Picture-perfect inspiration

As November draws to a close and winter weather starts creeping in with the subtlety of a sledge hammer, my thoughts inevitably turn towards holiday decorating.

I love creating a warm and cosy atmosphere in my home, but in this post, I want to talk about a source of holiday decorating stress: design photo spreads.

You see them in magazines, blogs, and on social media. The lighting is perfect, the decorations pristine and coordinated, the effect magical.

I love these pictures, but for inspiration. I don’t try to achieve these looks in my home, and here’s why:

A picture is static, so the angle and placement of every item matters.

Life is motion. Now, the motion that moves things out of place in our homes can descend into chaos and clutter, but moments where certain things are out of place are not only okay, they are part of the good life. A collection of coffee cups in the living room, a mostly-empty cookie plate, a blanket tumbled on the couch: these are the outcomes of moments where people came together and enjoyed each other’s company and the atmosphere of the place. What looks out of place or messy in a static photo can be warm and inviting in real life.

The decor in a photo in unsentimental, so style matters most

In photos taken for magazines or other commercial purposes, the decorations have often been donated. The better things look, the more secure next-year’s donations will be. To create a compelling holiday scene without any shared history or meaning among the audience, the styling becomes the focal point.

But in our homes, our holiday decor can be deeply interwoven with our lives. Some items have been hand made by loved ones, or given as gifts. Some have been favourites year after year, and remind us of pleasant memories or warm feelings.

But what, you say, about those magazine spreads of designers’ own holiday decor?

These, while interesting and inspiring, and often quite beautiful, are essentially advertisements for the said designer, and they follow the same two principles as above.

If I was doing a spread in a magazine, I would set up great shots based on camera angle, instead of what looks good when you are sitting on the couch, or walking through the door. In a static photo, your attention focuses on the composition of that one shot, rather than the cohesive whole.

A good designer is also going to stage their holiday spread for wide audience appeal, using their their best stuff to show they are a relevant, awesome designer who knows what is what.

This is harder to convey if your tree is full of highly personal decorations that have seen better days, or are beloved-but-tacky reminders you of your grandma’s tree, or are a mismatched bunch with no “theme” or “colour scheme” and look like they have been collected over a lifetime with little thought regarding their “fit” with the other decorations.

Finding inspiration


A string of lights and a sweet, sentimental figurine transformed my holiday buffet last year.

Make no mistake, though, the mismatched lifetime collection of decorations can be wonderful and inspiring to the right audience. This is why, although I love holiday magazine spreads I use them for inspiration, not aspiration. My audience is family and friends, and I embrace the personal, the sentimental, and the beloved along with my more design-inspired or trendy decor.

I’m going to be writing more about holiday decorating and style in the coming weeks. Tell me about your favourite decorating tips, stories, or inspirations or ask me any questions in the comments!