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How to decorate a Christmas tree professionally with lights and baubles

Our decorating editor Nicky Phillips and other key experts spill the beans on how to decorate your tree for maximum festive impact
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  • ‘Tis the season to be jolly. But that can sometimes be hard to keep in mind when you’re decorating the Christmas tree. Between untangling the lights, arranging the decorations so that they are evenly spread and trying to get the star on top, it can be enough to have you reaching for the egg nog. But fear not – our how to decorate a Christmas tree guide is here to help.

    It’s been written by Ideal Home’s stalwart Decorating Editor and unofficial Queen of Christmas, Nicky Phillips. Having worked on the title for more than a decade, Nicky has decorated hundreds of trees in her time, so there’s very little she doesn’t know about balanced bauble arrangements and bare twigs versus tinsel. Nicky’s top tips are joined along the way, by key experts to give the best advice.

    Decorate in style with help from our Christmas ideas channel

    ‘A perfect Christmas tree is truly beautiful feature in every living room or hallway,’ says Nicky. ‘Yet sometimes, even when we have selected beautiful decorations and put a lot of effort in to decorating it, it doesn’t always come out the way we would like.’

    ‘The secret of a well dressed tree isn’t always about the well selected decorations, ribbons and ornaments – it’s the way you hang, scatter and place those pieces on the tree. So whether it be a faux or real tree this Christmas, we reveal IH tips and tricks to help create your very best tree easily and stress free.’

    Read on, and discover how to create the best-dressed festive fir, step by step.

    1. Place the Christmas tree and fluff the branches

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    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    First you’ll need to set your tree in a secure stand – we’ll later cover this with a tree skirt. If you have a faux tree, fluffing the branches is really important, as it will make your tree look more natural and full, and also much more beautiful!

    For more advice on prepping your tree before you put it into position, read Real Christmas trees – how to choose, decorate and look after them 

    You can also do this to a certain extent with real trees, but be gentle so the needles don’t drop. Another tip – wear gloves because the branches can be extremely prickly and you could risk a splinter.

    2. Put the lights on

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    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    If your tree is not pre-lit, now is the time to put your lights on the tree.Firstly consider which lights. ‘When choosing lighting for your tree the golden rule is to ensure the colour of your lights don’t clash with your decorations and baubles,’ advises Georgina Horspool, Lighting Designer at Alexander Joseph.

    ‘Begin with coloured lights to provide the main colour to your tree, then use decorations to provide contrasting bursts of colour. If you have a larger tree, consider using ‘globe’ shaped bulbs rather than the smaller LED stings – they create a better sense of scale and will be more cost effective. This year soft white light is in vogue.’

    All sorted. Now it’s time to place them on. The best way to do this is firstly by switching them on, it’s far easier to see where you’re placing them this way. Drape the light strand across the branches, working from one side to the other, top to bottom to ensure they are evenly distributed.

    For best results void visible cords, using green cord lights can help to eliminate this problem.

    3. Add your tree topper

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    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Most people think this should be the finishing touch, but when a tree is fully decorated it can actually be quite difficult to fix the topper.It’s a real preference, to top or not to top that is the question?

    ‘The tree does not look complete without a focal point perched high on the top vertical branch of the Christmas tree,’ says Vanessa Arbuthnott, Founder and CEO of Vanessa Arbuthnott. ‘ I am a homespun type who wouldn’t buy anything plastic or sequinned or tinselled – just plain Scandinavian style using simple wooden or home-made paper decorations.’

    A star, fairy or oversized ribbon bow are traditional options but you could take a tip from our Shopping Editor, Tamara Kelly. ‘I, personally, am not a fan of traditional tree toppers. They can often be unwieldy. I prefer to take my favourite decoration, and make that the star of the show at the top of the tree.’

    4. Start adding decorations

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    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Our best tip is to put the heaviest decorations towards the inside the tree first, so the weight is supported by the branches. For the around the middle fill with inexpensive incidental glitter or shiny ornaments, that are perfect to catch the light from within the depth of the tree.

    If you have a fake tree you don’t even need to hang them, they will just easily nestle in amongst the branches.

    This step will fill all the gaps inside the tree and make it more three-dimensional and interesting.

    Add a few of these: Best Christmas crackers for pulling on the big day

    5. Hang your key baubles

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    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Start hanging your baubles, using larger ones at the base and medium sized baubles in the middle and top of the tree. Limit yourself to three or four different colours, using a variety of matt, shiny and glitter decorations. This will help give your tree depth and more interest.

    6. Add picks and sprays

    How to decorate a Christmas tree with picks and sprays

    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Fill the tree with sparkling picks and sprays, branches with faux-ice crystals or snow, faux flowers, or just use natural branches with a dusting of white spray paint. You could try pine cones picks, too, painting the tips with white acrylic paint and sprinkling them with white and silver glitter, to make them look snow-drenched.

    7. Showcase those extra-special ornaments

    How to decorate a Christmas tree hanging baubles

    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Now its time to showcase your favourite ornaments, and add an element of surprise. These could be heirlooms or collectables – maybe you’ve brought back a Christmas trinket from a family holiday, or perhaps you have decorations your children made when they were little. If it’s special, make sure it takes pride of place.

    8. Time for finishing touching touches

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    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Fill any gaps in the tree with smaller decorations, like mini baubles or bells. Or try finishing the look with glass (or acrylic) icicles on the tips of the branches, to create the perfect winter wonderland look for your tree.

    9. Choose your tree skirt

    How to decorate a Christmas tree with a tree skirt

    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    Be imaginative with your choice of tree skirt or decorative cover. You could try burlap, faux fur or any other fabric to hide the trunk and any practical but mundane stand. A fashionable option for the modern tree is a willow tree skirt.

    10. Pile up the presents

    How to decorate a Christmas tree finish with presents under

    Image credit: Joanna Henderson

    And now all that is left to do is pile up the pressies, put the kettle on/pour yourself a glass of wine, and relax!

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