive tree. My other tip: Go shopping to see what’s on the shelves, see what you are drawn to, then dig in on quantity. Stores like Pier1West ElmPottery BarnTarget, and Michaels are great resources for affordable seasonal décor.

“One year my look was pine cones, raffia, and artificial snow. Not only was my tree bedecked with these items, but the snow was piled high onto every console table, creating the ultimate winter wonderland. Another time, I went all out with red bulbs, and filled every vase in the living room with them, then created amazing dining room centerpieces with the vases. This helped tie everything back to the red bulbs on our tree.”

3. Jekyll and Hyde

If your love of nostalgia can share a space with your flair for style, I vote for a “Jekyll and Hyde” approach. “Over the years our Christmas trees have mostly been positioned in a corner or in the front window, creating the perfect opportunity to sneak in those mismatched keepsakes just around the bend.  This way you can create a theme for the front section of the tree and simply carry over any lights, garland, or snow to the back where the loved, but less-coordinated mementos are hung.

Table Settings

Festivities naturally go hand-in-hand with parties, so table settings are key. A good centerpiece can uplift the whole dining room, and bring the mood up along with it. Think about what kind of color palette you want to use and how it relates to your home—a traditional selection of deep oranges and yellows conveys a classic Thanksgiving vibe, while a teal and amber pairing is a touch more elegant. Metallic accents add a modern twist to the ritual, and you might even consider throwing in a calming neutral shade to balance out the look.


    Photo by Annie Spratt


    Photo by Lisa Kollberg (


    Photo by Rikki Snyder


    Photo by Alex Amend Photography


    Photo by Marcson Homes Ltd.

Keep your base colors down to one or two for optimal cohesiveness. Flowers and plants are always a welcome addition to any setting, regardless of the occasion. A well-crafted bouquet on the table is a time-tested centerpiece, but I also like working with bundles of wheat, potato vine, and even succulents for fall flings. These options make for instant conversation pieces and spice up a traditional meal. Another way to add a little greenery into your décor scheme: Tuck a few sprigs of fresh herbs (I’m partial to rosemary and thyme) around your napkin holders.

The easiest way to incorporate greenery into your home décor around the holidays is to choose accessories that showcase the shade. These add dimension to a room without completely changing the original aesthetic.

Another area of table décor that I like to add a personal touch to is handwritten notes or place cards. These are a thoughtful way to show your guests and visitors how much you appreciate them. Insider tip: The right stationery makes all the difference. I love super-thick card stock—it’s worth the tiny splurge! That kind of attention to detail will make your party a memorable event, an effect that can be further strengthened by the addition of simple party favors and keepsakes. My kids love to make the place cards and fuss over who sits where. They make for a great keepsake for visiting family and friends.


Choosing quality textiles for your napkins or tablecloths can have a dramatic effect on the feel of your room. A bold color choice can strengthen an otherwise delicate palette, while a creamy, subdued array of neutrals can cool down a fiery space. Layer your napkins for a pleasing complexity, or fold them origami-style into an intriguing shape.

By Brandi Hines Events + Design Boerne


Nothing completes the holidays like delicious, home-cooked meals. Aside from a few iconic staples (my favorites include orange-cranberry sauce and classic stuffing), there’s a lot of room to maneuver in terms of dishes. You can go comforting and familiar, or try something unexpected and healthy, yet no less tasty. From gluten-free to vegetarian, there is no shortage of easy-to-prepare, scrumptious recipes to fill every need.

My fail-safe tip: Always serve one tasty twist on a holiday classic, like this green bean casserole that features spicy-sweet Dijon mustard, caramelized pecans, and bacon. Your guests will appreciate the familiarity of the dish, but applaud your zest for introducing innovative flavors.

If you’re worried about the cooking time of a full meal, an evening party is the perfect time to invest in tiny, mouthwatering finger food. Guests will love the cute, bite-sized presentation, and your kitchen will house fewer dishes to wash.


