Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Foolproof Process for Perfect Holiday Decorating

A Foolproof Process for Perfect Holiday Decorating

If designing and executing a proper Christmas display were easy, we would let our men do it. Sadly, Christmas decorating numbers among those essential household operations best left to the women. Just as women do everything else methodically, intelligently, sequentially, aesthetically, and practically, so highly skilled housewives approach holiday decorating with well-developed game plans.

We love our men. We do. After years of watching them struggle with holiday lights and ornaments, though, we wisely decided to redistribute the labor, instructing, “Honey, why don’t you take the kids shopping for my gift while I do a few things around the house.” Then, after analyzing everything the men traditionally have done to transform our homes and yards into holiday wonderlands, we very systematically and deliberately do precisely the opposite. Foolproof. For the sake of this discussion, we will assume you have the ordinary all-American house with eaves and a front yard and all the standard amenities. Your specifications may vary, but the basic plan will remain the same.

Four simple steps to picture-perfect holiday decorating

Design—Design your display both for aesthetics and for technical precision. Design with cost in mind, and design according to “the principle of elegance,” using just enough of just the right stuff. Apply your two standard principles of excellence: (1) We will do this once and do it spectacularly; and (2) whatever we buy, we will invest according to the rule of “buy and hold,” looking for good value over the long haul. No one ever has made an entire string of bargain-brand icicle lights last more than one season.

Designing for aesthetics, establish a theme, which may just be a sophisticated word for a color scheme, except planning around a theme, you inevitably will stress consistency and continuity as you should. If you are going with all white, stick to it. If you choose red and white, keep in mind that you are suggesting “candy cane” and Santa. If you decide on red, green, and white, then you are signaling “traditional.” And if you elect pink, you are so far fashion-forward that just about anything will work. Carry your theme from exterior to interior. In your planning, you may take a fresh look at your Christmas tree lights and ornaments, building your outdoor display to coordinate with the tree.

Establish background and centerpiece. In most cases, your house itself will be the background, and you should try to trace all the rooflines in lights. You may have animated characters, a nativity scene, or a special display you erect on your front lawn: Make sure it coordinates with your background. In the absence of a big front-yard display, make your entryway the focal point of your decorations, tracing the doorframe in lights, and lighting the entire space with spotlights, making the scene look wonderfully warm and inviting.
Just as importantly, design your display with the technical details in mind. On one hand, you do not want to overload a single circuit; on the other hand, you want to keep your connections simple, so that long strings or groups of lights will connect with your timers with just one plug. Note: Timers are essential, non-negotiable, because they save kilo-watts and therefore both dollars and Mother Earth. Kid-proof and pet-proof your connections and plug-ins, making sure they are waterproof. The best decoration designers keep all the connections hidden, and they keep them off the ground. You can do this.

Prepare—Remember, decorating is a process. Take your time and do it properly this time, so that it will go seamlessly every time in years to come. First, of course, you shop. What else might possibly come first? Get the right ladder. The men do these great high-wire acts on rickety old ladders that put them at-risk of certain death. Work with a reputable purveyor of building materials to find the right length and width for your house design and your own self. Then, get your own cordless-rechargeable drill. Do not get some house-brand Barbie drill from a big-box store; invest in the real deal from DeWalt, Milwaukee, Craftsman, or Bosch. Most importantly, invest in commercial grade LED light strings, because they will not go out mid-season, become ugly tangles of spaghetti in your arms, or mysteriously self-destruct during the summer. LEDs never burn-out, and they use far less electricity than incandescent lights. The wires are more robust than homeowners’ lights, and they therefore are less prone to tangling, breaking, or fighting you as you hang them. Best of all, the wires on commercial grade light strings come in several different colors, so that you can render them invisible against your eaves. Naturally, they come in all colors, and they do all kinds of tricks.

Install your hooks first. The “do it once” rule especially applies here. Therefore, do all the things the boys always should have done. Measure. If you’re using icicle lights, plan for a hook at each place an icicle hangs down from the main wire. With straight strings, install a hook at least every foot for the entire run; closer is better, because your lights will not sag if your support them well. Drill “pilot holes” for your hooks at your designated intervals. A pilot hole will be 1/8-inch smaller than the diameter of your hook. Yes, that seems like a big difference, because we are assuming you will use large galvanized hooks for durability and rust resistance. Use vice-grips or channel locks to screw-in the hooks as far as possible.

Test your lights before you hang them. Remove all the packaging and extend each string full-length across the garage or down the driveway. As you unpack the strings, unkink
weekend to finishing the exterior displays, but deliberately delaying illumination of your biggest and best design element until Christmas Eve. The deliberate delays save energy. More importantly, they build the drama and suspense in your build-up to the big day. Consistent with your energy conservation plans, set your timers to light your lights only during “primetime”—7pm to 10pm (9 central).
Coordinate—Nowhere is it written that you must hang all your lights and set-up your entire display all at once. We recommend that you install and light the strings along your eaves in time for Saint Nicholas Day on December 6. We suggest you spend the second weekend of December focusing on interior decorations; devote the third