How to Style a Christmas Tree - DezignSpace

How to Style a Christmas Tree

Ever wonder how department stores create such STUNNING Christmas trees? A tree is a design composition unto itself, so all the design principles apply, like color, balance, line, form, etc. Sound a little complicated? 😬 Don’t worry; we’re about to break it all down for you step-by-step and show you how to create a FAB Christmas tree design that works with your style.

It’s tree trimmin’ time! 🎄


1. The Tree

The first thing you need to figure out is what’s your situation- can you put a big tree in your entry hall, or are you in a small space and have to think outside the classic tree box? (More on that later.) Also, instead of getting a cut tree, purchase one that you can replant or get an artificial tree because there are some great ones out there!

You want to make sure the type of tree is right for your style statement. If your style statement is traditional or transitional, you want to buy something full and has really long needles, like a Scotch Pine. Trees with shorter needles, like a Norwegian Fir, work better for contemporary styles. If it’s a live tree, make sure it has a really nice pot. If it’s not live, you still want to do a cover for the base- FORGET the fake snow; you are fooling NO ONE. Do something that looks like a wool throw or ties in with the scheme of the tree. Baskets are a perfect look as well. 


The 411 on Flocking

Let us start by saying this- if you’re going to flock the tree within an inch of its life, just buy a white tree! It will be much, MUCH easier and WAY less messy. Typically, you only flock traditional or transitional trees, and we prefer flocking that looks like snow just lightly coats the branches. And never choose any other color than WHITE. Seriously. 


2. Lighting

When you’re looking at building your tree, your lights are the most essential first step and the single most important element to get right. If you have a beautifully lit tree, you don’t even have to put a single ornament on it. The lights should be white (NEVER multicolor and no flashing, unless it’s a kid’s tree!) When shopping for a pre-lit artificial tree, make sure you like the pattern of lights and that there are enough (there usually aren’t, so you’ll have to add extra strands.)

If you’re getting a real tree, you’ll need to get A LOT of light strands! Period. The end. The tradition behind a tree in the first place was to shed light into the long darkness of the winter, so go ahead and get lit! You want to build out the lights on each and every branch- and this takes time! To give you an idea, it can take up to an ENTIRE DAY to light a tree! It isn’t so bad with a holiday cocktail (or two!) 🍸🍸


3. Style Statement

After you have the lights established, you need to decide how your tree will blend with your space. Are you going to do garlands, florals, and/or ornaments? If so, what types will work with your style statement? Remember, you want it to feel festive, but mainly, it is a reflection of your design style. 



Are you more of a classic Traditional Tuscan? Or perhaps a Grandmillenial? 



Are you Farmhouse or more of a Rustic cottage core style? Or maybe you’re Glam?



Maybe you’re Desert Modern, Japandi, Scandi, or Minimalist? 


4. Ornaments

Always build larger ornaments inside the tree near a lit branch so they can look like they are part of the tree itself, and as you move out towards the end of the branch, you want to look at your smaller scale or your reflective ornaments. This will help the composition look balanced. Never hang anything on the very end of the branch- you don’t want to see the hanging hook! You should instead wrap it around the branch so it simply looks like it’s attached to the branch and hangs beautifully.

As a design principle, you want to layer similar ornaments in a “z” formation, so make sure you place the same color/shape ornament at each point of the “z”- like a zig-zag ladder. However, I have also seen beautiful trees that chromatically shift in an ombre as you go up – super fabulous!

You want to make sure the tree reads as a whole design, so don’t include an ornament that is one off-color. What gives the eye movement is changes in color, texture, and pattern that get repeated. You want to repeat the elements that you’re using throughout the tree so that your eye visually moves around it to read the whole design “story.”


Pro Tip: Garlands and faux florals (which we will talk about next) should be applied after placing the LARGE ornaments but before your SMALL ornaments.


5. Garlands and Faux Florals

Garlands should be tied in with the theme in terms of what they are made of. For example, if your theme is Traditional, you can work with ribbons and bows. If it’s a larger-scale ribbon, don’t take it all the way to the top of the tree because it will look unbalanced. If you’re Transitional, you can do ribbon as well, but you can also do big knitted garlands or a strand of wooden beads. Either way, keep your garlands simple so it doesn’t overtake the tree. 

If you’re going to make a floral statement in the tree, make sure it’s something that blooms in the winter, like chrysanthemums. Faux florals and berries are placed in the middle of the branch as they are medium-sized. 

Also, skip the tinsel- it’s terrible for the planet, and it’s a nightmare to clean up. You don’t need it! Once you have your garlands in place, you can layer on your smaller ornaments.


6. Tree topper

The topper was originally meant to look like a star landing on the top of the tree, so basically, think of it as something that reflects your style statement but looks like it finishes the tree. It shouldn’t be overwrought. If the topper becomes a focal point, it’s too much- the tree itself should be a focal point. It’s just meant to be a light beacon, so keep it simple.


Small Spaces

If you’re Contemporary or in a small space situation, you can think way outside the box.

Tabletop trees are a great option- we like live or small-scale ones like a holiday greenery branch in a white pot or paperbark birch trees.

If you have absolutely no space- just do some greenery on the wall in the shape of a tree. So fun and creative!  

Pro Tip: If you’re going to do a tree, make it your focal point, and don’t go too nuts in the rest of the space. Also, when you think you’re done with the tree- take a step back, leave the room, go get a drink, take a walk, etc., and come back in and reevaluate. You will likely need to move, adjust, or remove something. Every designer uses this technique in the final stages of decor arrangement. 

So there you have it! By the way, we KNOW you’re going to LOVE this quiz: Which Christmas Tree Style Are You? 

Ooh! And check this out: Get Your Home Holiday Ready in 5 Days!

And don’t forget to check out the GORGEOUS holiday items in the DezignClub Store!

4 thoughts on this post

  1. I’m so happy holiday season is right around the corner! This pastel pink and blue tree is just magnificent, I hope I can reach that level one day…

    I chose a fake white tree, but I missed the smell… and I found an exquisite candle from Annick Goutal that smells just like a fresh christmas tree! It does the trick perfectly, it makes you look twice at the tree XD

  2. Great information, thank you, Lisa! Our tree is full of sentimental ornaments collected through the years. I’d love to hear how to make such a tree look more pulled together. One year I added red poinsettias throughout the tree and that added a bit of cohesion, I think from the pops of red.

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