How to Decorate a Christmas Tree Like a Pro, According to a Macy's Designer

It's not about perfection, but following a few simple guidelines can help you get started.


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Decorating a Christmas tree is harder than it looks. It's all fun and games when you're just a kid taking part in a festive tradition (unaware of the extra work your parents are putting in behind the scenes). When you're an adult in charge of your own tree, however, you start to care a bit more about appearances—like how cohesive the tree looks, and how well it fits into your home. You might even get bothered by things like holes in the tree, clashing colors or lights, or that impossible-to-ignore feeling that something is missing, but you just don't know what.

Well, don't worry—whether you're hosting guests for the holidays or just trying to perfect the art of Christmas tree decorating for your own holiday cheer—we have some tips to help guide the way. For advice on decorating a picture-perfect Christmas tree, we talked to Macy’s State Street designer, Kim Garner, who spearheads the Great Tree lighting at the Chicago store. While Garner's prized tree is a grand 45-feet tall, adorned with more than 1,500 ornaments, and more than 6,600 sparkling lights, her tips can apply just as well to a humble living room tree.

Decide your Christmas tree style

There's no shortage of options when it comes to Christmas tree decorating—even the trees themselves can be anything from classic real evergreens to artificial Christmas trees in metallic pink. So, it helps to narrow in on your vision, so that you don't get overwhelmed about all the possibilities. To get started, Garner says she likes to ask people for a couple adjectives about how they want their tree to look. "Are they looking for classic and traditional?" she says. "Then perhaps a good choice would be a red and white color story playing with plaids. Are they wanting something elegant? A tree of metallics and only round glass ornaments is a good place to start."

Once you have your adjectives, you can put those keywords into Google Images or Pinterest to find inspiration for how to decorate your Christmas tree in that style. Try searching "rustic farmhouse Christmas tree" for traditional and vintage-looking ideas, or "disco ball Christmas tree" for something more modern and playful.

Choose a color story

You don't have to stick to just green and red for Christmas tree decor. After all, it's your tree, so you can decorate with whatever colors your heart desires. Having some intention with the colors you choose, however, will keep your tree looking aesthetically pleasing. "Decide on a specific color story before you decorate," Garner says. "A limit of three to four colors will make your tree decorations more cohesive and powerful."

For example, if you opt for red and white as your primary colors, Garner says gold accents can help round out the look. Or, you can go for something more luxurious and modern, with a gold, silver, black, and white color scheme. If you want something a bit softer and less traditional, Garner recommends going with pastels, like light blues, purples, or pinks, mixed with silver.

"Think about what colors appeal to you and make the most sense with your furnishings, style, and other decorations," Garner adds.

Fluff your tree

You don't have to accept your tree exactly as it comes. If your tree is a bit smushed from being tied to the roof of the car—or from being shoved into a storage box—then go ahead and give it a good fluff to bring it back to life and make sure it looks full. "[Your tree] should look beautiful before you put an ornament on it," Garner says.

Decorate the entire tree

Once your tree is properly fluffed, it's time to get it dressed. Garner strongly emphasizes the importance of decorating the entire circumference of your Christmas tree, not just the side that's facing the room. This will help give the appearance of more depth and fullness.

In addition to decorating all around the tree, make sure to decorate inside of it too. "I suggest putting round glass ball ornaments further inside the tree to add more color and sparkle," Garner says. Placing ribbon all throughout the tree can also help to add more texture and create a never-ending look.

Keep it tidy

The bottom branches are the one exception to the rule about decorating the entire Christmas tree. "To keep the bottom of the tree neat and have less breakage, do not let ornaments hang below the bottom branches of the tree," This will also keep the tree from looking like it's drooping or straining down low.

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