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The Kelly household owns an abundance of inherited holiday decorations. When hubby Patrick's parents downsized into their beachfront condo, the box marked "Holiday Cheer" was placed in our care. For the past ten years, on the first of December, I've dragged the box out of the garage, plopped it on the dining room table, and started decorating. I've never been too fond of the stuff. It's a bit mid-20th-century suburbia -- blinking-nose Rudolph centerpiece, cheap glass candy cane vase, and red-cheeked carolers made of porcelain. The sights of his childhood Christmases made Patrick happy. But when I dragged the old box out this year, he took a look at the stuff and said, "We've got to get some new decorations for next Christmas." So last week I made phone calls. I wanted decorating ideas, something beyond pinecones and fir boughs. "Christmas decorating is as personal and distinct as a person's taste," Kate Guynan, owner of Fleurish Floral Design (619-750-1868) told me. "Someone who is more subdued probably goes with more natural colors, not the traditional red and green of Christmas. So you could use dogwood branches, which have a reddish hue, a more organic look. Take red orchids, very elegant, and add reddish dogwood branches, which gives the whole piece a wintry look.

"Flowers that you don't normally think of as Christmas-y," she continued, "like tulips, amaryllis, even roses, can be used in holiday arrangements. By blending textures, the soft texture of the flower with stark wintry branches, or smooth berries, the display takes on a winter seasonal element."

For a fresh look to garlands, Guynan suggested, "don't go with the traditional ivy or pine boughs. Use magnolias or eucalyptus. Magnolia garlands are gorgeous. The leaf is a beautiful dark green on top and the underside is bronze. Use traditional accents. Add iced berries, poinsettias, glittered fruit, or seed balls and add them to the garland. Use something that isn't traditional greenery, but bring in traditional accents. You are still using the seasonal staple, just not in the traditional way."

I asked Guynan about alternatives to the ubiquitous red and green. "Browns are one of the trends this season," she answered. "The chocolates and mochas by themselves might seem drab, but added to traditional holiday colors, reds and golds, the browns take on a warmth. You are taking the traditional holiday colors and tweaking them to give a bolder, more dramatic effect. I'm also seeing a lot of bright blues, near turquoise, and almost neon greens, which you can bring in the browns with as well. It gives a modern look."

Guynan added, "In the past few years holiday decorating has been clean, simple, less is more. This year it seems it is the season of excess: a lot of glitter, a lot of sparkle, an abundance of show."

I'm not sure Patrick would go for a house full of glitter. "Do it on a small scale," replied Guynan, "maybe a forest of tinsel trees a foot-and-a-half high on your mantel. Take a Styrofoam tree form, wrap it in tinsel garland, and add clusters of berries and lights. You will be using the traditional element of Christmas, the tinsel, and using it in a different way."

Leanne Michael, owner and creative director of Bella Fiore (858-759-6100), suggested making the decorations match our surroundings. "What drives our influence in the homes we decorate is usually one of two things," she explained. "Either we go with the color palette and the theme of the home or we will sit down and figure out a theme with the client, whether it be an antique-toy theme, a bird theme, or a fruit theme. It depends what the influence is in the home, or if it is a child-driven holiday event. In the homes that we do, we usually do more than one tree. So the family room usually gets a tree that is geared toward the children, and the living room tree or the foyer tree is the statement area, and that is more of the grand Christmas tree -- about 15 feet high. And those trees are usually done to match the color palette of the home, which is quite beautiful because it gets away from the traditional red and green and gold.

"We've done some of the prettiest color themes this year. We did a beautiful peacock palette of blues and greens, silvery golds, bronzes; it's absolutely beautiful. And then we are doing another tree this year that's all old-world Spain with the matte sapphire blues, matte garnet reds, and antique gold, and we're using religious matter, including beautiful crosses. My favorite color palette is deep red and copper. That color palette is phenomenal. It's bright, very strong, and it usually goes with everybody's homes. It's one of those color palettes that takes your breath away.

"One of my favorite themes is the antique-toy theme. I have three clients that we do that look for, and throughout the year I shop antique stores looking for old toys. We actually put the toys in the tree; we hang them from the ceiling and make little vignettes throughout the house with them."

"Last year we did a beautiful tree for a home that was filled with boys. The woman of the house wanted to have a lovely theme for her as well; she didn't want it just to be a masculine Christmas. So we used this beautiful flannel ribbon that had a little bit of metallic thread going through it. You had this great plaid flannel ribbon on the tree and then we put cabbage roses, crab apples, birds, and lots of wood. We used beautiful wood branches in the tree so that it had a rustic masculine feel to it, but it still appealed to a feminine side as well."

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