Designers Share Their Favorite Holiday Decorating Traditions by Region
The most celebrated time of the year has arrived! Now that the holidays are officially upon us, you may be searching for decorating ideas and inspiration that are joyful and time-honored. Perhaps you’re looking for nostalgic ideas that reflect the beauty of your home state, or that bring an air of elegance and comfort to your celebration. Either way, queue the garlands of locally grown greenery, heirloom ornaments, and spools of ribbon! It’s sure to be a beautiful season to celebrate in every corner of the South, and beyond.
To help spur on ideas, we’ve asked top Southern designers throughout the region to share their decorating tricks by state, and how you, too, can capture the inherent spirit of place in your holiday decor. Whether home is in Maryland, Florida, or any Southern state in-between, we’re sure you’ll be inspired by their very merry suggestions.
North Carolina: Try A Subtle Color Palette
Anne Wagoner of Raleigh’s Anne Wagoner Interiors says decorating for the holidays in North Carolina is all about fresh greenery. “Whether it's a big arrangement of magnolia leaves or beautiful boxwood garland, you can never have too much fresh greenery,” she says. Due to the state’s typically mild winters, Wagoner visits local Farmer's Markets and even forages in her own backyard for fresh sprigs. In addition to verdant shades of green, Wagoner uses a number of unexpected accent colors in her holiday decor. “I personally love to incorporate non-traditional Christmas accents like orange or yellow,” she says. “There was always a big red bow on our wreath when I was growing up but as an adult, I prefer more subtle, unexpected tones.”
Virginia: Look To Holidays From History
Designer Lauren Liess of Lauren Liess & Co. calls Great Falls, Virginia, home. When decorating for the holidays, Liess finds inspiration in Virginia’s natural beauty and yearly visits to George Washington's Mount Vernon for historic holiday tours. The old-world ambiance and seasonal decorations blend beautifully with her own design sensibility. “Mount Vernon hosts candlelight tours over the holidays and the place is beautiful in the candlelight,” she says. "You are transported back in time when the house is lit only by candles. The absence of overhead lighting and all electricity is special and really relaxing.”
Historically, Christmas trees and presents are nowhere to be found during Washington’s time as these traditions were adopted in later centuries. Instead, an emphasis is placed on entertaining and food — two of Liess’s passions outside of design. Relishing in the stories of Washington’s Twelve Days of Christmas celebrations, Liess is inspired by tales of Washington’s grandchildren visiting, the family going to church, and enjoying a bountiful Christmas dinner.
South Carolina: Mix Greenery With Candlelight
Charleston-based designer Sarah-Hamlin Hastings of design retailer and showroom Fritz Porter, says she reaches for shells, greenery, and other items from nature when decorating for the holidays. “I tend to gravitate towards natural elements such as greenery (cypress, long leaf pine, magnolia, and yes, even palm fronds) mixed with preserved fruits such as clove studded oranges, dried lemons, pomegranates, and various winter berries,” she says. “I love being able to just grab my clippers, go outside, and come back with an armful of beautiful greens that can be mixed and matched in a variety of ways.”
Her best advice? “Include what is surrounding you” she says. “If you are at the beach, grab some favorite shells and greenery, and if you are in the mountains, pine boughs, winterberry, and more woodsy elements. If you are in an elegant home downtown, pull out your silver, add some cypress and magnolia, and light the candles! You don’t have to spend a lot of money or be a floral designer. Just use some imagination and take advantage of what surrounds you everyday!"
Florida: Keep Decor Bright, And Add Citrus!
“Being a designer in south Florida is really fun,” says Kara Miller of Kara Miller Interiors. “It is a particular region where you can get away with quite a bit, as clients want to feel happy and relaxed here.” Miller says the same is true during the holidays, when a breezy, beach-inspired color palette keeps the season feeling bright and cheery. ”I love incorporating citrus into holiday décor,” she says. “It feels appropriate and always gives a nice pop of color as well. I would include a lot of natural green wreaths or garland (think less is more), citrus, and white bows.”
