Spoiler alert: This starts sad, but I promise a happy ending…just like your favorite Hallmark movie. Yes, it’s a post about decorating for Christmas, but it’s a bit of a journey (and your prize for sticking around is seven tips for a pretty holiday look without a ton of planning…next to a cash reward, what more could you want, hm?).
Before moving to LA, I had a long-standing Christmas tradition that involved a sleepover at my place with my twin nephews. We’d go buy a fresh tree, head to Target to pick out their yearly ornaments (and okay, I usually caved and bought them several when they couldn’t pick…auntie privilege), and settle in for the night with a big ol’ cheese pizza and tons of candy to decorate and watch holiday movies. When I left Florida, my absolute favorite weekend of the year stayed behind along with my family, and frankly, I didn’t feel festive enough last year to decorate. Sure, I bought a tree and then proceeded to cry my way through placing all the memories from years past on it (like I said, no this whole post won’t be one giant Joni Mitchell “River”-esque depressing monologue). But, it’s been almost two years, and I realized that it was time to start making some new traditions, starting with proper decorations to set the scene for the season.
By “proper,” I mean nothing more than something that actually brought me joy. In my last home, I didn’t care even the tiniest bit about my “Christmas aesthetic.” I’d throw around scraggly bows, dangle strange garlands in places that would inevitably fall off (left unfixed until January). While I appreciate a classic, kitschy look, this didn’t make me happy. Looking back, it was a lot like the holiday aisle at Big Lots come December 26—sparse, random and nowhere I wanted to be. BUT THIS YEAR IS DIFFERENT. Guys, I really actually tried, and whoa, I love coming home. I get so jazzed to know I’ll walk through that door after work to all the fairy lights on (thanks, timers) and all I need to do is light my pine-scented candles.
When I first discussed decorating and shooting my place for the blog, I told Emily I would take the more “last-minute DIY” angle for this story, except, ha, I should know myself better than to think I’m a DIY person (have I talked about the unfinished dining chairs sitting in a corner of my master bedroom enough times for you to understand the stakes here?). I’m more of an early minute buying person…if we can all agree that’s the opposite of last-minute DIY, but don’t worry Emily, I pulled out a few stops even for me to salvage this story. Really, though, it’s an excuse to show you guys my living and dining rooms again, this time just festooned for Christmas using nearly everything Target, because those guys have affordable holiday decor on lock.
Aside from what I bought, there were a few things I planned on doing going into this: dried oranges for garland and ornaments, and the addition of real greenery to anything faux for a lusher more natural look, but more on that in just a bit when we get there. Let’s start in the living room:
Creating a “Christmas Couch” With Simple Textile Swaps
“Swapping out textiles seasonally” always felt to me like the equivalent of women’s magazines telling me when I was younger that I’d be going “from day to night” far more often than I ever have (never). Who was really doing this? Sure, my mom would throw a random Christmas pillow on the sofa when I was younger, but a full swap was absolutely something I’d NEVER consider doing. Except well, for the sake of this shoot, I did it, and guess what. I’M OBSESSED WITH IT. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
I left one of my everyday pillows out because it played well with everything else, but I’m half tempted to never actually switch them back. I’m officially living the cozy life and DON’T MAKE ME GO BACK. But seriously, seeing that Fa la la pillow and those little gold embroidered Christmas trees fill my heart with childlike wonder and joy and I’m now a “winter textiles swap” person (once I figure out a more permanent solution than throwing my year-round pillows and blanket in the guest bedroom).
Neutral Tree + Homemade Goodies
The (Christmas-celebrating) world is divided into two subsects: those who take no issue with faux trees, and those that choose to torture themselves with a real evergreen. I am the latter. Every year, when it comes time to recycle this baby, I curse myself for the massacre of needles. But alas, I can’t be stopped and I will always opt for a real tree. This is a noble fir that I picked up at Lowe’s and it has that gappy vibe everyone is into right now. I like how you can load up a branch front to back and things dangle so nicely, sparkling and dazzling in the twinkle lights.