    Photos by Neha Deshmukh and Gregory Bourolias


    Photo by Stefan Johnson


    Photo by Joanna Kosinska


    Photo by My Sweet Savannah


    Photos by Toa Heftiba and Annie Spratt

And last, but most importantly, desserts! A rich complement of courses should be balanced out by something sweet. The typical course of order is pie, which is as reliable as it is delicious. The choices and flavors are endless too, ranging from spiced apple to pumpkin to even the unexpected ice cream pie. But because the holidays are about indulging just a little bit, one of my personal favorites is the impressive eggnog pudding. It looks utterly grand on the table and provides an elegant finale to any holiday feast. If a slice of pie isn’t your style, try a piece of creamy red velvet-white chocolate cheesecake or crème brûlée at your next gathering.

Plates and Cutlery

Aesthetics notwithstanding now’s the time to think about your plates and cutlery. They’ll be the stage for whatever you decide to serve, so make it count. A table setting trend I love is gilded flatware. In a world of silver knives and forks, that warm shine of color is an eye-catching and unexpected accent that pairs well with any palette. Its sister style, a matte finish, is an equally attractive and modern option.


    Photo by Janet Paik


    Photo by Michelle Edwards


    Photo by Alisa Anton

With plates, round, white ceramic is my go-to, but there’s no need to stop there. To get that high-end, French-chic vibe, serve meals centered on square dishes with liberal garnishes.

Another option is to throw some texture into the mix, in the form of chargers. I recommend mercury glass, woven jute, or hammered bronze for very elegant options. For a take on East-meets-West, try these Korean-style bronze dishes brushed with dramatic tree-sap lacquer. Your guests will fawn over the artful contrast of these pieces, so pair it with a food that is sure to match.

The Fireplace Mantel

When it comes to fireplace mantel décor, I prefer a classic, but lush, winter-green approach.

Both holly and white pine are native to New Jersey, and branches of either variety make for beautiful fireplace mantle decorations. Ask your local nursery which variety of greenery they offer for the holiday season, then display accordingly on your mantle or even as a centerpiece on your dining-room table.

“I’ve also been known to bend to whimsy and go all out with a non-traditional color schemes (turquoise and cherry red are holiday favorites). Other hues I favor this time of year:  Kelly green and citron wrapping paper. And I love matte black holiday décor. Again, classic with an edge. When décor is modern, keep it modern. A little goes a very long way.


    Photo by Tobi Fairley Interior Design


    (left) Photo by Living Green Design (right) Photo by Maria Killam


    Photo by Lowe’s Home Improvement (

Outdoor Decorations

Let’s talk outdoor holiday decor. Here are my thoughts on the topic of front-door décor and wreaths:

Ne’er a bow shall meet. Frankly, I’m not super flowery or into bows. But, this can be a place for seasonal embellishment. I lean toward natural elements, branches, leaves, etc.

For those with a more playful or contemporary lean, colorful ornament wreaths are eye-catching and fun. This year, we’re starting with winter greens surrounding the door with simple white lights (LED, of course) and a great-big green wreath on the door. Then, we’ll embellish with natural materials thru fall and bring out a few colorful touches into December that foretell the theme inside.


    Photos by Jez Timms and Annie Spratt


    Photo by Jay Greene Photography




    Photo by GreenCraft Associates

Gift Wrapping

Gift wrapping can go one of two ways in our book:  super tonal or totally old school with the more-is-more-is-more approach.

I’m a sucker for brown paper packages tied up with string (always have been!). Lately, I’ve been digging the new take on the classic trend: matte black, interesting color combos, and natural greenery as accents instead of saccharine, store-bought bows.


    Photo by Meredith Ericksen


    Photo by Jeni Lee


    Photo by Tobi Fairley Interior Design

“I like to incorporate simple, natural materials. It jives with my tenets of honesty, beauty, simplicity, and authenticity. If it’s the thought that counts, then put a little thought into it and make the wrapping just as special as the gift you give. There’s great joy in giving a well-wrapped present.

And that’s a wrap (literally and figuratively!) on my holiday tips.


Sandra Funk is the founder and principal designer of House of Funk, a full-service and online interior design firm with offices in NY and NJ. This story originally appeared on her website in October 2016.