Georgia: Choose Locally Grown Greenery
Clary Bosbyshell of Atlanta’s Clary Bosbyshell Design says the state is full of charming homes and homeowners who take pride in knowing how decorate for the holidays in distinctive and memorable ways. “Georgia is a state deeply rooted in tradition and with that comes traditional interiors and Christmas decor using classic colors of red and green,” she says.
As for what she recommends for her clients, Bosbyshell encourages them to opt for fresh, local greenery rather than faux. “Not only is it beautiful but it smells divine,” she says. “The garland over my door and wreath has magnolia leaves, boxwood, cryptomeria, Carolina sapphire, cedar, Fraser fir, and Buford holly. This is all foliage and greenery that grows in Georgia.”
Bosbyshell loves sourcing greenery from farmers markets, she says, and visits the Georgia State farmers market each year to select a Christmas tree. “They always the most beautiful selection,” she says.
Maryland: Mix In Maritime Colors And Decor
Designer Laura Hodges of Maryland’s Laura Hodges Studio recommends integrating dried flowers and grasses as decoration to capture the essence of the state’s natural beauty. “The Eastern shore of Maryland has a lot of beautiful wild flowers and grasses,” she says, “so we love to dry them and use them for wreaths, floral arrangements, and garlands for the holidays.”
Hodges also enjoys decorating with hand-painted ornaments from local artists, and recommends adding touches of a seaside, maritime nature to reflect the state’s surroundings. “For a Maryland-inspired holiday, I would incorporate dried flowers, vintage marine ornaments, and a palette of watery blues, deep greens, and soft whites to reflect the Chesapeake Bay region,” she says.
Texas: Host A Mariachi-Inspired Holiday
Mia Brous of Texas design firm and retailer, Madre Dallas, loves incorporating classic magnolia garlands and wreaths into her holiday decor. Brous also notes that Texas celebrations are influenced by Mexican traditions, setting them apart from other areas in the South. “Christmas is a time when you hear Mariachis singing,” she says — so it’s apt to enjoy a bright, fiesta-themed dinner to celebrate. Her top entertaining tip? “Fill a dining room with candle votives and serve tamales as hors d’oeuvres. And tequila is always a crowd favorite. Feliz Navidad!”
Texas: Set Your Table Early, And Enjoy!
Texans are not afraid of bold colors, especially during the holiday season says designer Lindley Arthur of Lindley Arthur Interiors. “All holidays are big in Texas, and Christmas is no different,” she says. “It’s such a magical holiday to decorate for and add some glitz to your home.” Arthur loves to incorporate a home's color palette into the Christmas decor to make everything cohesive, but believes that it’s important to include personal ornaments with sentimental value, too. “And we love a good tablescape!” she says. “Like me, many Texans set their tables days or even weeks in advance to enjoy before Christmas day. There are so many unique and festive ways you can bring a table to life for the holiday.”
Her top tip? Be sure to match your Christmas tree to the scale of your room. “Many homes in Texas have large living rooms, and you don't want a tree that gets lost,” she says. "Go big and make your tree the centerpiece of your holiday decor.”
Texas: Embrace Your Inner Maximalist
Roz Murphy of Roz Murphy Design says the state’s 'go big or go home,’ attitude makes maximalist holiday décor a mainstay each season. “The holidays create a perfect opportunity to add sparkle and shine to any space,” she says. “I like to incorporate metallic ribbons, ornaments, subtle colors, and monochromatic schemes with the Christmas tree and garlands.”
What makes the state’s holiday style stand-out? Murphy says Texas draws people from all over the country, which results in a mix of styles ranging from “traditional red and green to modern glam.” To capture the state’s essence this season, Murphy suggests decorating with confidence. “Texans are not shy,” she says. “Large scale wreaths and bows are a way that our holiday decor stands out. A statement wreath on the porch with decorative ribbon and ornaments creates a welcoming environment for any home.”