Tonawanda News

December 16, 2013

Tips to spruce up your home decorations for the holidays

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — No matter how young or how old we are, each of us can recollect a Christmas memory on the spot, can’t we? Is it the season, the togetherness, the joy or perhaps just the magic of Christmas? 

I have vividly colorful and fond memories of my childhood Christmas mornings: dressed in my favorite red-and-black plaid flannel pajamas, racing down the stairs to see what Santa had chosen to leave me and my brother from our often lengthy lists. Those mornings were without sadness and regret; they were filled with the joy and the magic of Christmas. That is why I can recall them, and with absolute clarity remember the beauty of the tree my brother and I decorated with our mother, the smell of the cinnamon buns in the oven and the sound of Christmas carols being played on the radio.

As I’ve grown older, though, the memories have shifted. I don’t race down the stairs in the morning to see the presents under the tree, and no matter how hard I’ve tried, I don’t fit into those red-and-black plaid flannel pajamas. Now my Christmas memories are filled with the beauty of the season, and creating that beauty for my clients, my family and my friends.

I’ve been lucky to be involved in the annual Lewiston Tour of Homes each holiday season, where houses around the Village of Lewiston are chosen to be decorated by decorators and florists for a weekend house tour that fills tour goers with inspiration, cheer and a big dose of that Christmas magic. 

This year, unlike years past, I had the great opportunity of working with a blank canvas: a barn for last weekend’s event. I designed this space from top to bottom in my own signature style, and can now share tips and trade secrets with you on how to copy this look for your own home this year.

The trees at the barn are anything but traditional. The maple bark branches that burst from the trees enhances the Christmas tree that everyone has to the artful and sculptural tree that everyone wants. Here are a few tips on how to create this look in your own home:

• Don’t be afraid to go big. Fill your tree with branches cut from your own trees, lanterns, large-scale ornaments sold to be used outside, and sugar pine cones, which add a whimsical touch to a natural theme. 

• Group your ornaments in clusters. By stringing your ornaments onto floral wire, you can create clusters or balls of ornaments. This takes inexpensive, shatterproof ornaments and turns them into high-end, designer show stoppers.

• Avoid traditional tree toppers, if you’re looking to create one of these beauties. Out go the angel and the star, and in comes the branches, the live eucalyptus, ribbons and bows. 

• Uniformly wrap your gifts. Choose one paper — I use simple brown craft paper you can buy from any craft store — and tie them with silk ribbons. For a little added pizzazz, tie a few fresh tree clippings to the ribbon or attach a monogrammed ornament.

The exterior is just as important as the interior when decorating for Christmas. At the barn, I asked Lockwood Greenhouse in Hamburg to create a special live arrangement for an urn just outside the front door. You can quickly and easily replicate the same look by filling an existing pot or urn with live tree trimmings you can often find for free at stores that sell live Christmas trees this time of year. Accent with pinecones, red dogwood branches, even some dried hydrangeas and you’ll have a beautifully simple outdoor arrangement that will last you well into spring.

Often during this busy time of year, we get consumed with the hustle and the bustle of Christmas. It’s easy to do. We wanted to invite our friends and family over for dinner, but the time just slipped away. 

I’ve found that the easiest way to get your friends over to “ooh” and “aah” over your Christmas decorations is to throw out the idea of a sit-down dinner party and invite them over for dessert. This works because you can start the party later than normal, giving you and your guests time to cross a few things off your to-do list before the party. As an added bonus, you don’t have to spend hours cooking an elaborate dinner.

Here’s my super-secret 30-minute apple pie recipe you’ll want to make over and over again:

30-minute apple pie

5 medium Macintosh apples peeled, and diced

1/2 stick of butter, unsalted

2 tablespoons fresh honey

1 tablespoon orange zest

2 packages crescent rolls from the refrigerator case

Line a pre-coated glass pie plate with one package of crescent rolls. Cut off excess. 

In a sauce pan, combine the diced apples, butter, honey and orange zest and cook on medium heat until the apples have softened, stirring occasionally. 

Fill pie plate with apple mixture and top with one package of crescent rolls cut into strips and laid in a lattice pattern. Bake in an oven at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Serve with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate and you’ll be asked to bring dessert to every party in the new year.

There you have it, quick and simple tips for creating beautiful Christmas memories of outstanding decorations and delicious desserts to tuck in nicely with the ones you are sure to make with your family and friends. Enjoy the magic of Christmas, and happy New Year.

Artie Vanderpool is an award-winning interior designer based out of Western New York. Contact him at