By Design by Elaine Markoutsas

Make the Most of a Hopeful Season With Festive Home Looks

Our holidays may not be as robust this year, or shared with as many family and friends as in the past. Still, with what we have experienced in the past months, there's a real longing for some festivity. We're all in.

That's played out in a massive effort to decorate early. Holiday merch has been showing up in stores earlier and earlier, barely allowing pumpkins and Halloween wreaths and decor to be stashed away. But this year, there's an almost frantic mood. Right after Thanksgiving there were reports on Chicago TV news about trees flying out of lots, with a caution that they might be snapped up before the end of the weekend -- still in November!

Even outdoor lights, which usually are up in many cities by now, have been twinkling for a few weeks in residential neighborhoods. Not that we're at all anxious. We're hopeful that this pandemic soon (and we know how relative that may be) will be under control.

In the meantime, we're most definitely embracing the mood in a desire to be transported back to a happy place. So we deck the halls! There's something about lights, the smell of fresh evergreens, sparkly ornaments, warmth of gold, glimmer and romance of candles. Comfort. It feels good. Nostalgia for Christmases and Hanukkahs past, with loved ones. Th good times.

We desire the pretty, to dress our trees and our homes. And if we've procrastinated as we sometimes have in the past, we may not find exactly what captured our attention on retail and catalog websites. Frontgate, which packages an assortment of themed ornaments for a particular look -- style or color -- sold out of its Delft Blue collection in November.

That won't stop our dreaming. We continue to be inspired. Perhaps we'll borrow the idea for a smaller tree, gathering a range of blue ornaments in different sizes. Heck, maybe we'll even make some of our own. Perhaps we'll find one special ornament to live with our tried-and-true and heirloom pieces.

Each year there are so many fabulous ideas for decorating, from designers, bloggers and stylists. On the CB2 website, the talented Kara Mann, who has design offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, shows how she brings a little glam to her holidays.

What's striking about Mann's look is its elegant, chic simplicity. An entertaining vignette, for example, shows a burnished brass-finished mirrored gallery tray with glasses paired with a gold necked decanter. The pieces are set on a painted white sideboard. A pristine white feather tree stands off to the side; a 30-inch feather wreath hangs above.

A magnolia garland, with its warm copper underside, nestles on a stone fireplace mantel, with a trio of tall brass-plated steel candlesticks. Modern stocking holders are a vision in half white marble, half gold. Mann's newest furnishings have found a simpatico partner in CB2,

Gold, of course, is the go-to metal for visual warmth. It's especially winsome with white, both enhanced by candlelight or warm white battery-operated fairy lights. One of the prettiest swags at Crate and Barrel features white jingling bells, lined in gold, slung from a gold rope over a doorknob.

One idea for transporting to an amazing winter wonderland comes from an online wallcovering company, Wallsauce. Its massive murals, available in both paste and peel-and-stick, are designed to cover entire walls. They're particularly engaging as a backdrop in a holiday setting.

Look behind the sofa in a living room, and you gaze into a black-and-white image of snowy Central Park, lined with snow-covered trees and streetlights glowing along the way. Another design is a perky modern folk art depiction of stylized Christmas trees and reindeer, all fancifully colored and decorated with polka dots and chevrons.

A snowy forest of redwood trees is another backdrop for a bedroom decorated with greenery and a Christmas tree with gold ornaments.

Adding greens -- real or faux -- are an easy way to spruce up some rooms. We especially love Pottery Barn's leather-wrapped rectangular mirrors, which hang from leather straps on hooks. A grouping of six adorned with pine wreaths with red ribbons makes a compelling focal point on a dining room wall.

Traditional holiday plants like poinsettias, which come in classic red, creamy white, shades of pink and variegated hues, are available even at big-box stores like Home Depot. They add a welcome pop of color. At Pottery Barn, there are some convincing faux versions, as well as potted and loose stem amaryllis. As part of a mantelscape that features red plaid stockings, the red-and-white scheme couldn't be more engaging.

Among embellished stockings are a couple of standouts. Metal artisan Jan Barboglio's Bota de Navidad for Neiman Marcus, places metal milagros -- religious folk charms that are traditional votive offerings in Mexico and Latin America. Instead of appliques of fabric, the artist attaches silver and gold metal pieces on a creamy stocking. Another, embroidered with rosy flowers on a teal-y ground, has a fluffy cuff.

For those looking for a bit of nostalgia, snow globes always delight. Mackenzie-Childs takes the beloved Santa Claus figure, with gifts, and nestles the glass globe into a fanciful gold sleigh, its side panels in the brand's signature black-and-white stripes and checks. It's available at Neiman Marcus.

Mini bottle brush trees, popular in the 1940s and 1950s are reimagined in colors for today -- at Crate and Barrel.

Adding a note of whimsy are pine cones interpreted in a tree-shape candle mold, colored in a rainbow of gradated shades. Looking for a fun bottle stopper? The Hable sisters' tree, penguin, reindeer and red-capped polar bear -- available through Garnet Hill -- are sure to make you smile.

Candles can add romance and magic, and the holders can be architectural, like a modern menorah from Neiman Marcus. Mercury glass or glittery glass votives add not only a shimmery elegance, but the candles deliver the intoxicating scents of the season as well.

The price range for decorations is considerable -- from a few dollars to $7,500. The latter is for a 7-foot-plus two-sided LED star. But take heart. If some of the more expensive decorations are beyond your budget, there's always DIY. Or the after-holiday sales.

To be sure, as a nation, we all look forward to 2021. A new year filled with love and hope for better times.

For me, it's off to a new adventure. For 34 years, I have been proud to anchor the Home Design package for Andrews McMeel Syndication. Formerly known as Primary Color, it was created by Harriet Choice, a former editor and jazz critic for The Chicago Tribune, where I was the home furnishings writer. Immersed in all things design, I've been perhaps a little too passionate sometimes, lucky to be inspired by reporting on trade shows from Paris, Frankfurt, Dublin, Milan, Bologna and in the U.S. from coast to coast. That world is on hold. But designers and creators are still producing amazing product, although introductions now are virtual. We all look forward to releasing the pause button and meeting again, in the real world beyond Zoom.

I hope our paths cross sometime soon. Stay tuned. And in touch. With much love,


-- Anthropologie, 800-309-2500,

-- CB2, 800-606-6252,

-- Crate and Barrel, 800-967-6696,

-- Frontgate, 888-263-9850,

-- Garnet Hill, 800-870-3513,

-- Neiman Marcus, 888-888-4757,

-- Pottery Barn, 888-779-5176,

-- Wallsauce, 888-964-0073,

-- West Elm, 888-922-4119,