Here’s how two NoVA-based interior designers decorate for the holidays

From elements of simplicity to personal mementos, Lauren Liess and Cindy Murphy share home-design inspiration for the holiday season.

home decorated for christmas
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While Christmas is technically a one-day affair, the celebration tends to begin as soon as Thanksgiving is crossed off the calendar or, for some, even earlier. And when getting in the spirit, one of the first things to do is set the scene, mood and feeling of joy by decorating your home with holiday decor.

From rainbow lights on the front lawn to white and green candles sprawled throughout the home, there are many ways to decorate for the holidays. For Lauren Liess of Great Falls-based Lauren Liess & Co. and Cindy Murphy of Murphy’s Design in Manassas, designing your home for the holiday season is more than just placing tchotchkes on every mantle. Rather, it’s about maintaining tradition. 

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Here, Liess and Murphy talk memories, essential tips and trends for decorating your home this holiday season.  

What would you say are the most-essential design tips when it comes to decorating your home for the holidays?
CM: First thing that I have learned over the years is that you have to take all your decorations out before you start decorating so you know exactly what you have. If you don’t, you end up with no theme or cohesiveness and a box of extra stuff in the basement. Before setting it all up, I do a thorough cleaning first. I remove all the other daily decor from my home and then bring it back in with the holiday decorations to have a combination of personal things like family photos, and the holiday stuff. You don’t just want snowmen and Santa Claus, the personal touches are great. I sometimes exchange the artwork on my walls too, for family photos from past holiday gatherings. 

LL: First, think with all of your senses—make your house not only look beautiful but smell good, get the tunes going and and cozy it up with fuzzy throws. Have treats around to welcome friends and family. Second, keep it timeless. And three, don’t forget what it’s really all about. We tend to go overboard with shopping and acquiring stuff and get way too busy running around in preparation. Be sure to enjoy some time with the people you love and try to take a little pressure off the idea of the “perfect” holiday. 

How do you recommend finding a balance between incorporating a holiday theme, but not going overboard into tacky territory?
CM: I think to avoid this you really need to keep those personal mementos in your spaces throughout the holidays. Also, remember what the holidays are about, which is tradition and family. If it feels like you’re just creating a picture-perfect photo versus a memory, then maybe it’s too much. Putting some fresh greens around the house creates a balanced look too, and reminds me of a day when we used to go cut down our own Christmas trees. 

LL: I love natural and timeless holiday decor—simple garlands, natural items found outside—holly, pine cones, evergreen boughs and vintage pieces like old, glass ornaments or brass candlesticks.

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Are there any key decor pieces you personally bring into your home every year?

CM: I have a very tall, fake Christmas tree that’s about 8 feet tall. All of the ornaments I have, I’ve been collecting since I was 16. It was a tradition my mother and I had where we would go buy Christmas ornaments that were on sale every year. Over the past 34 years, I’ve accumulated ornaments from decades of time and I can remember where I got every single one. My mom has since passed, but I still have that memory. I also have the manger that I was given as a wedding gift. And every year I tend to find one new thing, especially at Lucketts, and then they become heirlooms. Last week I scored a vintage Christmas tree farm sign, and I spotted that one right away. 

LL: Lit garlands—I have a collection of lit, faux garlands that I add fresh greenery or flowers to every year. I hang them on our stair railings and mantles. I’ve also had my ornaments since I was a kid—my mom used to give me one every year and when I got my first apartment she gave them all to me. Lastly, we have a beautiful, wooden Nativity scene carved from olive wood. 

I love incorporating natural elements like garlands, pine cones, fruit and flowers, like narcissus or white poinsettias. I like to buy one white poinsettia plant and cut the blooms off and put them in water all over the house. They last longer than the season and are so pretty.

How do you recommend decorating when on a budget?
CM: Fresh greens. We’re in Virginia; there are so many evergreens. And I know you’re not supposed to just go cut evergreens, but there are a lot of people who would be happy to allow it from their lots. Also, a lot of times you can go to the Christmas tree lots and they offer the trimmings for about $10 dollars. Simple, twinkly lights are always festive too. And natural grapevine is beautiful. It can take years to amass a collection of ornaments, but you don’t need that. The real beauty is in the natural decor pieces, like pine cones. 

LL: Keep it simple—even if you aren’t on a budget! And reuse what you have and add to your holiday collection over time. If you have to shop, buy quality over quantity. One beautiful piece, like a dried boxwood wreath, will last for years. Get crafty: Handmade construction paper-link garlands with a little bit of glitter can go a long way. Craft stores also tend to have less expensive holiday decor than the big box stores.

Are there any trends you expect to see within homes throughout Northern Virginia this holiday season?
CM: I do believe that vintage is very strong right now. Anything that reminds people of the past is in; it’s that nostalgic feeling that people are looking for. I also think the simplicity of fresh greens is coming back. I feel as if, when I am in my clients’ homes, that there’s less in their homes than there used to be. People are really just putting out the materials that are important to them and not everything, which will translate into the holidays. It’s more minimalistic and more natural. 

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