As early as the Roman winter solstice of Saturnalia, the darkest time of the year was celebrated with light, festivals, and boughs of evergreen. The Christmas tree, dating to 16th century Germany, has been a Christian tradition for centuries— one that has been adopted by the masses as the holiday evolved into the 21st century.
Along with that evolution came “rules” about when it was socially acceptable to put up the tree, how it should be decorated, and when you should take it down. But according to Leslie Bowman, owner and founder of The Design Bar in Burr Ridge, those mandates are about as outdated as the one that banned wearing white after Labor Day.
“What we’ve been doing for the last two years with trees in the store is making them transition from fall to winter,” says Bowman, explaining that people stopped following those tree rules a long time ago and that many put up their tree well before Thanksgiving. “A fall tree for Thanksgiving can morph into a tree for Christmas just by taking certain ornaments on and off and changing the décor.”
While a tree is not mandatory for holiday décor, it can be the centerpiece and the starting point to transform your home from dark winter blah to a dazzling wonderland.
“Thanksgiving is so late this year that if you wait until after Thanksgiving to put up your tree, it’s only going to be there for three weeks,” she says. “We’ve been giving demonstrations at the store since October for ways to give your tree a one-of-kind look.”
If you’ve seen the trees at The Design Bar, you may have noticed the secret to Bowman’s Christmas tree success—layering.
“You have to start in the middle with a tree,” she explains. “I think that’s the thing that’s kind of hard to understand. Our decorated trees look a little bit different because we add the ornaments in layers from the center of the tree moving out.”
Bowman is also not afraid to defy the rules about what belongs on a tree.
“I try to think outside the box and put unusual items trees,” she says, adding that she will have at least two different themed trees in her own home this year. “I like things that are not your typical ornament. For example, we have some big wooden chains layered on a coffee table in the store … I put that on my tree.”
When decorating a tree in the store, she and her team take some of the largest ornaments, often as big as eight inches, and literally stuff them into the center of the tree that is most often neglected. From the center, elements are layered in, whether they be flowers or garland or ribbon or strings of lights.
Bowman says her most important word of advice when contemplating holiday décor is to remember that not everything has to match.
“That’s the magic of the holidays,” she adds. “We often have people who have Christmas trees that have sentimental value and oftentimes we have a pretty Christmas tree that’s all glammy, but we also want a family Christmas tree.”
The good news? You can have both and do them both well.
“Layering is key,” Bowman explains. “Not everything has to be over the top holiday. You can have anything you want as long as you’re doing it in a way that coordinates. The important thing is not to be stuck in a corner with one theme or another.”
One of Bowman’s favorite trees in the store right now has unusually long branches where ornaments can be hung and suspended as if in mid-air. There is even a tree in the store that stays up year-round. “We call it the dead tree and it’s literally just a twig tree that’s pretty to hang things on, regardless of what season it may be.”
Bowman says in addition to the two main trees in her home, she will likely also have a series of smaller trees in her foyer or on a console table—just for the ambient lighting and atmosphere.
“Since it’s so dark this time of year, the lights of Christmas décor can make our homes really pretty,” she adds. “Given what we’ve been dealing with in 2020 with the pandemic, I think people are really looking forward to the holidays. They’re not traveling and not going out, so this is a time to make your house feel extra special.”
The Design Bar is located at the Burr Ridge Village Center, 880 Village Center Drive, in Burr Ridge. For more information, call 630- 734-0000 or visit thedesignbars.com.
GLAM IT UP
This may be a year we all want to forget but that’s even more reason to make Christmas 2020 one to remember. Leslie Bowman and her team at The Design Bar offer these five tips and trends to watch for.
Bowman says many artificial trees this year might come pre-lit but that doesn’t mean you can’t layer in another type of light. “I’m seeing more trees with two different sized bulbs to create different looks,” she explains. “There are the larger, round, more old-fashioned bulbs as well as little LED light-up bulbs.” Something that is simplifying the art of holiday lighting are the abundance of battery-operated options. “So many things we have in the store now run on batteries and are operated on timers,” Bowman adds. “That’s kind of nice because you don’t have to run around and turn them off. We also have these beautiful snow globes that light up so it’s nice to be able to put them in places where you don’t have light or an outlet.” Another trend to watch for are light-up garlands and the use of non-traditional lighting to bring the Christmas tree to life.
When it comes to colored lighting, Bowman says all trend reports point to a white Christmas. “I don’t see colored tree lights much anymore,” she says. “Colored lights are not as in as the white lights.” But that doesn’t mean color can’t be a part of your décor. One thing she’s noticing is that the traditional Christmas green is being updated by younger generations into something more organic and modern. “I’m seeing a lot of this really pretty green that’s more chartreuse.” Browns and bronzes are also back in a big way. At The Design Bar in Burr Ridge, she even has a tree that is decorated in hues of blush pink and burgundy. One new tool for adding color to a tree or any holiday vignette is the pick that is used in floral arrangements. It can be used for holding ornaments or even a simple spray of holly leaves. Giant flowers are another way to add a pop of color, but her favorite discovery of the season are Chinese lantern flowers in velvet and gold—the perfect complement to any tree or tablescape.
DECK THE ORNAMENTS
Everyone has at least one container of tried and true holiday ornaments. Some were inherited with beloved family memories; others made by children. To make a tree more cohesive, Bowman says the key with ornaments is to mix and match. She recommends layering ornaments of various sizes, textures, and materials. “The teardrop shape is very in right now,” she says. “If you like a more glammy tree look, be sure to layer the crystal in with more organic pieces like wood and organize it so it’s toned down a bit.” Need a good example? She recommends checking out the store where they have a tree on display with 30 different types of ornaments in a variety of shapes, sizes, and color.
TABLESCAPES & MANTELS (OH MY)
The tree is an essential piece of the holiday décor but it’s not everything. Equally important are mantels (if you have them) or the tablescapes you create throughout your home. “When it comes to tablescapes and mantels, you have to make sure you have varying heights of items, along with different textures as well,” says Bowman. “You want to use layers with texture and then mix in some smooth ornaments.” When it comes to tablescapes, the sky’s the limit. One fun thing Bowman and her team have been doing is using wallpaper as the base for tablescapes and other holiday arrangements. “Instead of using an actual table runner, this creates a different feel. You then lay items on top of that; just make sure they don’t get too high.”
Nothing sets the mood like the smell of a Christmas tree, campfire, or even freshly baked cookies warming the kitchen on a cold winter’s day. Bowman says holiday scents are an essential finishing touch to your home décor, whether it’s a beautiful holiday candle or one of the new diffusers available at her boutique. “Some of the diffusers have porcelain flowers,” she explains. “It’s not like a candle where you have to burn it. It’s just a really pretty décor item that accents your coffee table.” Another way to bring fresh scents into your home during this time of year is a natural wreath or evergreen boughs for the mantel. It gives you the smell of a real tree without the mess.