Sparkly silver balls, pretty white flowers, candles everywhere. Getting ready for Christmas is easier than you think.
By Terry Trucco
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.
Candlelight from glass hurricanes and mercury-glass votives gives the table a flattering glow. White tulips, daisies or lilies, cut short and bunched in silver julep cups, look more relaxed than a complicated centerpiece. For the window, Susanna fashions a fanciful wintry scene with silvery mercury-glass ornaments and snowflakes hung with narrow ribbons. Then she lines the sill with a boxwood swag. "The snowflakes are like punctuation marks to sprinkle around the room," she says. For added sparkle, place one on each dinner plate.
Susanna puts out big bowls of moss-covered balls and silver ornaments on the coffee table, scattering groupings of mercury-glass votives and paperwhites. The paperwhites, nestled in moss, are grown from bulbs planted in white pasta bowls. "These delicate flowers are so inexpensive and easy to grow," she says. "And they make a great project for kids."
Fresh-cut flowers in silver julep cups share space with pillar candles and gold-framed mirrors on the mantel. Susanna arranges topiaries along with bejeweled ornaments in the shape of initials—one for every family member. "I like to use the holidays as an opportunity to clean up the clutter and create a landscape that lasts for months," says Susanna.
—Stick with flowers in one color, like white lilies, daisies or tulips, or lots of red roses.
—Think seasonless. Hurricanes and votive holders are useful for the holidays and year-round.
—Topiaries never go out of style, and quality artificial versions last forever.
—Buy one roll of fat satin ribbon in a color you love to hang ornaments or wrap presents.
—Crown the tree with your child's handmade star or a favorite memento.
—Buy lots of inexpensive votive candles, and put them everywhere. "Candlelight always works wonders," Susanna says.
—Layer fake moss balls with silver ball ornaments or pomegranates in hurricane lanterns for a mantel or table.
Originally published in the December 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.