No matter how cozy your home, it can be transformed into a magical place during the holiday season. All it takes is a little dressing.
And whether you prefer glittering baubles or quiet ornamentation, there’s nothing like a garland to add punctuation.
Outlining a door or window, stretched across a fireplace mantel, draped around a chandelier, wrapping dramatically around staircase handrails, snaking down a dining table — the garland decorates in a definitive way, with many options for texture and color.
Fresh greens, of course, add another wonderful element, that of something alive, with a scent that is intoxicating and evocative of the season.
The earliest recorded use of garlands dates to the ancient Romans, who decked their homes with versions twined with laurel in celebration of the god Saturn during a festival that lasted from mid-December through the first of January.
As a decorating element, garlands and swags (garlands that loop or curve) are prevalent in ancient Greek and Roman classical design, and the motif long has been a favorite of architects, artists and designers of furniture, fabrics and accessories.
No matter what the style of your home, a green garland framing the front door adds a welcoming touch. The simplest way to add color is with bows or ribbons — and there’s no need to stick to conventional reds. Martha Stewart has used yellow satin at her Turkey Hill home in Connecticut, a lovely complement to a white facade and khakipainted door.
Stewart swagged cedar from the top of the transom molding, punctuating it simply with a tied ribbon, its ends notched crisply. A pair of ribbons also finished the tops of the garlands, which were wrapped with holly, adding more accents. The garlands puddled on the porch floor.
Another stunning approach is to follow Washington designer Mary Douglas Drysdale’s lead and use a leaf instead of evergreen garland — bay leaves and magnolias work — and dismiss conventional symmetry by looping the piece off center and pulling it lower to one side of a mantel.
Drysdale positioned a pair of burlap Christmas stockings, another unexpected element, to the left of center. The effect was electric against the background of a stark white living room punctuated with tangerine and gold art and accents, including mosaic tile around the fireplace surround.
Fragrant bay laurel garlands are available from Williams-Sonoma. A 6-foot garland is $48, and a 12-foot garland sells for $86. Although bay leaves dry beautifully, they are freshest within a week of their arrival. The garlands ship from a northern California farm, so the catalog recommends delivery deadlines for ordering if you are planning a party.
A nongreen option, a garland constructed from pinecones, is appealing because of the textures it adds. A woodsy blend of pinecones, twigs and faux offwhite berries is available in a 72-inch garland from Crate and Barrel for $14.95.
Or fashion a garland from fresh flowers — festive and colorful but also as invigorating as spring, particularly in cold climates. Small tubes with rubber tops pierced for stems keep the sprigs fresh and often can be found at your local florist. Some blooms, such as roses and hydrangeas, also look pretty when they dry.
Garlands, fresh or faux, usually come in lengths of 4 feet and up, and often are arranged in a swag or two to gently break up their length. There also are ropes of greens that are called swags. These generally are compact garlands that are bushy in the middle, tapering at the ends. The latter look best as a single focal point — for example, on bookshelves or the top of a cupboard or headboard.
Since garlands are wired (to fasten the pieces in place), they also are flexible, so it’s easy to bend them into desired shapes. As for displaying garlands, almost any place that can be trimmed or draped is fair game. Besides the front door, garlands can garnish a front fence or outline a porch, often done for nighttime illumination by using lights as a garland.
Wired ribbon can be used to create a garland or swag. In one of Martha Stewart’s earliest Christmas books, she describes such a garland of celadon silk ribbon that she threaded through the chandelier in her library.
Ornaments (and lights, if you choose) can be woven into the garlands to add color, texture or sparkle. Stick to one theme — angels, toys, fruit — or mix it up. A woodland theme, for example, might be carried out with pinecones, birds and pheasant feathers.
Horchow offers a lush, ready-made garland that is festooned with birds, feathered ornaments and glass balls. The feathered ornaments also are available separately should you like to extend the theme to your Christmas tree.
Taking a color cue from one element, such as peacock feathers, is a good decorator trick. Pull together brilliant blues, greens and golds in other ornamentation, teaming matte, shiny and glittery balls.
Garlands can be made entirely of ornaments or beads strung together. Think of stringing a necklace, as the garlands often look like jewelry.
Although glass beads surfaced as an exciting new garland option in the last couple of years, they have a centuries-old tradition. They derive from Lauscha, a Bohemian town on the border of present-day Germany, where short versions were made from necklace beads.
Glass beads are especially fetching since they catch the light and add a shimmery quality. This type of garland is dramatic on a mirror. Another attractive aspect of glass garlands is that they can swing easily between traditional and contemporary decor.
The wiring on which they are strung also makes them versatile because of their flexibility. Weave them in and out of chandeliers and through greenery, or lace them through the open filigree of cabinet moldings.
A new twist on the glass garland is one offered by Crate and Barrel. It consists of squares made of mirror glass in colors of red, lavender and pink, creating a mosaic effect. The effect is offbeat and modern with a sparkling quality that’s so engaging during the holiday season. Imagine ribbons of these garlands hung vertically to create a curtainlike effect.
Garlands also might be considered to trim table linens. A Neiman Marcus holiday catalog is inspiring, with a patterned velvet table-topper edged with natural feathers. The feathery border dips about a foot at the sides.
Whether you deck your halls with boughs of holly, boxwood, blue spruce, cedar, something artificial or a combination, visit your local department stores and thumb through design magazines and catalogs for fresh inspiration. Adding to your traditional decorations can revitalize your home, making it all the more rich with thoughtful touches.