christmas decor at the biltmore house

Grand Staircase at Biltmore House

Do you feel daunted by holiday decorating tasks? Do you peer at a pile of tangled lights and can’t even fathom how you will possibly find the burned-out bulb that’s causing the entire string to flicker? Before you toss the ornaments and buy a pre-decorated tree in a box, take heart. We’ve gathered some great holiday decorating wisdom from experts who can walk you through the process from start to finish.

  • Get coordinated. Your tree and surrounding decorations will be part of your home’s décor throughout the holiday season. To get a cohesive look, consider them just as you would any other accessories. Take into account surrounding wall colors, style of furnishings, and nearby fabrics and textures when choosing your holiday decorating style and palette.
  • Make a statement. Wreaths are a welcoming focal point on your home’s exterior, but how do you pick the proper size? Experts say that if you have a standard 36” door and want an understated look, opt for a classically inspired 20” to 24” wreath. For a bold look, go for a more dramatic 28” to 30” wreath. If your front door is oversized, choose a 30” to 36” wreath to keep the scale in proportion.
  • Find the right length. When it comes to garland, getting the proper length is tricky, and it depends on whether you are swagging (hanging it in a drooping curve) or wrapping the garland around an object. For mantels, you’ll want to swag. To determine the proper length of garland, multiply the length of your mantel by 1.5. (So for a 6’ mantel, 6’ x 1.5 = 9’ of garland.) If you’d like the garland to drape down over the ends of the mantel, don’t forget to figure out how much you want it to hang over, and add that number into the final amount. For banisters that you swag, measure the length of the banister and then multiply by 1.5. To wrap a banister or a light pole, multiply the length and/or height by 2.
  • Get calculating. Most of us just eyeball how much is enough when it comes to lights and ornaments, but the experts at Biltmore House, who decorate more than 100 trees each holiday season, have a handy decorating guide that varies with the height of the tree. They say a 4’ tree requires 5 strings of 50 lights and 2 (2’ x 1’) boxes of ornaments. A 6’ tree needs 8 strings of lights and 3-4 boxes of ornaments. An 8’ tree should use 12 strings of lights and 5 boxes of ornaments. Finally, a 10’ tree requires 20 strings of lights and 6-7 boxes of ornaments. As you go up from there, you should add at least 6 strings of lights and 2 boxes of ornaments for every additional 2’ of tree.
  • Finish it off. The finishing touches can make or break your Christmas tree. Don’t forget a subtle or stunning tree topper to cap it off and a tree skirt to hide the base. Bright packages or poinsettias can add a finishing touch.
  • Consider your pets. You may have heard that poinsettias can be deadly to pets and children, but they are actually much less dangerous than other common holiday plants. Poinsettia leaves contain a sap that will irritate the tissues in the mouth and esophagus. That can cause nausea and vomiting, but it would require ingesting quite a bit to reach a level of toxicity. In contrast, holly, mistletoe, lilies, daffodils and amaryllis are actually much higher in toxicity and can even be fatal if ingested in large enough quantities. Christmas trees themselves also pose some hazards to pets, particularly if they eat the needles, which can cause internal injuries, while the water – and particularly any chemicals you add to it – can be toxic. Regardless of the level of danger, it pays to use caution around holiday plants, children and pets.
  • Take a moment. It can be very tempting to just toss everything in one box in the rush to take down your holiday decorations, but resist the urge and take the time to organize it. Make sure lights work and wind them on rolls. Attach hooks to ornaments and throw away cracked or broken pieces. Pick the pine needles out of bows and stockings to prevent sap from staining. Taking a few extra minutes now will save you hours of frustration next year and lead to a more festive start to that holiday season.