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Tips for decorating in a contemporary environment

Holiday decorating can be a tricky game in the desert. Warm weather, stucco, Santa, it’s not always an easy mix.

A lot of homeowners also opt for hip, modern decor. Weaving traditional warmth into cool minimalist settings can be a challenge, too. Here, a few designers give tips — with some do’s and don’ts — when it comes to holiday decorating in modern interiors.

Tip No. 1: Less is certainly more. With your share of stark whites, grays and a cool, airy space, holiday decorating will most certainly be about pops of color — and probably small ones.

“Think of bold but simple statement pieces, such as small sculpture or a nice centerpiece,” said Kimberly Joi McDonald, owner and CEO of Designing JOI LLC, a Las Vegas-based interior design firm. “I also like elegant candles. You can feel the relaxation when you come in, and there’s a variety of scents — apple, pumpkin spice, gardenias.”

Adding seasonal holiday accessories like a green or gold velvet throw pillow and other pieces increases holiday color without being intrusive, said Heather Ashton, an L.A.-based interior designer and owner of Heather Ashton Design.

“Punch it up with ceramic and glass table decor and home accents in traditional shapes but unexpected colors like blush, ochre and pastel green,” she said.

Tip No.2: Traditional and modern can still live together. Just because a space is modern doesn’t mean you can’t have hints of the traditional in it, said Lisa Lee, chief creative officer at Rituals, A Creative Studio, in Las Vegas. In fact, Lee said, there’s a place for items you bring from childhood, but you may have to find the right site for them.

“I have several ornaments from my childhood that hold a lifetime of memories,” Lee said. “Unfortunately, they don’t have a consistent theme or color palette, so I pair them alongside some fun, monochromatic or metallic bulbs for a maximalist approach. I love adding garland to tie it all together.”

Tip No. 3: A slender tree may be a better tree. Ashton said it’s OK to splash in some creative colors, such as pinks and whites on ornaments. But make sure ornaments are matte, especially silver and gold ones. It helps to keep the light, airy, festive feel where the glossy ornaments stand out and distract.

Ashton also prefers a slender tree in modern environments, but she said you can have a wider one if the ceiling is high. If you’re in an apartment or condo and the ceiling is low, a bulky tree will add unwelcomed weight to the environment and make it feel less festive.

Tip No. 4: Wood tones can work in small doses. McDonald loves adding wood to environments but acknowledges that in modern decor, there could be some pitfalls.

“If you’re going to use natural wood, it’s important not to combine with a jewel-toned item or something like that. It could look garish. You want the home to be harmonious, consistent and still invoke luxury and simplicity,” she said.

McDonald often opts for wood figurines, wood balls in a bowl and smaller wood items to add an earthy feel.

Tip No. 5: Go all-in to maintain consistency. McDonald also recommends decorating the entire home, not just part of it, to maintain consistent themes and touches throughout the space.

For example, if you would like to incorporate some wood to add warmth, have some small figurines at an entry foyer table. Also, put some on the coffee table in the living room. Perhaps have a few wooden figurines in the tree. Not too many, she said, but keep the cohesion and avoid one-offs that don’t link to something.

Tip No. 6: Rethink holiday colors. Ashton talked about how ochre is more of a brick color, not a brilliant Christmas red, and pastel green is a welcomed muted green. Don’t be afraid to add gold, blush, silver, millennial pink or green and even blue. If they are pops, not large pieces, you might be able to get away with some very unique accent colors. Again, she cautioned, opt for matte, not glossy finishes.

“This season, blush and gold tones with pops of tertiary greens are all the rage. The look is more understated than the traditional green and red, while still being festive and chic,” she said.

Chloe Browning, another Rituals designer, also likes to get creative with holiday colors in modern spaces.

“Do not feel obligated to use only red and green because they are the traditional colors of Christmas,” she said. “Fun silver or gold elements bring the magic of Christmas into any space. Play around with colors such as blue, white, or black to switch up your Christmas theme.”

Tip No. 7: Garland and florals have their place. Ashton enjoys working with white poinsettias. You can add the flower to a garden or wreath. You can even make a wreath full of white ones and insert a few contrasting rend poinsettias.

“It’s a great way to incorporate the classic holiday bloom in an unexpected way,” she added.

A hint of garland on wall decor is another nice touch in modern spaces.

“They look great when elegantly draped around a mirror, and people often hang garland horizontally, but you can also use it, say, on a vertical drape,” Ashton said.

Bringing in elements of the outdoors works, too, according to Hannah Nelson, another Rituals designer. She likes deep greens in a white, airy, environment for warmth and contrast.

“Any modern space thrives with greenery donning its walls and mantles. Pair that with rich gold accents, and you will be feeling the warmth of the holiday spirit in no time,” Nelson added.

Tip No. 8: Experiment with layered lighting. Lighting doesn’t only need to be the main element of a Christmas tree. Tease warm lighting into small areas, said Jolynn Hansen, a Rituals designer.

“Bundle a dainty pair of twinkle lights through a glass hurricane as a centerpiece,” she recommended, “or pair a few lit trees in the corner for a cozy winter moment.”

The overarching theme for holiday decorations in contemporary settings is to have fun and think outside the box. But to get away with a nontraditional color or accent piece, remember that the “less is more” approach is your best bet.

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