As for the decor, this is actually the first year in a long time I went with white lights. I’ve always been a colored-lights “just throw crazy stuff up on the tree and call it a day” girl (correction: let your small nephews throw crazy stuff up on the tree and call it a day). Someone once asked me if I changed my tree’s “color motif” every year and I’m pretty sure I rudely laughed in their face before I realized they were serious. No. I am not that person. This is why this year, once I realized that oh wait, people will be seeing my home and I needed to “try,” I opted to go for something a little more neutral so I could build on it over time. I also had a box full of handmade and drawn “ornaments” from my nephews that I needed to be sure made it up on those branches (see the paper and crayon snowman, for example). There’s enough going on in my apartment that something a little more minimal didn’t make me want to crawl out of my skin a week into the “merriment.”
Because I wanted some color, I thought to do what evidently everyone else on the internet also thought to do this year: dried oranges as ornaments. I definitely did not get the mailer that must have gone around to tell everyone this was the “look” of 2019, but regardless, I love it. Some string (in a white and red because…Christmas), a bag of small oranges and a few hours to dry them out in the oven (Erin from Francois et Moi has a great tutorial here) and boom, I supplemented my tree for about…$4. LAST-MINUTE DECORATING LIFE HACK. Put dried oranges on just about everything and you have an instant holiday lewk that feels warm, unpretentious, welcoming and a wee-bit British (i.e. all I ever want to feel).
Some of my favorite ornaments I scooped up this year with my nephews top of mind: the sloth, the fabric Santa, the clip-on glittery birds, and the ceramic turtle doves (I promptly forced my husband Charles to sit and listen to why I got those to represent our undying love). Oh goodness, and I can’t move on before discussing that Cookies For Santa plate and milk jug. No, there are no children in my house, but when I saw it, I knew I needed to hoard it for the day that there are because every year my sister runs around trying to find something to put cookies and milk in and it always ends up being an awkward mini loaf pan or something and this feels like a “pat yourself on the back for planning ahead” moment that I wanted to put on display.
Mix Real + Faux
HOT TIP: Faux garland is so great for using year after year and traditionally, I used to think it looked very fake, but Target has some good stuff. I went with their faux white pine and berries strand here and over the archway and I’m so happy with them. This one is 72″, so, maybe don’t be like me and instead measure before you figure out how much of something you need. I ended up with about 8 inches of bare mantel and had to guinea rig a solution. The left side there, by the candlesticks, is actually a piece of faux greenery also from Target in the same color/finish that I added to the end and BOOM, fixed.
Once I put the eucalyptus wreath on the door, however, I realized it was much “cooler” in tone than the garland and side by side, they looked a little jarring. My solution? Get some actual eucalyptus (I had some leftover from my Thanksgiving tablescape) and shove in pieces of it about every 6 inches or so. This accomplished two things for me: it married the color/style gap between the wreath and the garland, but it also brought some life to the faux-ness. (Again, this stuff is good, so it doesn’t NEED it, it was just a visual preference for me).
Can we talk about the cutest stocking? Growing up in Florida, a land devoid of mantels and fireplaces for obvious reasons, we were not a “stocking” family. Every now and then, my mom might tie some to the stair banister, but they were never full of anything. Well folks, that’s over. I live in LA now, a land with NON-FUNCTIONING fireplaces, but “fireplaces” nonetheless. LA is all about illusions after all, so as long as it looks like a fireplace, that’s all that matters, right? Throw some fairy lights in, no problem (and maybe light some candles—I used these candlesticks from Target—if you’re brave and attentive for that real “fire” feel). This knit guy with the poms is maybe my favorite thing I got this year but HEAVY (hence the nutcracker on top of the stocking holder for that one…I have a little cut-out in the molding that meant less stability, but it’ll probably be fine if you have a normal 90-degree angle on your mantel).
And, in one of my favorite “last-minute” moves to use up random leftovers of things, I took some ribbon I had bought for my gift wrap, tied a little piece into a bow and velcroed it to this art piece. “Dressing up” your artwork can be SO fun for holidays (remember Emily’s googly eyes over that oil portrait?). It’s so unexpected, costs basically nothing and will get everyone’s attention, I promise.
Sprinkle Christmas Cheer Throughout Other Vignettes
This whole post should be titled “Never Underestimate the Holiday Styling Power of the Bottle Brush Tree” because if you look closely enough, there is absolutely one in nearly every shot angle of my home. I threw some on my console table, on a side table, on my coffee table, on my TV stand…and just WAIT until you get to the dining room. Bottle brush tree galore! They are very affordable and if you don’t mind glitter sprouting from nearly everywhere until the end of time, they’re almost all you need to fill in your home with some Christmas spirit outside of the “big” moments (tree, fireplace). Same goes for leftover ornaments, pieces of greenery (such as free scraps from the tree lot), and super budget-friendly figurines, like these reindeer that make me so happy.
