Designer Secrets to Trimming the Tree

My best tips and tricks to decorate your Christmas tree for a festive, colorful designer look!

A tradition red and green Christmas tree decorated with white magnolias, red velvet ribbon, faux pears, and orange pomanders.


Sharing my best designer secrets to decorating a Christmas tree to achieve that full and vibrant look.
A detailed view of my Williamsburg inspired Christmas tree with tips to recreate the look of a designer tree.

A partridge in a pear tree themed Christmas tree decorated with pears, orange pomanders, red velvet, and magnolia.

Gathered around the Christmas tree sipping hot cocoa watching that twinkle and feeling the warm glow of Christmas magic...

That is what we all hope our Christmas tree helps inspire. It is the heart of Christmas decorating no matter how big or small it is, and it has been the heart since Germans brought the first evergreen tree inside in the 1600s trimming it in decorations and sweet treats.

Today there are all manner of decorations for the Christmas tree, countless styles and themes, and a variety of traditions based on its lighting and decoration. Whether you want a chic themed tree or you take a more heirloom approach with collected and crafted ornaments, there are a few tried and true methods that designers use to get that lush, dynamic look.

I love a themed tree with coordinated colors, luxurious ribbons, and millions of twinkle lights. Every year I choose a different theme for the Christmas tree in my living room and take great creative delight in selecting the decorations to express that theme. This year's look was inspired by Williamsburg decor with abundant fruit and rich color, and it took a bit of a creative sidetrack into "The Twelve Days of Christmas" carol. Notice the pears and partridge?

Here are my favorite tips and tricks to trim your Christmas tree with style and flourish!

Designer Secrets for Decorating Your Christmas Tree:

Invest in a quality faux tree.

Yes, quality faux Christmas trees are expensive, but think of it as a 5 year investment. I've worked with live trees, cheap junk trees, and the expensive ones. It really will make decorating easier and improve the whole look if you start with a quality tree. I like one that has a mixture of the PVC soft needles and molded needles in a Fraser Fir variety. My newest faux Christmas tree that I adore is available here.

Designer Trick: Fluff, fluff, fluff! Be sure you pull all the limbs and branches apart working from the bottom up. Think about creating a pyramid shape with the branches on each limb so the top is pulled up, the sides go out, and some of the branches go down.

You are creating a sculpture.

It helps to think about your Christmas tree as a sculptural work of art. It is an arrangement of color, shape, texture, and shadow. You need to think about how it projects outward into the space around it. Try to create dynamic movement that directs your eye around the tree from one element to the next smoothly.

Designer Trick: Try placing your ornaments in a diamond pattern around the tree and from top to bottom. This will help keep patterns and colors balanced and from grouping too many of the same ornament together.

Ornament diamond pattern diagram

Choose a theme.

Your theme can be subtle, overt, abstract or traditional. But select a guiding idea that influences the colors, ribbons, ornaments, and florals you use to decorate your Christmas tree. Your theme could be simply a color scheme choice of red and green or blue and white. It could be more elaborate like Santa's workshop or botanical. It could also be just a hint like my nod to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" with the pears and partridge.

A theme will help you edit and select decor that coordinates!

Layer, layer, layer!

Think about decorating your tree in layers from the center trunk out to the tip of the branches and from the top down. Your goal is to fill in the spaces around the branches with additional floral or evergreen sprays, garland, ribbon, and ornaments.

Designer Trick: An easy inexpensive tip to fill out your tree is to use large plastic 4-5 inch ball ornaments in gold or silver near the trunk of the tree. The metallic will reflect the lights and other colors you put on the tree making everything brighter.

How I layer my trees:

  1. Lights
  2. Faux floral or greenery sprays or picks like magnolia leaves and blooms, flocked pine branches, berries, pinecones, eucalyptus, etc. Sometimes I also use a garland of these florals wrapping around the tree in a spiral downward. See this pick tutorial.
  3. Ribbon streamers, tufts, and bows
  4. Ornaments
  5. Frosting - decor for the ends of the branches like candles, bead garland, or bows.

A merry mix of ribbon.

Just about every designer Christmas tree you see is going to have a variety of different ribbons. Selecting your ribbon mix is about more than just color. You should consider: texture, width, shape (floppy or wired), and pattern. My go to ribbon source is D. Stevens. I have several of their ribbons available here in my shop.

On my Williamsburg inspired Christmas tree above I have six different ribbon styles. Yes, this is a little excessive. In general, I would use a minimum of three different ribbons: one that has a bold pattern or color, one that has a shiny or glittery finish, and one that is velvet.

Designer Trick: When you are adding ribbon streamers and tufts to your tree, don't try to use one long spool of ribbon. Instead cut it into yard or yard and a half lengths and work those into the tree. I like to start at eye level and either spiral it in one direction or work it in a criss cross pattern.

This video shows four different ways to add ribbon to your tree.

Here's how I added the white and gold floral embroidered bows to my tree.

Roman at Home has great tutorials on YouTube for ribbon.

My quantity rule: 2 or 3 per foot.

One of the biggest headaches of decorating your Christmas tree is to get halfway through and realize you didn't buy enough ornaments or floral picks! I've often heard the rule to buy one per foot of tree, so if you have a seven foot tree you need seven of a specific ornament or seven of a specific floral picks.

BUT that is simply not enough when you have a full 50 inch + diameter tree and plan to show more than two sides of the tree!

Generally, I find you need to double the ornaments or sprays per foot of tree if you have two sides showing and triple if you have three or all four sides showing. For a seven foot tree that has three sides showing I would buy 14 to 20 pieces of a specific ornament. Now of course you have to consider how many different things you are putting on the tree. If you are using three different floral picks you won't need 14 of each.

I usually use a yard and a half of ribbon per foot of tree when I do pouf and tuck streamers around the tree like I did with the red velvet above.

Don't neglect the topper and the footer!

The topper is the crown of the Christmas tree and as such it needs to be special and eye catching. My general formula is to use a multi-loop bow (usually takes two) at the base of the point then put a special decoration like an angel, star, or bird on the top point. For added dimension you can use berry or floral picks to frame the bow and decoration.

This creates a transition from the top decoration to the rest of the tree and makes the ribbon streamers and various picks look coordinated.

It is equally important to think about the foot of the tree and plan your tree skirt, stand, or collar to coordinate with the colors and themes of the Christmas tree.

Designer Trick: If you use a tree skirt, don't just lay it flat around the tree stand. Get some cotton batting or a thick blanket and wrap that around the tree stand first then lay your pretty tree skirt over top of the padding. This creates a softer more lush look that will hide the stand and trunk.

I hope sharing my designer secrets to decorating a Christmas tree inspires you with new ways to trim your tree and you've learned some helpful tricks and tips!

Follow me on Instagram and watch my stories where I share regular videos of my Christmas decorating as it happens.

Sources for my Williamsburg "The Twelve Days of Christmas" tree are in this post.

My Picks for Christmas Tree Decor:

More Christmas Tree Deocrating Ideas:

I bet you've got something to say! Comment below!