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Thursday, Dec. 1, 2011 11:09 am

Holiday lighting illuminated

Professional holiday decorators give their tips on how to make the season bright, indoors and out


Every year, holiday lighting manufacturers introduce more varieties of bulbs, strands, colors and accessories.  Luckily for the seasonal lighting industry (and those who love cruising the neighborhood, looking at lit-up houses), nobody seems to be willing to forego Christmas lights altogether, no matter their financial woes.

Professional decorators say that there’s a trend towards nostalgic, natural-looking decorations rather than the energy-guzzling displays of the past.  That means that LEDs are getting more popular and the Las Vegas marquee-style house is going extinct. The variety of products available leaves people at a loss when choosing the right lights for the job, so a few lighting professionals have given their tips on lighting each area of the house.

Front yard trees
Lit trees in a front yard draw the most attention to a house, says Brandon Stephens, vice president of marketing at Christmas Décor in Lubbock, Texas.

Lights on a door or across the roof lining act as a backdrop. If you light a tree, that’s the thing that stops traffic, Stephens says. Using a lot of lights sets a property apart. Since a large tree requires plenty of light, use mini-LED strands. LED lights save energy and thus electricity costs, so they work well for massive outdoor undertakings.

To make the tree look full, string the lights through the branches rather than around the outside, says Ric Robertson at lighting service Holiday Lighting Guy in Beverly Hills, Calif. “We don’t want to have to go around the tree and tangle it and make it look like the tree is choked,” he says.

Divide the tree into sections and then work from the top to the bottom, Robertson says. “That’ll create a nice, full tree,” he says.

For a different look, Stephens recommends wrapping mini-LED lights up the trunk and then using larger C9 or C7 bulbs in the canopy.

Outdoor shrubbery
The key to making lit shrubbery look nice is making it seem organic, Robertson says. He advises against using light nets, which tend to look too perfect. “As far as bushes go, we lay lights in by hand,” he says. Use mini-LED lights rather than larger bulbs to make shrubbery look full.

Clear lights remain the most popular choice in outdoor holiday decorating for roof and window lines, but shrubbery is the place to use color, Stephens says. Setting up a pattern of clear and colored lights works well, with every few sections changing to green or red. “It’s a popular place for people to work color back into their display,” he says.

Indoor spaces
Take a look at where the electrical outlets are, says Bob Pranga, owner of holiday design company Dr. Christmas in Los Angeles. Wandering cords will diminish the look and present a potential hazard. Then determine the focal point of the room, he says.  Any lighting should complement it.

For example, a foyer with a fantastic chandelier should keep the chandelier as the focus, Pranga says. Lighting should be set up symmetrically around it. “Do something even and outline the existing architecture,” he says. “That makes it feel warm.”

Indoor lighting acts more as an accessory to other holiday decorations than as the primary attraction, Pranga says. He suggests combining some sort of greenery with the lights, such as garlands or wreaths, to hide the cords. “Just stringing up lights in your house, unless you really want that frat house look, doesn’t give it much charm,” he says. “You end up scotch taping them to the walls.”

While LED lights save power for complex outdoor displays, they tend to look too harsh for indoors, Pranga says. “They make your room look like a black light palace.” Use incandescent lights instead for a warm and cozy ambiance.

Christmas tree
Similar to decorating an outdoor tree, wrap lights through branches rather than around the Christmas tree to add a nice depth, says Carolyn Horten, owner of design group Christmas Holiday Specialists in southern California.

Use the same tactic of dividing the tree into three triangle sections and working from the top down. The method not only makes the tree look full, it helps with damage control, she says. “It’s really easy to control blow-outs that way,” Horten says. To prevent fuse blow-outs all together, don’t use more than three or four strands, and run an extension cord along the trunk, she says. Use a remote-powered or step-on-step-off power strip at the bottom to simplify turning the tree lights on and off.

Horten recommends using strands with 100 lights per foot. “It just adds a really nice ambiance,” she says. But don’t be afraid to accent the tree with a unique light size or color, using mini-lights further into the tree.

Traditional trees with lots of sentimental ornaments that range in color will pop with a mix of clear and colored lights. “You can definitely mix up the lights,” Horten says. “It sounds weird. But it looks nice.”