That blonde wood bowl is VERY good guys, and I will absolutely be leaving it out year-round, but for now, it screamed “FILL ME WITH JINGLE BELLS” so I had to oblige. These are 2-inch bells and honestly just so dang fun. Put them in a vase or bowl but save a few to sprinkle throughout other vignettes (or on a gift!).
The last “moment” I threw together in this room was the bench by my window. I moved the rust-colored velvet cushion into the guest bedroom (which honestly, I treat like a storage unit, so I know this is not a universal solution) and draped my sheepskin pelt a little asymmetrically. I gotta say, I’m quite proud that this placement was my first go at it. The less fussing you do sometimes, the more effortless things look. I over-ordered pillows for my sofa, but thank goodness, because they worked great on here. The green pillow with the poms is SO cute and you might not see it here, but it has these little wood beads at the base of the pom pom which makes it extra special.
Alright, let’s move this party into the dining room…after you.
Accentuate Your Architecture
Ever since I saw Ginny’s garland-bedecked archway into her dining room, I dreamed of being able to do the same thing. So when I stepped foot into this apartment for the first time, I instantly knew it would fulfill my greenery-over-archway dreams. This is three pieces of faux garland, hung with some small nails I dug out of an IKEA art hanging kit. Because of my 100-year-old plastered and heavily textured walls, Command hooks simply laughed the THREE times I tried them…in three different sizes and configurations (both the laughter and hook type). I finally gave up and went to get the hammer. Can’t wait to patch those holes come January, truly…though worth it to me.
Implement a Big “Holiday Moment” (That’s Actually Really Easy)
Over on the console, I went for a “sort of kind of” holiday village. It was my initial vision to do a jam-packed Christmas village here, so I bought what felt like hundreds of trees and houses, and then I put them all down and the credenza ATE it. It was like starting with a pan full of fresh spinach and ending up with 2 tablespoons of cooked spinach. My dreams were dashed and I came up with plan B: mix in everyday things with some holiday feels and pretend it was your plan all along. I’m actually very happy with it and don’t think I haven’t sat at my dining table some mornings and nights just looking over here with a twinkle in my eye and sugar plums dancing in my head. When you boil it down, it’s really just three new vignettes: the two bottle brush trees + seasonal candle (above), a footed bowl with some leftover greenery and bottle brush trees (below) and ceramic houses with some fairy lights shoved up into them on top of books which were already there (photo after next). Oh, and some oranges from the grocery store because #theme.
My favorite thing about this whole scene is probably those beautiful wreaths hanging by velvet ribbon over the windows. I LOVE a wreath-over-window (or, as you’ll see, mirror) moment and two windows meant I had two chances to do it in this room. Quickly: I’m very much obsessed with this wreath. It looks so high-end with the dangling brass bells and it matches the garland in the living room, so both spaces speak to each other.
Over on the bar, my vintage gilded mirror called for another ribbon-hung wreath, but I went for the faux cypress leaf version instead to keep things more minimal. The addition of some new brass barware (the Project 62 line looks really good, folks) and a few bottle brush trees and voila, my “holiday bar.”
When In Doubt, Keep It Simple (For Real)
When it came to what to do on my table, this was REALLY a “last-minute DIY” situation because I had no idea (which is typically the case with my table). The day before this shoot, Emily texted me that she had some leftover garland at her house from her shoot, and I could come grab some if I wanted. So grab it I did, not knowing what I planned on doing with it, but I ended up throwing it on the table just to “think” and when I finally came to, I realized it was exactly where it belonged. I pulled out my kitchen sheers because I do not have clippers (apartment living), trimmed it to size and pulled out some small, cheap glass votives I had in my cabinets already to make things moody. AND THEN, I had some extra oranges from my tree ornaments and I just scattered some throughout to connect both rooms visually.
But wait, there’s more. At the last minute (okay, the night before), I wanted to give the room more of a “casual party” vibe and wanted a dessert set up, so I ran out to Ralph’s with the intention of making something with the zero minutes I had left in my life to whip up a baked good and found a pre-made bundt cake instead. A simple glaze (though I’m sure you could find one glazed already), some cranberries I rolled in sugar, and a smattering of fresh sage leaves is all I needed to fool Sara into thinking I had actually made this when she made it over to shoot. SEMI HOMEMADE TRICKERY.
