When it comes to holiday themes, think festive, classy, and simple
With retailing’s most hectic season upon us, who could blame you for pushing “decorate the store” to the bottom of the to-do list? But your shop’s image and ambience are particularly crucial during the holidays: Foot traffic is at its peak, and your floor is teeming with impressionable first-time shoppers. A store swathed in elegant holiday decor makes for a more enjoyable shopping experience—encouraging consumers to spend.
Big-box stores have design armies to festoon their buildings in sparkly splendor. But many overtaxed small retailers rely on dated, generic decorations, instead of seizing an opportunity to thrill shoppers’ senses.
If your seasonal decor is due for an overhaul, West Hollywood, Calif.–based interior designer Natasha Baradaran suggests starting by choosing a specific color theme—then employing it through the store’s total design. Metallic hues are all the rage currently, and muted blues and greens are also popular. There are no “rules” to color, but avoid the old red-and-green Christmas combo, which is decidedly passé and too closely tied to a single holiday. “Whites combined with mixed metals like gold and silver can feel dramatic and festive,” says Baradaran. “Yet it stills works as a great backdrop for flowers. There’s versatility to a white-and-metallics story.”
Los Angeles designer Oliver M. Furth relies on gold for a chic seasonal spirit. “It’s festive, timeless, and nondenominational,” he says. It’s also a natural for jewelers, as it picks up the shine of the merchandise. Considering a gold theme? Furth recommends “changing the liners in your cases to gold lamé, using gold Lurex ribbon to wrap chairs in your store” and “adding gold foil to the edges of holiday invites.”
Foliage-inspired greens are another elegant option. Westime boutiques incorporate fresh plants such as topiaries, says Laura Q. Hughes, director of communications for the Southern California watch-centric chain. She adds that the store sources most of its seasonal decor from florists and event companies.
Choose a color theme—say, a silvery blue—and continue it all throughout your store. (photo: Elena Elisseeva/Alamy)
L.A. designer David Phoenix, for one, favors more traditional holiday decor, utilizing real garlands and other plant cuttings, which he accents with silver or gold elements. “I love the smell of a real Christmas tree,” he says. “And I like using a collection of old ornaments with new ones mixed in.” Phoenix adds oomph to his natural-feeling decorations with a smattering of white lights.
The pairing of natural elements and white lights is a mainstay in luxury stores and shopping centers, including Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif. “We aim for decor that’s timeless and elegant, so lots of white lights and fresh poinsettias—about 4,000 poinsettias, in fact,” says Stacie Ellis, senior marketing director for the mall’s parent company, Irvine Company Retail Properties. The design team for the outdoor mall wraps the massive palm trees in small white lights and hangs “giant but simple bows around our center monument signs…so they look like large but tasteful gift boxes,” Ellis adds.
No palm trees? No worries. Potted trees and plants add a lovely sense of occasion to any space, says Baradaran. Poinsettias are striking, especially in multiples. And small, potted pine trees can be decorated beautifully with bows, garlands, and ornaments.
All three interior designers recommend forgoing any elements that are nonsecular or cartoonish (e.g., Frosty the Snowman). And never use items that aren’t in tip-top condition (like fraying bows and strings of lights that are missing bulbs). When in doubt—or short on time—strive for simplicity. “At the end of the day, your holiday decorating should enhance and complement the merchandise, not detract from it,” Furth says.
Not that subdued decorations are always the most effective.
Marie Helene Morrow, owner of Reinhold Jewelers in San Juan, Puerto Rico, has used vibrant street-style graffiti in her holiday (and everyday) store designs, to fantastical effect. “I’ve had a graffiti artist come in and decorate a tree or make a tree,” she says. “Sometimes the tree is planks of wood”—maybe not realistic, but festive nonetheless. Another holiday season, she adds, “we used only turquoise-colored balls.… Another year, we had mermaids around the tree. We always like to think of something that’s really different. I just want the [decor] to be happy, and I would never make it too religious because I want it to appeal to everybody.”
It’s also important that your decor appeal to you and your staff, Phoenix says. “I always encourage friends and clients to embrace their own personal style, and stick with decor and traditions that make them happy at this time of year.”
(Top: Radius Images/Alamy)
As with fashion and furniture, commercial decor is subject to the whims and whispers of the zeitgeist. The classic red-and-green combo isn’t the stuff of high style in seasonal decor this year—but that doesn’t mean it won’t be all the rage next year. We asked our experts to weigh in on what’s trendy when it comes to tree trimming, tinsel dribbling, and more.
1. “Metallics, sparkle, and glamour.” —Oliver M. Furth
2. “White lights.” —David Phoenix
3. “A natural organic look: magnolia leaves, candles, rich holiday scents, honeycombs, and cinnamon cloves.” —David Phoenix
4. “Potted plants and trees.” —Laura Q. Hughes
5. “Decorating with seasonal florals or any nature-inspired theme that celebrates the wonder of winter.” —Natasha Baradaran
6. “Joy!” —Oliver M. Furth
1. “Red and green.” —Stacie Ellis
2. “Blinking lights that distract from the watches and jewelry on display.” —Laura Q. Hughes
3. “Moving parts… No dancing Santas!” —Oliver M. Furth
4. “Faux plants.” —Oliver M. Furth
5. “Mixing too many things together, repetitiveness, and overly complicated holiday installations.” —David Phoenix
6. “Holiday retail burnout: Get some sleep, retailers!” —JCK editors
(Metallics: Lubos Chlubny/Alamy; Santa: Star Pix/Alamy)