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How To Decorate Your Christmas Tree Like a Professional

An expert guide on everything from lights to bauble placement and tree skirts

23 June 2021

Belmond Cadogan Hotel X Harvey Nichols Christmas tree

After the uncertainty of the past couple of years, the joyfully uplifting ritual of decorating the Christmas tree has never been more welcome and the desire to make it perfect felt more keenly.

To discover the art of decorating your Christmas tree so that it looks like you hired a professional, we turned to Janet Wardley, head of visual display at Harvey Nichols, who masterminded this year’s stunning Christmas windows and was responsible for decorating the beautiful Christmas tree at The Cadogan, a Belmond Hotel, in 2020.

From baubles and the controversial choice of lights to the distribution of decorations and le dernier mot on tree skirts, here’s how to decorate the perfect Christmas tree.

1. Select Your Tree With Your Space In Mind

When selecting a tree, I often choose one small enough to have it raised on a low side table to give it more height, which takes up less floor space and allows for more room to fit presents around the base.

Make sure you take a good look at the tree and have it positioned so that the best side faces forward. If it’s going in a corner or against a wall, trim or bring forward some of the wider branches at the rear so the tree can fit cosily into the space.

I also have an artificial tree, which some prefer as it’s much easier to maintain. I’ve had my current tree for 20 years and love taking it out of the loft along with the decorations, remembering all of the previous years it’s been with my family at Christmas and the joyful memories it brings back.

Take a good look at the tree and have it positioned so that the best side faces forward

2. Select Your Lights

I personally prefer to use mostly classic static white lights but if you’re using twinkle/flashing lights, ensure they are set back slightly into the tree branches so they aren’t too distracting. And if you want to use coloured lights, use them more sparingly and add white lights to highlight.

Choose lights that come with thin wires, either in green or silver. It’s the lights you want to see, not the wires!

3. Hang The Lights First

Always start with decorating your tree with the lights. It’s a good idea to do this with them switched on so you can see them better. Position your tree how you want it, so you know how much of the side and rear of the tree needs lights added and start from the bottom.

If it’s a big tree, use at least two sets of lights as they are widest at the base so most of the lights will be needed there, with the middle section being the area that will get the most attention. Loosely drape your lights around the tree first and step back to make adjustments so you get them evenly spaced before you work at tucking the lights into the branches and hiding the wires.

This year’s tree at Belmond is really impressive, my team used nine sets of lights and had to work on a tall ladder, stepping up and down as they worked their way up the tree to ensure it looked good from the ground level.

4. Selecting Your Baubles

At home, it’s nice to have a set of core decorations that remind you of past Christmases, adding additional elements each year to refresh the look of the tree. A handy tip is to remove the string/ribbons on new baubles and attach them with green floristry wire so they are fixed onto the branches and won’t fall off. You could also buy pre-made wire hooks for baubles.

Our Christmas theme at Harvey Nichols is different every year, although we do keep as much as we can each year for reuse. This year’s colour scheme is pared back and simple, with bright white lights and silver. The Belmond tree follows this same theme, with bright white and snowfall lights, silver and white baubles, large star decorations and mirror balls, draped with frosted glittered cedar foliage creating a stylish, uplifting and magically festive tree.

5. Placing The Baubles

Use a mixture of different sized baubles across the tree, making sure they are evenly distributed. Larger ones are good to position into the branches to fill any gaps in foliage and smaller ones closer to the branch ends. Adjust your lights where possible so they shine through or are around the baubles to light them up.

Always decorate your tree with appropriate size baubles – some of the decorations we used on the Belmond tree were as big as 50cm, as the tree was a such a grand scale the decorations needed to match the size.

6. Choosing A Topper

I think it’s fine to decorate with just lights and ornaments [and forego a tree topper], so make sure you have enough lights to reach the very top of the tree. If you do choose to use a topper, you may need to trim a bit off the vertical top sprig so that heavier toppers will stand up straight and not float too much above the lower branches.

7. On Tree Skirts…

I believe the star of the show should really be the tree, so I prefer to cover the base of the tree with wrapped presents and boxes.

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