Design lesson: Outdoor holiday decorating
As far back as I can remember, the task of decorating the outside of our house at Christmastime fell to me and my dad. With zeal I directed my father to hang greenery and ornaments across the entire roofline and over the porch of our modest bungalow. To my child's eye, only yards of red, yellow, blue and green coloured lights (the embodiment of holiday cheer) could compensate for a lack of snow (pretty likely in southern California, where we were living). For the record, my husband maintains that 25 years later my dictatorial approach has changed very little. Here is some well-seasoned advice for bringing holiday cheer to your home's exterior.
Just as grocery shopping with a list can prevent costly impulse buys and oversights, it's wise to prepare a plan of action before you ascend the ladder with lights in hand. Here are five tips for effectively lighting your home's exterior.
1 Take a photograph of the façade of your home and draw in your ideas with a marker. Try several options before settling on one. With a detailed plan, you can accurately calculate your lighting requirements.
2 Make sure lights are working before you hang them. If you are combining lights and greenery, save a step by wrapping garlands with lights before stringing them up.
3 Use the architecture of your home as a guide. Follow roof lines, windowsills, and other significant elements, such as window boxes or a gazebo. Your goal is to highlight those existing shapes, not work against them.
4 Create a pleasing vignette by lighting several trees or shrubs (a group of three is appealing). Vary the bulb size to suit each plant. For every foot of tree, use at least a 100-count strand of lights and weave it in and out of tree branches, creating layers of light that emanate from within.
5 Highlight any evergreens with coloured floodlights in crisp white or seasonal green. (Avoid red lights for this purpose, since they make green trees appear muddy.)
Dos and Don'ts of exterior decorating
DO consider the architecture. Classic and formal homes look best with tightly woven greenery displayed symmetrically. Victorian homes are exuberant and accommodate coloured ornaments, elaborate bows and draped greenery. Colonial styles call for simple decorations. Complement a ranch bungalow with looser greens such as cedar, and natural elements like pinecones.
DO mix fresh and permanent garlands. Place fresh greens near a door to appreciate the fragrance. For large areas, a synthetic garland is a good investment; braid strands for fullness and impact.
DO calculations in advance. For significant straight runs, such as a roof line or railings, multiply the distance by 2½ to determine the amount of garland needed (for a draped effect, multiply by three).
DON'T choose small wreaths. For a door that's 35 inches wide, choose a wreath that's 24 to 30 inches in diameter. For a 48-inch-wide door, a diameter of 30 to 36 inches is ideal.
DON'T overlook an occasional extravagance, such as swagging a back deck with garlands or filling a bird bath with mirrored ornaments.