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Here’s how the pros decorate for the holidays

Jeanine Matlow
Special to The Detroit News

Though there are plenty of ways to deck the halls, some find it easier to keep seasonal flourishes consistent year after year. If you’re tired of the same old tinsel, it might be time to hit the refresh button on your holiday decor. For inspiration, take a few simple pointers from these local pros for making a space feel festive.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, Dan Davis, interior designer and co-owner with Paul Johnson of Dan Davis Design in Ferndale, gets the Dearborn home of clients Kevin and Leslie Cardwell gussied up for the occasion. “Every year they host some type of holiday party,” he says.

Cascading ribbon makes an elegant statement on the artificial tree in the library of the historic residence formerly owned by Henry Ford’s sister. “We carry what we did with the home, which is classic with a rich color palette and mixed metals,” says Davis. “It’s traditional with a twist.”

Steely blue accents blend with white, silver, gold, bronze and copper.

Seasonal touches also appear on the fireplace mantel in the formal dining room. “She loves the smell of fresh greens, so we always bring that in,” says Davis who topped tea light holders with ornaments alongside crystal candlesticks and white lights.

No surface gets left behind, like a demilune table dressed with candles and ornaments. “You should spread the holiday decor around, especially in the dining room,” he says. “It’s not enough to do the main table. You should add just a hint on the other pieces.”

The holiday decor spans the entire first floor, including a sideboard in the informal dining room featuring a seasonal vignette with finials and other festive embellishments.

For a holiday gathering, Davis likes to set the tone with outdoor incense when guests arrive.

Fresh garland accents the staircase railing, while candles light the way on the stairs. “The staircase is the first thing you see when you open the door,” says Davis who suggests adding a hint of holiday decorating right outside the front door or in the entry. “Tell the color story or add fresh flowers.”

In the great room, smaller trees flank the fireplace while a salvaged tree in the corner has a sculptural effect. A tasteful mix of holiday ornaments, fresh greenery, candleholders and Christmas stockings adorn the mantel. Giftwrapped packages signal the celebratory season when propped on a ledge near the ceiling.

In the kitchen, martini glasses filled with decadent desserts are surrounded by strands of pearls for a pretty presentation.

Davis believes in scattering seasonal pieces throughout to send a holiday message. “It’s important to add enough to draw the eye around the room,” he says. “Sometimes we’ll take existing pieces out of the house so that it’s more thematic, but you never want to lose the spirit of the house so it’s important not to do something that’s so foreign. You want to at least draw the style of the home back into the decorations.”

Less is more

At the Grosse Pointe Park residence of Phillip Morici and Joe Neiradka, co-owners of fleurdetroit in Bloomfield Hills, a design firm for interiors and exteriors and lifestyle company that does everything from floral to landscape, they chose to do a modern take on holiday decorating.

It’s been almost two years since they acquired the historic 1927 home of Pewabic founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton and her architect husband, architect William Buck Stratton.

In their former house, they had a traditional tree filled with antique ornaments. But here they wanted to try something new. “This one has a contemporary edge. We bought new bulbs for the faux tree, so now we’re doing that modern spin,” says Morici.

The artificial tree in the living room offers some flexibility. “We could leave it up with the clear-cut ornaments,” he says. “The acid green hand-blown ornaments provide a nod to holiday without being overtly forest green.”

A vintage wool blanket from Neiradka’s collection becomes an impromptu tree skirt. “I wanted to go skirtless, but the tree felt naked,” says Morici. “People can pull from what they have and see what works, then interject newer things. I love layers, but I’m always editing.”

Stacked firewood acts as a natural backdrop for the handsome tree that sits beside the Pewabic fireplace surround.

A simple wreath above the wood-burning fireplace fills in for a postage-size painting that was there before. “I like how it’s oblong with a hint of tradition. The ribbons are snippets that Joe saved,” says Morici. “It’s oversized and it’s the perfect accent that ties everything together.”

In the dining room that features a Pewabic tile window sill, a sizable centerpiece that blends real and faux elements strikes a casual note. “When people have cocktail parties, they can make a big statement with a piece like this and have appetizers on the table for milling about,” he says.

The blue Pewabic vessel becomes a festive focal point when filled with Michigan winterberries, magnolia and thistle.

At one time, Morici only used fresh elements, but here there’s a mix of greens to add volume and longevity. “I was so anti-faux before. Now, when we do our clients’ interiors, you can’t even tell anymore because they’re so good. We always put a pop of fresh in there to get that smell,” he says.

Real candles add a classic accent to the surroundings with a laid-back vibe that supports their less-is-more holiday décor. “We’re so casual. We don’t care how the world lives. This is how we live,” says Morici.

On the buffet, a contemporary sculpture by a Chinese artist that was her thesis at Cranbrook is displayed near a Teco vase, while op art hangs above. Garland arranged on one side creates an asymmetrical look.

Their minimal approach begins at the 17th century Spanish front door that doesn’t require much else, so a juniper wreath accented with satin ribbon does the trick.

Once again, the ribbon is a snippet from the remnants of giftwrapped packages saved by Neiradka.

Morici encourages others to take their holiday décor in a new direction by experimenting and repurposing what they have. “I always tell clients ‘don’t be afraid to try something different,’ ” he says. “You can always tweak something and if you don’t like it, there’s always next year.”

Jeanine Matlow writes the Smart Solutions column in Homestyle. You can reach her at