How to style a perfectly decorated Christmas tree

Living room decorated for Christmas
Jennifer Morgan,-Interiors Editor

From lights to baubles, tree skirts to the all-important topper, we share the formula for a beautifully dressed tree

Dan Cooper knows a thing or two about decorations – this is his 25th Christmas at John Lewis, after all. But whereas most of us might average 20-30 baubles for our trees, the Christmas department is home to more than 1,200 products, and those rows of glittering decorations, awe-inspiring trees and wonderful wrappings are 18 months in the planning for Dan and his team. He even admits to having ‘a colossal collection of decorations at home… five or six thousand.’

We caught up with ‘Mr Christmas’ and asked him to share his Christmas ‘treetorial’ tips in a special video… 

Top tips for decorating your tree

Spend time getting the tree just right

Whether you go for an artificial or real tree, it’s worth paying a bit extra to get the size, shape and look you want – it’ll be the hero of your home for at least a month, after all. Take measurements before you shop, bearing in mind the height of your ceiling and how much space you have for the diameter of the tree at its base.'

There may be a trend for novelty decorations this year, but, says Dan, ‘for trees, the trend is for the most realistic-looking, rather than the most novel or gimmicky. Our trees are always getting taller and bigger though, with 7ft the standard but we do go up to 9ft. The tree really has become the centrepiece. Look out for our new all-singing, all-dancing Evergreen Classic Holiday Symphony Rainbow Pre-Lit tree – it’s programmed to create a display that accompanies music from The Nutcracker.

The secret to a perfectly dressed tree is in the preparation. ‘Let the branches in each layer of your tree “fall” into position before separating out each and every tip, arranging them so that the tree looks bushy and natural,’ advises Dan. ‘Tweak each layer before inserting the next – and don’t cut corners by leaving the back untweaked. Your tree should be so thick that it’s impossible to see between the branches from front to back. 

‘I’m a perfectionist so, as a guide, I spend 45 minutes or so tweaking a 7ft tree, but even spending ten minutes can make all the difference,’ says Dan.

Cover all bases

Tree skirts are a quick, easy way to hide metal stands and add some final polish. ‘A wicker tree skirt will never go out of fashion,’ says Dan. In the mood for something a bit more adventurous? Try a faux-fur or sparkling sequin one. Another top tip from Dan is to stand your tree on a piece of cardboard to avoid any indentations on the carpet or rug below.

Place your tree skirt over the stand before you begin to assemble or secure your tree – much easier than leaving it to the end. All you need to finish it off are a few beautifully wrapped gifts arranged around the base. Or why not try some novelty decorations – like reindeer, owls or even tigers – nestled in among those gifts?

how to decorate a Christmas tree

Consider the lighting

Remove the need for the annual dead-bulb hunt by getting a pre-lit tree. As a bonus you can then add more without having to untangle endless lengths of fairy lights. ‘A pre-lit tree is great for providing background light,’ says Dan. ‘But I’d always add extra ones, too – perhaps a statement set like our vine or spark ones, which both have thickly clustered bulbs.

‘In the same way that decorations should complement each other, so should your choice of lights complement the tree. We sell cool white ones with a blue-ish light; pure white ones with a soft white light, and warm white with a comforting golden light, as well as multi-coloured ones,’ says Dan.

‘Any lights should be arranged evenly around the tree – stand back and squint at it every so often to see if you’ve left any dark areas,’ says Dan. ‘And don’t scrimp by avoiding winding lights around the back of the tree – you’ll achieve much greater depth if you take the trouble. Tuck wires in as you go, winding the wire around a branch here and there to secure the lights in position. Dan recommends 50 bulbs for every foot of tree as a minimum. ‘But if you want to go for plenty of sparkle, try 100 per foot. We’ve also got app-controlled Twinkly lights,’ he adds.

It’s not just about baubles…

‘Dressing your tree is about more than baubles,’ insists Dan. ‘Garlands, sprays and large decorations help to add texture, interest and rhythm to your tree.’ Well-placed garlands lead the eye up and down and from side to side, while sprays are useful for filling in any gaps in the tree’s natural outline. Of course, Dan likes to think big. ‘Large decorations make the perfect focal point for that all-important Insta shot,’ he laughs. 

When it comes to quanitites needed, Dan suggests 2-4 garlands for a 7ft tree and 8-12 sprays. ‘Or why not use fresh foliage from your garden or dried grasses?’ And to secure that hero decoration, Dan always uses twine or a cable tie. ‘You may only need one large decoration, but if you want more, then keep to odd numbers.’

Christmas tree ideas

Time to style

‘There's no hard-and-fast rule about how many decorations you need to dress a tree,’ says Dan. ‘Most of our themes for 2020 can be dressed up or down. Start by curating a foundation of baubles before layering on the more decorative ones and, when you do choose those, try to buy more than one otherwise it’s difficult to make a tree look harmonious. Of course, you can save individual purchases for really special decorations.

‘Arrange baubles of the same design across the face of the tree, avoiding clumping them together. Try to use a mixture of shapes and materials and pop those most special baubles at eye level, where they can be seen,’ says Dan. Finally, add your star or fairy to the top and get ready for your tree to be admired…

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