As a Havenly interior designer, it’s no surprise that I like my home to look beautiful and festive for the holidays, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Early on in my career, I worked in event design — six years in fact. That’s six Christmas seasons, totaling 36 weeks of pure holiday madness. That experience has led to some great holiday hacks, and most importantly, a stress-free approach that works like a charm.
Here’s a list of my top five holiday hacks for a stress-free season.
Less is more (and also less work)
More often than not, we drag all of the holiday boxes in from the garage and frantically look for every last available surface to pile up the multitude of pieces we’ve collected over the years. Piling stuff on top of stuff creates a sense of chaos and with our already overstuffed holiday schedules, home is the one place where we should be able to just sit back and breathe.
Instead of adding more, try replacing pieces that you already have. If you typically have a tray on your coffee table with a candle or two and some faux greens, try replacing them with fresh, seasonal branches and a holiday scented candle. Same goes for your entryway — remove artwork and use the pre-existing hooks to hang your favorite wreath, or even hang it over top. Replace your doormat with a more festive version. Add a basket for guests to easily drop hats and mittens, and then add one more and fill it with chopped wood or birch logs for a seasonally inspired touch. Those throw pillows that live on your sofa year-round? Replace them with cheerful holiday covers and toss in a cozy throw blanket or two. For your kitchen, let the aromas do the talking. If your chef skills (like mine) equal placing pre-bought goods on fancy trays, try popping some cinnamon sticks, a couple slices of fresh orange and a few drops of vanilla in a pot of hot water and let it brew. Extra props if you dump in a bottle of vino to make mulled wine.
Work with what you have
Whether inherited or thrifted, now is the time to let all of those vintage, unique goods shine. End tables and steamer trunks can be pulled in as extra surfaces to set drinks on, antique trays, plates or platters are the perfect way to display your most savory offerings, and those bigger pieces like sideboards and credenzas make the perfect self-serve buffet or bar station.
Like things more modern? Make a bar cart do double duty for drinks or snacks. Items like butcher blocks, chopping blocks and charcuterie boards can also be useful holiday helpers — use them to display all the delicious goods you may (or may not have) prepared.
Know your audience
When helping my clients prepare their homes for the holidays, I like to spend a lot of time talking about who they’ll be hosting and how they’ll be using each space. If a large gathering is on the agenda, make seating a priority. Studies show that people feel most comfortable in L, U, or square configurations, so rearrange your furniture to accommodate and pull in pieces from other rooms if necessary. Poufs and ottomans especially make for great additional seating.
Expecting overnight guests? Add a scented candle, some fresh greens, and a handwritten note to their bedside table. Address only the areas of your home that will be used.
Don’t forget the kiddos
Whether it’s an older group who’ll inevitably get bored or a handful of free-range toddlers you’ll need to wrangle, keep in mind that little ones need something to do, too. For most kids, decorating the Christmas tree is often the highlight of the Christmas season, and felt versions like this one are great for even the littlest guests. Invite them to come in their PJ’s, give them milk and cookies, and gift each child with a Christmas storybook. You’ll look like the thoughtful holiday hostess you are, and parents will love you for making bedtime that much easier. If teens and preteens are part of the pack, pull in a little nostalgia by incorporating elements they might remember from their former Santa-loving years like favorite holiday movies or board games from when they were small.
Forget the flaws
Most importantly, remember that the holidays are a time for friends and family — it’s not about how much time you slaved in the kitchen or how many hours were spent decorating every inch of your home. Focus on the things that mean something, and forget the flaws. Nobody cares if your washroom has gingerbread scented hand soap (although it’s nice), or if your gourmet dessert is made from scratch (hint: the good ones never are). Serve it in a wine glass and they’ll never know the difference.