SKI designer Keith Arnold’s talents are endless and his design advice priceless. Here he shares some holiday decorating challenges and the design tricks that saved the day — Christmas Day to be exact!



When I started thinking about my next post, I realized it was getting into the holidays again. I typically give a few tips or “how to’s” about decorating, and I was afraid I had condensed everything I know into last year’s holiday post and I have nothing else to say… so… I started to think about how Christmas décor really works… and how sometimes you get a few lumps of coal.

For me it usually goes something like this… you come up with a vague notion of how you want everything to look, you compare your vision with the materials you have available, and then you have the reality (sometimes harsh) of making it work…

SOMETIMES your beautifully symmetrical tree has a dead limb and no matter how many times you turn those screws on the tree stand, it will not stand up straight.

SOMETIMES your wreath has a dead spot and you cannot return it.

SOMETIMES the perfect spot you have picked to hang your wreath is glass or mirror and a nail just won’t do.

SOMETIMES you want to display your years long collection and you have no space or idea how to make them look good.

SOMETIMES you use all your best stuff in the living room but you are having a dinner party in the dining room…

And, SOMETIMES… you have this fabulous mini Louis Vuitton trunk and you just don’t know what to do with it! (I know this last one hardly ever happens).

In my tenure at SKI I have encountered ALL of these aforementioned problems and more. The key to success though is how you solve the problems and create something beautiful despite any shortcomings. Below are a few Christmas decorating problems I have had and how I have solved them. Maybe (and hopefully!) it will give you a little inspiration as this holiday season unfolds.


1. Go Nuts
Here we had a whole collection of Nutcrackers and no place to put them… too big for a table… too many for a mantle… cannot hang them from a tree… I had no idea of what to do with them. My first attempt was to work them into the greenery on the mantle in the family room and it was a failure. I had a glue gun, some glass balls, and hope, but it was not to be. My efforts were sad and unattractive. I was walking through the kitchen, saw the plaster forms and, son of a nutcracker, it all came together. I think it looks adorable, interesting and chic, and I think it shows off both the nutcrackers and the plaster forms in a great way!


2. A little Louis Vuitton never hurts…
This is actually Suzanne’s house but I help her decorate for Christmas… and this is her fabulous mini Louis Vuitton trunk. Don’t we all have one of these and don’t know what to do with it? I wish… but Suzanne does have one and I figured out what to do with it! I found a plastic liner that fit inside to hold water and I filled it with red and white roses, juniper and holly. Doesn’t it look great? Finishing the look are mini Czech crystal trees. I like to keep accessories and decorations that are on display the whole the year and enhance them with holiday décor.


3. Red to the Rescue!
I got to the dining room and I was all out of stuff! I had a wreath and some greenery that I had ordered but I had used everything else… the beautiful metallic pastel balls, the crystal trees, the mercury glass, the nutcrackers… everything. I had some tree cuttings, some red ribbon scraps and two boxes of red balls. Whelp! But got to make it work… Using the balls everywhere gave a great continuity to the décor and looked pretty. Using balls instead of candles and balls in a silver bowl combined with cuttings from the Christmas tree instead of fruit made it interesting and unexpected.


4. The Power of a Pipe Cleaner!
I think placing greenery is tricky… sometimes you need nails, sometimes you need fishing wire, sometimes you need ribbon, and sometimes you need God. I generally use green pipe cleaners and prayers. Making even swags, using the length of greenery efficiently and evenly and hiding the mechanics of it all is difficult and I have had to re-do it several times. The length of greens never matches the space you want to fill… I lay everything out and try to place the seams in discreet places. Here, I used my first length of greens to get mid-way up the stairs and the second length to the top. Where the two meet, I used ribbon and balls to hide how it all fits together. Pipe cleaners hold it in place and ribbon hides the pipe cleaners.


5. Go with the flow…
If you have dead or thin spots in your greenery, use them as a guide on where to place your ribbons and decorations. It will end up looking natural and not too contrived.

As you can tell, this is not a perfect science. But in my experience, I have learned that the most beautiful and chic things are never perfect. I’ve also learned that decorating for Christmas is a lot of fun but also a lot of work!

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