Rule number one: Consider an unexpected color palette.

By Sarah Schreiber
December 06, 2019

Here's the problem with holiday home décor: Overload your space with an explosion of red and green, and things quickly skew kitschy. Emily Henderson, interior designer and Target Home Style Expert, knows this—and is here to help. The celebrated interior designer understands that striking the tenuous balance between festive and campy can be a challenging process. Luckily, she's shared her best tips—and illustrated how to execute them via her own home, which she subtly dressed up for holidays—with Martha Stewart Living. Ahead, her advice on how to work a healthy dose of holiday cheer into your own space.

emily henderson holiday decorating living room
Credit: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

Choose an unexpected color palette.

Henderson's best advice for decorating your house for the holidays? Work within a specific color scheme. "Color palette is always my number one! Things get crazy and kitschy quickly when you don't have a decided color palette," she explains. "Then from there, it's [about] finding a balance of simple modern décor shapes and more fun, detailed pieces." She recommends adding "lots of texture" through neutral colors for a cozy vibe—that doesn't entail "using all of the Santa-themed pillows in the world." She does enjoy a thematic throw pouf, though: "I actually really love 'the Christmas pillow,' so long as it's just one or two, mixed in with other 'everyday' types."

emily henderson holiday decorating stairs
Credit: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

Use plenty of greenery.

"I love draping greenery all over my home during the holidays! Adding small sprigs onto shelves is one of my favorites," she says, but advises using a light touch overall. "A light, natural garland on top of credenzas, pianos, or really any open surface looks so pretty. The key is to keep it delicate, so your home doesn't feel like it was eaten by a Christmas forest." When curating her own home, Henderson add a coated faux pine and pinecone wreath ($29.99, target.comand twinkly-light garland ($24.50, as finishing touches.

Don't allow your Christmas tree to define the space.

Though your Christmas tree will—and should!—be a focal point of your living room during the season, you don't want the motif to overtake the rest of your space's décor. While adhering to your distinct color palette is an easy way to prevent this ("If you make sure to spread your chosen colors around the room, your tree won't feel like a big Christmas thumb," she says), Henderson also recommends establishing other thematic moments throughout for balance. "This way your eyes won't be able to help but to move around the room to take it all in," she explains. We love her take on this suggestion—a subtle arrangement of lit-up ceramic houses (from $3, and trees, placed strategically along her bookshelf.

emily henderson holiday decorating bookshelf
Credit: Sara Ligorria-Tramp

Stick with easy décor swaps.

Cozy pillows—we're partial to this printed "Fa La La" option ($22.49,—and throw blankets are by far the easiest décor swaps to make come the holiday season. "Even just swapping your everyday candles for more festive-looking or scented ones can make a nice impact," explains Henderson. "You can also replace your everyday greenery with small trees, dried berry branches, and other Christmas foliage."

Make your motifs.

Taking a simple, homemade approach to holiday decorating will take the stress out of the process, notes Henderson, who followed this piece of advice this season. "What I did differently this year was look up ways to make things ourselves, so I didn't feel the overwhelming feelings of 'doing' and 'spending,'" she says. She made ornaments out of buttons and hot glue with her children, dried and strung orange slices along her tree, and created neutral shapes ("Very Scandi, which I love," she notes) out of baked flour and salt to decorate the room. "All are easy, fun, and memory-making, which is what the holidays are really about," she explains.


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