I will most certainly be doing this again in the future, and if you do, as well, everyone will think you’re a domestic goddess. Set out some cute appetizer or dessert plates (these from the Hearth & Home with Magnolia are super cute with festive sayings on them that are subtle but still fun), flatware and napkins, and with very little effort, you just became the hostess with
the mostest time to actually blow dry your hair before people show up.
And thus ends my holiday dissertation. It started out bleak, but I promised it would end on a high note, and there’s no higher note than being pulled together enough to maybe put some curls in your hair (at least for me).
I rounded up ALL the goods I got from Target below in a few groupings, and yes, at the end of the season, you might find this stuff is sold out either in-store or online, so for that I’m SO sorry, but ALWAYS check your local stores because they restock or people make returns and you might just find what you’re looking for. Oh, and for a few more exclusive tips, I wanted to share the story Ruemag.com featured of my home as well, so check that out if you’re interested. Thanks for stopping by and the happiest of holidays and the merriest of Christmases to you all.
1. Wooden Ornaments Set of 3 | 2. 28″ LED Battery Operated Wreath | 3. Lit Up House Ceramic Christmas Ornament | 4. 13″ Lit Gold Metal and Capiz Star | 5. 3ct Glass Christmas Ornaments Set Birds | 6. 72″ Faux White Pine Garland with Berry | 7. 8ct Glitter Pine Cone Ornament Set | 8. Green with White & Gold Wreath Gift Wrap Roll | 9. 40ct Shatter Resistant Veranda Ornament Set | 10. Fabric Santa White Ornament | 11. Embroidered Tree Skirt | 12. Ceramic Birds Ornament | 13. Sloth Ornament Ornament | 14. Artificial Cedar Stem w/ Pine Cones | 15. Cream w/ Black Swiss Dot Gift Wrap Roll | 16. Faux Leaf Ball Ornament | 17. Truck with Bottle Brush Tree Ornament | 18. Philips 300ct Incandescent Mini String Lights
1. Large Gold Glitter Christmas Tree | 2. Christmas Nutcracker Figurine Gold | 3. Knit Square Throw Pillow with Corner Poms | 4. Holiday Stocking Sour Cream Knot with Red Poms | 5. Milk & Cookies Stoneware Set | 6. Small Gold Glitter Christmas Tree | 7. Wooden Oval Bowl with Handles | 8. 2″ 16pc Jingle Bells Vase Filler | 9. Cream Faux Fur Oversized Throw Pillow | 10. Embroidered Trees Velvet Throw Pillow | 11. Holiday Stocking Green Stripe | 12. 3pc Taper Candle Holder Set | 13. Texture Faux Fur Throw Blanket | 14. 3pc Mini Deer Figurines | 15. 10″ 12pk Unscented Taper Candle Set | 16. 2pk Basic Stocking Holder | 17. Large Mercury Glass Christmas Tree | 18. Fa la la Velvet Oversize Lumbar | 19. Clear Glass Vase Large | 20. Channeled Faux Fur Throw Pillow | 21. 4pc Green Flocked Bottle Brush Trees | 22. Large Bottle Brush Tree | 23. Philips 50ct Battery Operated LED Dewdrop Lights | 24. Small Ceramic House
1. 24″ Faux White Pine Wreath with Metal Bell | 2. Set of 4 Linen Napkins | 3. 3pc Bottlebrush Trees | 4. Stainless Steel Cocktail Strainer | 5. 4pc Bottle Brush Christmas Tree Set | 6. Stainless Steel Cocktail Stirrer Spoon | 7. Ceramic House Figurines | 8. 5pc Stainless Steel Kayden Silverware Set | 9. 4ct Seasonal Appetizer Plates | 10. Oblong Brass Footed Bowl Gold | 11. 4pk Napkin Set Green | 12. 18″ Faux Cedar Wreath | 13. Dew Drop LED Lights w/ Copper Wire | 14. Bottle Brush Tree with Wood Stand | 15. 2.5oz Stainless Steel Double Jigger
***photography by Sara Ligorria-Tramp, design and styling by Arlyn Hernandez