One way to gain inspiration is to check out the Finishing Touches Home Tour, a benefit for the Junior League of Palo Alto*Mid Peninsula that includes four homes in Atherton and Menlo Park.
Nancy Evars, an interior designer with Evars + Anderson Design, Menlo Park, will be designing holiday decor for one of the homes. Although she's done this twice before, this year she'll be doing her own home, which was completed just a year ago.
"I usually don't do conventional Christmas colors — red and green. I bring in pink, purple, gold or turquoise," she said.
This year she plans to do a formal setting in her dining room, whose chairs are upholstered in Kelly green. Bloomingdale's is supplying the china, with touches of gold and purple.
"It'll be an elegant table. ... The green chairs will complement nicely," she said.
The main tree will be placed in the front window facing the street, which just happens to be in her home office. Her choice of decor is "elegant," with ornaments in gold, white, dark pink and green.
"It's nice to see the tree from outside," she said, recalling that they put it in the spacious family room last year; afterward they'll decide which they prefer.
A separate tree will be set up for her three children in the basement, which serves as a play area.
"We'll decorate with ornaments collected over the years," she said, recalling how they pull each one out and talk about where it came from. One came from their previous neighbors in their old neighborhood, who gave them one with both families' names on it. Another has a heart and was a gift when she and her husband were dating.
The kitchen will sport more organic decorations: artichokes, fruits and vegetables showcased on the kitchen table, along with branches and berries.
And outside there will be a s'mores bar set up, next to the outdoor fireplace and seating area.
Evars said one doesn't have to spend a fortune to create stunning holiday decorations. She suggests buying a lot of the same blossom — three white orchid plants put in a large pot with moss, or create a tight ball of red carnations. "It looks more expensive than they really are and has more impact," she said.
One year she popped into Michael's and bought gold reindeer and white flowers, which she marched across her table. Another year she found candles in tall glasses to serve as a centerpiece — all from Target.
Cathy Ettel, with her partner Laura Pohlen, of ParkGate Home, Menlo Park, will begin in a more traditional mode: First, they'll find out what's important to the client, what they want to keep and use.
"It's all about family and memories," she said. "Then, we incorporate new and fresh in with their things."
In this home there'll be two trees, one in the family room incorporating what they already own, plus children's ornaments made in school, preschool and at home.
For the living room tree, they'll go new, with lots of white, silver and blue — and lots of glitter, Ettel said.
Given that the owner likes contemporary but has family antiques, Ettel will help create an "eclectic blend. ... To us it's all about maintaining what belongs to the client and making it her home, not our home. We'll reflect her style in an updated way."
That style will include incorporating some family history, her grandfather's artwork, antique pieces and her children's art, "yet with a contemporary twist: new, fresh and eclectic," she added.
Jo Ann James, of Jo Ann James Interiors, Menlo Park, also will be working with a client to decorate her home for the holidays. So far she's laid out a floor plan, color-coded, and had a meeting where they decided on using plenty of fresh greens. They'll go to the flower market to gather up an array of holiday greens, including pine cones, holly and pyracantha. "We'll decorate the house so it is fragrant, very Christmasy feeling, with some ornamentation — not a lot," she said.
As part of the presentation, James is creating two easels with poster board with suggestions for docents to explain how old pieces can be integrated into a new design, she said.
James noted that old ornaments can often be reused, with a new twist. To change clear ornaments used last year, for example, one could roll up little pieces of ribbon, or break a colored ornament, then place the pieces inside. Add glue, shake up and the new bits and pieces will adhere. "There are various other ways to freshen up what you have," she said.
For the very contemporary house she's holiday-designing, James is thinking of filling the glass dome of a pedestaled cake platter with silver and gold ornaments. "It's contemporary but we'll make it interesting to do but not too traditional Christmas. We feel that we have such a wide, wonderful basket of different people from all over the world, so we don't feel it's appropriate to do a traditional Christian Christmas. We'll keep it neutral, contemporary," she said.
That means no swags or wreaths inside, but maybe some clean, square lanterns, plus a series of white wreaths that are lit, on the windows facing the street.
"It'll be cheerful and holiday-ish, but not traditional," she added.
Last year for home tour
Caitlin Hyatt and Katherine Glass are putting the "finishing touches" on organizing the sixth annual Finishing Touches Home Tour, now in its final year.
Four homes in Atherton and Menlo Park will be decked out for the holidays and shown via self-driven (with valet parking at each home) or by shuttle (leaving from the Four Seasons Hotel).
"Each home is matched with a designer, who works with the homeowners to use their decorations and bring in more. There'll be everything from a traditional family Christmas to a very modern Christmas, to just some holiday/winter/the season" decor, Hyatt said.
"It's fun to have the designer come in and see what you have, bring in a couple of new pieces to shake it up a little bit," she added.
In addition to the tour, a series of mini-events will take place at the hotel, including boutiques, a luncheon, cocktail party and a party-planning demonstration. Jeffrey Allen Marks, a Los Angeles designer and author of "The Meaning of Home," will be keynote speaker on Friday morning.
All proceeds from the event support Junior League community projects and grants, Hyatt said.
What: Finishing Touches Home Tour
When: Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Where: Four homes in Atherton and Menlo Park; plus events at the Four Seasons Hotel, 2050 University Ave., East Palo Alto
Cost: Shuttle-drive tour, $40; self-driven tour, $65; luncheon and lecture on Friday (includes self-drive tour), $150; cocktail party Friday, $125; party demonstration Saturday, $45