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Decking the Halls | Collections Add Warmth, Character to Holidays

As temperatures dip and humidity becomes a memory, we naturally spend more time indoors. It’s easy to see why so many of us opt to decorate our homes for the holidays, and, even if decorating isn’t always at the top of the to-do list, why it can be meaningful to do so.

In years past, it could be challenging to add something significant to a collection, especially if looking for vintage or discontinued items. But now, with year-round holiday shopping and dozens of online auction sites, it’s a lot easier. People can collect just about anything for the holidays, but there are perennial favorites: trains, nativity scenes, angels, vintage ornaments, tree toppers, and nutcrackers.

Some of us like to decorate the exact same way each year. It’s a tradition; just like what is served for the holiday meal or what the family does together on Christmas morning. Decorative items have been carefully collected for generations, each has story, and each has a designated place. But if you’re game for changing things up — a little or a lot — designers offer valuable and easy-to-follow advice on how to best display your holiday collections.

The first thing you’ll need to do is to pull those holiday boxes out and evaluate what you’ve got. Do you really love everything? Decorators would never suggest tossing family heirlooms, but there might be an opportunity to edit. While this may border on insulting for some, it is possible to have too much décor.

Ideally, holiday displays feature special items — whether a family treasure or some prizes you snagged at a tag sale — that successfully call attention to themselves, but don’t overwhelm a room. When thinking of decorating a room (or an entire floor), pick your best and most meaningful items. You might be surprised that many of your decorations naturally “go” together. Perhaps you collect different versions of the same thing, such as snowflakes or nutcrackers. These can easily be made into, depending on the size of your collection, a larger grouping or several smaller vignettes.

Create groupings
The first thing to know is that there is only one “right” way to decorate: Put things you love on display. The items people inherit, save and purchase to add to their collections each year are personal, and what appeals to you might not appeal to one of your friends. Who cares? It’s your home, and you will be the one spending the most time in it.

There are, however, rules of thumb. Just like when decorating a house or a room, create visual appeal with varying height, shapes, patterns, colors and sizes. If one of your collections is complementary to colors already in a specific room of your house, plan on displaying it there. If you’re introducing a new color within your collections (let’s say bright red for Christmas), see if there are easy ways to repeat that color in some of your other décor — like candles, throw pillows or even fresh flowers.

Here are a few general suggestions from designers to create beautiful groupings:

  • Arrange displays in odd numbers, which tend to be more visually appealing than those with even numbers.
  • Opt to put displays on lower-than-eye-level, flat surfaces: end tables, shelves, coffee tables, deep window ledges and even the back of a toilet. While this may seem counter-intuitive, the pros suggest not using your mantel for collections. Even though a mantel is often the focal point of a room, it’s likely too high for anyone to easily see and appreciate.
  • Keep groupings appropriate for the space available to avoid clutter. For example, a dining room table will be able to hold a much larger display than an entry table.
  • Group objects with varying heights. If necessary, use “risers” under some, which could be a book, or, especially during the holidays, a box wrapped in festive paper.
  • You can make seemingly unrelated objects “connect” by grouping them on a plate, tray, bowl or basket. This also helps give a natural boundary so the collection doesn’t become too crowded. If using a tray, another visual connection can be made by weaving in strings of beads, ribbons or greenery. Another beautiful way to display fragile items is to use glass vases, apothecary jars or glass domes.
  • Use lights to showcase some collections. A mirror, which captures light, placed behind or under a display can draw attention. Some groupings can be elevated to next-level with tiny, battery-powered Christmas lights woven through; others can benefit from candlelight.
  • Finally, consider adding family photographs or cherished holiday cards among collections.

Explore display options
If you are really committed to collections and displaying them in unique and different ways, here are two options to consider: display a collection on a Christmas tree or within greenery along a banister. While neither of these options are suggested for fragile or irreplaceable collectibles, when done well, the results are magnificent.

For trees, use clear fishing line, floral wire and/or picks around items you’re OK hanging. It might be a good idea to wrap the area with a ribbon first, so that the lines/wire don’t etch the surface. If possible, add a hook, and hang items from your collection.

For banisters: start with some greenery, and use floral wire, zip ties, or specialized garland ties to add pieces of your collection. Pay particular attention to weight and spacing. Place larger, heavier items where the garland is tied, giving you additional ways to secure the items.

The bottom line is that if you’re up for it, experiment with your embellishments.

You can always add (or take away) items until your decorations – and the rooms that house them – feel right to you. What objects you choose will depend on your personal tastes, budget and style. The goal of displaying any collection should be to stir up happy memories and add enjoyment, beauty and love to your holidays and your home.

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