We’ve all seen the movie. The lovestruck couple wearing matching bobble hats trudge through snow-covered New York streets pulling a plump Christmas tree behind them. They arrive in their cute apartment where they spend hours decorating the tree with heirloom baubles in between sips of marshmallow-filled hot chocolate.
The reality, for most of us, is far from an American fairytale and a bit more like nightmare of the fairy lights as we haul boxes down from the attic, lob the top off the tree because it’s too big, and berate ourselves, once again, for not doing a better job with the decorations.
But this year, with some advice, we can all end up with a beautiful-looking specimen that blends perfectly with our decor and living situation. We asked design experts for their top tips.
Maria Reidy of signature-editions.ie says choosing between a real or artificial tree is the first step.
“If you need a lot of heating and your space is limited, or if you want the picture-perfect tree which will not droop throughout the season, then an artificial tree is the best option. However, my personal favourite is a real tree as nothing beats the smell and the memories which can be made when choosing one. I would also say that the bigger the tree the better, but of course you need space for that.
“And, if going for artificial, always choose green as you may get tired of an alternative colour and if you throw it out, it just adds to landfill as they never break down.”
Artificial trees are available widely including from Paul Costello Living at Dunnes Stores, €350, and Puleo from Arnotts and Brown Thomas starting at €200. Or a sustainable wooden Christmas tree by Brian Murray of MK Custom Furniture, is available for €100 to €150, xmastreesireland on Instagram.
Barbara Phelan of beointeriors.com says where your tree will be placed within the home is a vital consideration when choosing the perfect one.
“Before you go shopping for your ideal tree you need to know where it will be placed in your home,” she says. “For live trees, avoid spots near radiators, fireplaces or stoves as these will dry it out quicker. Also, place in a low-traffic area for safety reasons to avoid bumping and toppling over.
She advises measuring the area so you know what you have to work with, keeping in mind that the tree-topper will add a few inches to overall height requirements.
“Leave a minimum of six inches between the top of the tree and the ceiling, then choose one which is well branched, has a good shape, nice colour and is well scented,” she says. “And if it’s too densely branched it will be difficult to decorate – also, check the straightness of the end of the trunk – as if it’s crooked it won’t stand straight.
“And if you are buying an artificial tree, make sure you have the space to store it when not in use and avoid those which have lots of individual pieces or branches to assemble. Some trees come with fairy lights attached which may be a helpful option for those with limited storage.”
When it comes to decorating the tree, Reidy says a bit of personality is always a good idea.
“I feel decoration is down to personal choice and I would advise people to go with what makes them happy,” she says. “I like to keep it simple, but I believe a tree should have lots of decorations, so a theme does help to stay on track. It’s a great idea to invest in some beautiful pieces and add to the collection each year as they can be passed through the family and make great gifts for the next generation.
“Anything made by the kids should always be displayed, even if they have their own mini-tree for their handmade creations. And while it is nice to use the nostalgic decorations, they don’t have to all be used on the tree – so if you have a theme, consider bringing it to other aspects of the home such as the front door, the mantel and the all-important table.”
Interiors Instagrammer Barbara Taylor of @livingandbeauty says while “fake” trees can look beautiful, as a child she always dreamed of having a big, lush Christmas tree and this is what she would recommend to others who are looking for splendour this festive season.
“Although today’s faux trees are certainly fabulous, I love the allure of a fabulous, fragrant fir so always have a real tree in our home,” she says. “I would encourage people to buy from somewhere which sells loose trees rather than pre-wrapped so the shape can be seen, as trees stored in net wrap tend to have reduced air circulation which can drop needles and dry out much faster.
“Most trees are cut at the same time so buying it later doesn’t mean it’s any fresher. Your tree is still living for some time after it’s been cut so the sooner you get it, the sooner you can start to take care of it to ensure its longevity. Ask your tree seller to saw a little off the trunk bottom before they wrap it so it’s ready for a good drink when you get home.
“Then put it in a bucket of water outside leaned up against something sturdy and ideally leave it overnight or at the very least for a few hours and (when you bring it inside) keep the water well of the tree holder topped up over the holidays so it doesn’t dry out.”
Real trees can be sourced from Irish growers countrywide including from Christmastree.ie in Cork and irishchristmastrees.com in Dublin. Prices start from €45 depending on size and type.
Interior designer Anne Tuohy aka the Room Junkie also says there are a number of simple ways in which to make your Christmas tree – real or otherwise – look perfect.
“With an artificial tree, fluff up the branches and make sure that all sections are arranged in the correct order,” she advises. “Connect the bottom section first and then fluff as you go along, working your way up the tree. And if your tree comes with lights, turn them on at this point so you can get a better picture of its shape .
“If it’s not pre-lit, or if you have a real tree, add the lights after putting the tree up. I usually calculate 100 lights for every 3ft of tree. I have a 5-amp socket beside my tree so I change the plug (on the lights) to the same so I can turn the lights on and off from the wall. Then, starting from the top, drape the lights in a circle, front and back, layer by layer until you reach the bottom. If you need to use a multi-socket extension lead to accommodate multiple strings, run it down the centre of the tree, so it will not be seen when the tree is decorated.”
The Donegal-based designer says the next step is to place your topper on the tree before adding garlands, bows and ribbons which can be weaved evenly down the tree before adding “focal points” with big, oversized baubles or decorations.
“Now you can fill in all the available space with ornaments and balls, remembering to place the larger ones towards the bottom, medium in the middle and smaller ones on top,” she says. “If you like to hang crystal decorations or ones that spin, position them on the tips of the branches for maximum impact. The final step is the tree skirt which dresses the base and provides the perfect backdrop for all your beautifully dressed presents. Then grab a glass, step back and enjoy your handiwork.”
Ten top Christmas trees tips
1. When deciding between a real or artificial tree consider room temperature and whether you want picture-perfect symmetry or natural shapes and pine scents.
2. Measure the space and allow six inches between the top of the tree and the ceiling.
3. If you’re keeping it real look for a tree with good colour, shape and scent that is not too densely branched and has a straight trunk, and give it a drink when you get it home.
4. If going artificial, make sure you have enough space to store the tree when festivities are over.
5. Decide on a theme for your decorations if you wish but don’t forget the children.
6. If your tree’s not pre-lit add lights first – 100 for every 3ft of tree – starting from the top.
7. If you need to use a multi-socket extension lead run it down the centre of the tree, so it will not be seen when the tree is decorated.”
8. Position the tree topper then weave garlands, bows and ribbons down the tree if you’re using them
9. Add focal points with big, oversized baubles or decorations.
10. Fill in with ornaments and balls, remembering to place the larger ones towards the bottom, medium in the middle and smaller ones on top.