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After celebrating Christmas for more than a decade in a 19th-century colonial, decorating expert Susanna Salk and her family—husband Eric and sons Winston, 9, and Oliver, 14—up and moved the festivities to a new house. Home for the holidays suddenly took on new meaning at the cozy shingled cottage on a secluded Connecticut lake. With its white walls and no trappings of history, the modern, low-key dwelling inspired Susanna's less-is-more approach to the holidays. "As much as traditions are special, I think you can get stuck in them," says Susanna, who is a design contributor for NBC's Today show. "The most luxurious-looking decorations are often the inexpensive ones, like masses of votive candles or bowls filled with silver balls." To keep things easy but elegant, she confines herself to a palette of orange, green and white, with a splash of silver for sparkle. And instead of fussy embellishments, her tables and windows embrace Mother Nature, with big helpings of fragrant boxwood, ivy and pine, and bunches of white tulips and paperwhites. "I love bringing nature into a room," Susanna says. "It doesn't cost a lot, you don't get tired of it and the house will look great all the way through New Year's."
Susanna trims the tree with garlands of beads and white lights, glittery snowflakes and plenty of ornaments, mostly silver or pearl-encrusted. When she wants to take a break from silver and white, she might try blue lights with silver ornaments or blue ornaments and white lights, along with heirloom decorations. "A tree looks beautiful when it reflects the personality of the family," she says. If inherited ornaments are in short supply, look for traditional silver balls. "Multiples create opulence," she says. Instead of a store-bought tree skirt, drape the base with a favorite scarf, an old pashmina or a piece of vintage fabric from a flea market.