Lights, ribbons, tinsel, flowers — how do you get that perfect look?
We asked designer Ken Neddo of Classic Florals in St. Petersburg to help with this yearly decorating event.
* What do you see as the general trends in Christmas tree decor overall?
Most of what we saw at market (wholesale market for retailers and designers) was the "lodge look." This incorporates elements such as birch logs, furry animals, berries, pine cones, with true red as the main color.
* What about Florida?
We got a lot of requests for "Coastal Christmas" last year. Since it is currently our No. 1 requested look for year- round florals, we feel that it will be in very high demand for Christmas again this year.
* Are old decorations back? Like bubble lights and big bulbs?
I think that old-time decor will always be in style. To a lot of people, the holidays are a time to rekindle old associations with family and friends or just fond memories of days past. Old decor can do that. However the trend in lights is definitely LED lighting and a big new trend are rice lights. These are the small lights frequently sold in short stings that are battery operated. The effect on a tree is breathtaking. They provide a very even display of lights and give the effect of tiny stars peeking out of the tree.
* What about colored trees? Or silver trees?
Colored trees and silver trees can provide a great effect. They are very much a personal judgment call. I utilized a chartreuse green tree once and decorated it with black and silver. The look was amazing, but would probably not be for every home.
* Are ribbons on trees still a trend?
Yes. Ribbon can add a texture and element to a tree that cannot be achieved any other way. Wired ribbons allow you to make loops and tucks that create movement. I try to always use at least three different styles and sizes of ribbon in every tree.
* What is the most unusual thing you have used when decorating a Christmas tree?
I have used fishing poles with lures and bobbers. I did one with car tires. I have seen model ships used. One year, I made one out of clear plastic and packing tape, which required a fan to stay inflated — not one of my more successful projects.
* If you had the dream tree to decorate what would be on it?
Some of my favorite trees have been done with more natural elements such as hops vines, butterflies, birds, berries, fragrant herbs and flowers. Some of the origins of the Christmas tree go back to celebrating the end of long winter nights and looking forward to warmth returning to the world. I love to garden, so things of the earth always appeal to me.
* What is on your tree that you have at home?
Every year my tree is different at home. I usually buy stuff throughout the year that I think might inspire me for Christmas and the final cut doesn’t happen until I pull the 80-plus totes out of the attic to start the project.
* What is the simplest tree you have ever seen?
Well that would be Charlie Brown’s tree with one lone ornament and no needles. My neighbors always put up one of those 1950s silver trees. They used one ornament on each of the limbs and an old rotating color wheel spotlight. It was always beautiful.
* What should you do first after getting your tree in the stand, with plenty of water? Sugar water? Bleach in the water?
I would recommend using one of the tree preservatives available on the market. Sugar water promotes bacterial growth and bleach is not always easy to deal with. Marketed retail products are generally safe and easy to work with. I will say there are a lot of artificial trees that are amazingly real-looking. They are much less problematic and usually come pre-lit. Just a thought.
* Where do you put it?
Ideally, a tree should be placed out of sunlight and away from warm drafts but let’s face it, this is a showpiece, so put it where you want and make sure to keep it watered.
Keep in mind it will likely become a fire hazard by the end of the season.
* What do you start with? Lights? If lights, how do you put them on so the wires are not showing?
Lights are always first. You can wrap the trunk very heavily with lights, LED work well for this, it gives the tree the effect of glowing from within. To really make this work well I would recommend about 150 to 200 lights per foot. This can also be a super cool effect if you use one color of lights in the center and another color on the branches.
Regular Christmas light strands have become so inexpensive you could bring the wires under the branches and use electrical ties to hold them in place, work the lights through the needles, and at the end of the season throw them out with the tree.
If you choose the more traditional method, I suggest starting the lights at the trunk, run the strand to the end of the branch, then back down to the trunk and out the next branch. Just wrapping around the tree at the tips of the branches looks ridiculous.
* What comes next?
I usually do ribbon next. I like three to five bows at the top incorporating multiple ribbons. I use long tails of ribbon. Some people bring those straight down , but I prefer to weave through the branches. I also use multiple bows throughout the tree. These set up focal areas that I can then develop by using other elements such as flowers, feathers, holiday picks, etc. I like to run ribbon through the entire tree as a pathway to carry your eye.
The large mesh ribbon, sold at craft stores in 18-inch rolls, is a great product if wadded and stuffed into the tree. It comes in many colors and creates a wonder effect with light shinning both through it and on it.
* How much ribbon?
You can estimate: 7?½-foot tree, 12 yards, 9-foot tree, 14 yards, 10-foot tree, 16 yards.
* What’s next?
I like to work from the inside of the tree out. The next thing I usually do is large ornaments 6-inches to 8-inches in diameter. I recess them into the tree not at the end of branches.
After that, I work on focal points in the tree. The bows usually help determine those. I start by putting bows at the top. If you have a tree topper, put it on and make the top of the tree the main focal point by adding florals, etc. Then start building focal points on down the tree.
An easy method is to build out from the bows or incorporate things such as angels, Santas, Teddy bears, etc., laying them on the branches. I don’t do a lot with garland, but that would be a next step.
After that, I fill in with ornaments. My goal is to fill in empty spaces and try to distribute them evenly on the tree. Last but not least is the tree skirt. This does not necessarily have to be a skirt. Buffalo snow works great as do interesting pieces of fabric. Have fun with that.
* I know decorating a whole house for Christmas is a huge job, but do you have a guideline, like if you go over-the-top on your tree, should you downplay the rest of the house?
Decorating the rest of the house I think depends on a lot of factors. If you are planning on entertaining during the holidays my rule of thumb is to have holiday anywhere you plan for your guests to be.
The dining area is a must. Be creative. I have seen some amazing chandeliers decorated, chair backs and centerpieces.
Simple things in the bathroom such as a glass cylinder with ornaments and a sprig of evergreen sitting next to a scented candle is nice. Pine boughs on the cocktail table with a bow, ornaments and a candle can work.
The key is use a constant theme throughout the house. Holiday is not a year-round decor, so if it doesn’t match a particular room that is less of a problem.
If you are more of a just-the-family for the holidays, a little less over-the-top is fine, but let’s be honest, Christmas is all about the magic of the season.