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With a Flourish

  • By Emma Aubry Roberts
  • Photos by Mike Krautter

In a season ruled by tradition, it's the details that set the true Christmas miracles apart.

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Forget inflatable snowmen and 75-foot trees -- come December, the little things make the biggest impressions. “Even those with great taste can get lost in generic red and green," explains Kevin Sharkey, Living's design virtuoso and executive editorial director. “But you have to keep what you love intact. The magic of Christmas lies in the flourishes that make the season feel like you.”

See Kevin's ideas, from a tinsel-topped toothpick to bows that explode in fanciful puffs. No matter where you start, make sure you finish with a flourish.

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Pickup Line

Pickup Line

A. Red is a starting point. This chic jewel tone is a statement.

B. Graphic shapes keep finger food from getting too cute.

C. A cupcake makes as good a tree stand as any.

D. A stately bone toothpick keeps things looking sharp.

E. The tree isn't the only place we love a star on top.

F. If you’re going to go novelty, go big or go ho-ho-home.

G. Let visions of sugarplums dance in your drink.

H. For a party, this tinsel utensil's a no-brainer.

Clockwise, from left: Ruby-red picks, $5, Pick on Us. Colored disc picks, $5, Pick on Us. Christmas tree picks, $10, Martha Celebrations for JCP. Bone pick, Kevin's own. Star picks, $4.99, Creative Converting. Santa Claus picks, $13.53, Dress My Cupcake. Loop picks, $6, Pick on Us. Two-tone foil picks, $8.49, Fun Express.

Bespoke Bows

Store-bought ribbons are to gift-wrapping as patterns are to sewing: a useful means to a uniquely beautiful end. Here, ribbons are stuck together and snipped into pom-pom-like puffs. Once you start trimming your trimmings, there's no going back to off-the-rack.

Fresh Powder

Fresh Powder

Candy deer weather a sugary storm in this edible take on the snow globe. To make, arrange figurines as desired, then use a scoop to gently pile sugar around the base. Replace the lid, and brush or blow stray sugar from the edges. “You could leave this up all season on a kitchen counter or island,” Kevin suggests. “Or make it for a party -- I’ve yet to see a guest try to take a bite.”

Clear toy candy, $12 to $30, Shane Confectionery. Scalloped cake dome, Martha Stewart Collection for Macy's.

Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season

Icicles may have ruled holidays past, but this year’s forecast is all about hurricanes. Glass ball ornaments scream Christmas, making red and green obsolete. “Embrace new color schemes -- I like turquoise with red, or green with silver and brown,” Kevin says. Remove the hooks first for a more polished look, or try one of these ideas:

Sweeten the pot. Fill with old-fashioned candy ribbons, licorice allsorts, or nonpareils.

Get clingy. Adhere a festive wall or window cling to the inside surface.

Tie one on. Dress with good-quality ribbon -- a worthy investment, Kevin says.

The Nice List

Kevin weighs in on our most pressing holiday debates.

  • Star or angel?
    Star or angel?

    Star. Angels are always dressed so terribly. Put them in monotone please, and give them proper wings.

  • Peppermint or caramel?
    Peppermint or caramel?

    Peppermint. I love candy canes as decor -- I put them out in silver julep cups, but you can use whatever you have.

And one naughty no-no:

“I do observe the unwritten rule of ‘nothing before Thanksgiving.’ The holidays are more special when kept in their time and place.”
Kevin Sharkey

Card Trick

One thing we do recommend jumping on early: Christmas cards -- though they don't have to look like the ones your parents sent. “Find creative ways to let loved ones know they're on your mind,” Kevin says. "Nowadays, even those who wouldn't send a paper card can find stylish ones online." See his picks from popular e-card purveyor Paperless Post -- then browse their extensive selection to find your own.

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