Growing up, the only trees I’d ever seen were the usual quaint suburban family fare and department store fakes with triad clusters of satin balls in harvest gold and red.
Two trees I saw in college changed the way I approach Christmas trees forever.
I took shelter at the new Rowes Wharf hotel at South Station one evening in 1987 waiting for a bus to Worcester to see Rush on their Hold Your Fire tour, and I was transfixed at the pink tree in the rose-orange marble and granite lobby.
It was a concept tree – Victorian. The very tall and wide blue spruce set the rich pink and gold brocade and damask ribbons off beautifully. Overflowing with 1980s excess suited it well; it was wired to its invisible core with lights wrapped around every branch twice, and those gorgeous Krebs Lauscha Glas ornaments and many others crowded it so I wondered how they hung them without hitting each other.
The fact the tree was free standing in the center of the lobby drove home the importance of decorating all sides of a tree; one always can see to the other side. Mauve-rose silk poinsettias tied it all together, and these were echoed by the bi-level bank of real pink poinsettias surrounding the base in lieu of presents.
There were lights like traditional candles, lights like pinecones, lights like stars. I’d think I’d seen everything, and then I discovered a constellation of putti around the pearl garland, and then some other vignette. And all glittered dainty gold as if angels had dusted it so.
The other tree that rocked me was a tiny picture in Vogue of a deceptively simple treatment: over-lit, covered in so much babies’ breath it looked like a veiled bride, and ringed in pink poinsettias around the base. This tree taught me you can never have too many little flowers on a tree.
My trees in the late 80s were so pretty, with foamy spheres of dried babies’ breath on them, but they eventually browned and crumbled. I suppose babies’ breath became a pariah of the 1980s like the mullet, because I haven’t seen it in floral supply places since Clinton was in office.
I learned from these two trees and added my own tenets, if you will indulge me.
I like my tree to convey an over-arching state of winter grace.
Achieving this is easy with:
Branches flocked in spray snow and glitter
Soft colors (no hot pinks or bright aquas)
Detailed floral and ribbon clusters at the top where it's tricky to decorate
Ornaments with a lot of individual detail
I make sure the trunk is obscured with silk poinsettias, ribbon, and large ornaments so no ‘sneeze’ interrupts the symphony.
Another important thing is I consciously form a vertical emphasis that leads the eye upward.
This verticality is created by the use of:
Ribbon run top to bottom,
and oblong ornaments (round ornaments have to be stunning, I actually avoid them).
My pearl garland doubles as an exterior event that ‘fences’ everything in, creating depth and therefore a sense of wonder. It’s really just a roll of pearl string I bought at the now defunct and very missed Patchogue Floral. The pearls at the top are half the size of the lower level pearls for proportion.
Lastly, I employ 5 strands of the tiniest lights, most importantly micro lights with different blinking settings so the tree sparkles. These came on the market a few years ago, perfect timing in my case because my 20 year old sets were dying or dead. I have lights shaped like pinecones and stars,
just like that Rowes Wharf Hotel tree did.
I avoid trends like giant glittered numbers or words.
Till next time, stay shabby!