Ask a Designer: Change it up for the holidays

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(AP) - The holiday season is synonymous with tradition. But that doesn't mean you have to fill your home with the same holiday decorations in the same color scheme every year.

"Until four years ago, I was Scrooge-y when it came to holiday decorating _ a result of seeing the same old thing over and over again," says Brian Patrick Flynn, a Los Angeles-based interior designer and executive producer of's "Holiday House."

But after finding ways to "reinvent the look and feel of Christmas for my own home," Flynn says he "rediscovered how much fun seasonal styling can be when you make it your own."

Here he and two other design experts _ Jon Call of Mr. Call Designs and Betsy Burnham of Burnham Design _ offer suggestions on shaking up holiday decorating.


Call's family takes a creative approach to Christmas stockings: On the night before Christmas Eve, they make new stockings by sewing together large pieces of felt (inexpensive at any craft store) using a simple blanket stitch.

"We let our imaginations fly when it comes to decorating the outsides, and top off each one with our name and the year," he says. "Making these stockings gives us all something to do the night before Christmas (Eve), and we share memories and laughter along the way."


A Christmas tree doesn't have to stay parked in one place. Flynn recommends putting a small tree on wheels (maybe in a vintage metal wagon or an old metal washtub with casters on the bottom) so you can change its location when you're entertaining to create space or to bring extra holiday style to a different room.

Another option is ditching red and green tree decorations for an understated color palette.

"This year I created a tone-on-tone tree using all shades of light gray," Flynn says. "To do this right, it's all about having a balance of texture, finish, shape, scale and proportion."

Try a white tree if you'll be using light colors and neutrals, or a green tree with decorations in earth tones.

To shake up your tree's decorations, Call suggests going with a theme.

"Last year for a client, I indulged in masses of vintage mercury-glass ornaments of all sizes and shapes. Silver was literally dripping off the tree. It was spectacular," he says. "This year we are changing it up a bit and creating a completely edible tree, including childhood favorites such as homemade popcorn balls, small sacks of chocolates tied with a ribbon and hung from the branches, and pungent gingerbread."


If you have minimal space, Call says you can skip the tree altogether without losing any holiday cheer. Instead, cluster together a bunch of white poinsettias. They set a holiday tone in a fresh way, he says, and in a large group look "almost like snowfall."

Or create your own "tree" out of branches: "In my kitchen, I love to fill a large galvanized pot with armfuls of branches full of red berries," Call says. "As the season progresses, I simply clip incoming cards to the arrangement so that everyone can enjoy. It's become a tradition over the years, and everyone loves to come and check out my `family tree.'"


Christmas doesn't just happen in your living room. Flynn suggests adding a tiny tree to any space, even a breakfast nook.

To spice up a staircase, he created a garland out of "old men's flannel and denim shirts cut and stitched" into pennant squares with tiny pockets. Strung together, they create a colorful advent calendar (mark all 25 days with sew-on varsity letters). Each one can hold a tiny gift and "add life and activity to an otherwise humdrum space."

And for a new twist on outdoor decorating, Burnham suggests investing in a professional decorating service to string your outdoor trees with white lights. "I don't mean drape lights over branches. I mean really wrap the trunk and every branch," she says.

She had this done at her Los Angeles home several years ago and is still impressed with the look. "It is the most spectacular thing when I light the trees up at night, and it's something I would have never been able to do myself," she says. "The lights haven't needed changing or redoing, and it's been a couple of years now."


"One of the most searched-for terms on is `mantel decorating,'" Flynn says. For homes with a flat-panel TV mounted above the mantel, he has a high-tech idea: Burn images to DVD that coordinate with the accessories you lay out on your mantel, then let the DVD run during holiday entertaining.

For one project, Flynn displayed colorful pop art images (including a reindeer by artist Jonathan Fenske) on the TV, and then put colorful items like candy in apothecary jars and brightly colored ornaments on the mantel "to make it all pop."

Call agrees there's no need to hold back with color: "The holidays are a time for indulgence, and that always means color to me," he says. "Commit to a color scheme and go for broke!"

Tradition definitely has its place. But it can coexist with bursts of creativity and playfulness.

"It's OK to bust out the old red and green," Flynn says. "Just change it up somehow to make it more exciting."

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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