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Holiday Decorating Tips From Stil James

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Natalie curates small collections to give each space its own flavour. Photo: Bruce Murray, Visionfire

Make your home a haven of light, joy and comfort

East Coast decorator Natalie Owens, founder of Halifax boutique Stil James, has the answers to relaxed seasonal style that will make every room in your house your favorite space to be in this holiday season.

How do you transition to winter from summer décor in your home?

For most people, it’s hard—and expensive—to redecorate your entire home, so I try to think about interesting spaces and nooks around our home that I can really do something fun with. There’s no real theme, just carefully curated spaces that add a cozy, holiday sprinkle to the space. Whether I’m shopping for clients or myself, I always remember to only pick up what I love. Don’t fill spaces with knick-knacks just to fill them up. Be patient and collect beautiful pieces that bring you joy, so that each year you look forward to pulling out your treasures and finding fun ways to place them around your home. 

What’s one thing you’ve learned that you think everyone should know when decorating for the holidays?

Using your existing space and décor is really important. If you’ve got bright wallpaper up, start there and collect décor items that work with what’s already up in your home. For instance, in our sunroom we have this beautiful pale pink and gold wallpaper on every wall, so our holiday branch tree was inspired but that look. Only soft pink bulbs and glass balls with flecks of gold to really work with the paper instead of the classic red and green Christmas colours. It transforms the space into holiday mode, while also looking like it belongs there all year-round. 

Natalie curates small collections to give each space its own flavour.

What is winter’s must-have decorating piece?

Changing up your pillows and throws on your sofa is the easiest thing you can do as a starting point. Move from bright coloured, summer pillows to neutral furs and plaids. Be careful about picking things up that scream Christmas. You can create an incredible, sophisticated holiday vibe using all neutral colors, layering textures like faux fur, thick cream weave pillows and simple stripes keeps your space feeling fresh and wintery, minus the harshness of the red and green.

What’s your favourite way to bring the holidays into the home?

A beautifully decorated dining table: my favourite job at my parents’ house when getting ready for a big holiday dinner! Pulling unusual, natural centre pieces and really layering up the table with glassware, dishes and tons of candlelight brings me so much satisfaction. These pieces are used over and over again and in Atlantic Canada we really enjoy lounging around the table long after the meal is served, so I think it’s an important piece of the holiday to think about when planning your décor.

What are some of your own favourite holiday pieces that you use over and over?

If there’s anything I’m saving in a house fire, it’s my grandmother’s vintage Christmas ornaments—and my children of course! I love pulling the ornaments out each year and layering them in different village scenes, on our tree and in large glass vases as centre pieces. You can’t replicate the vividness and intricate details on really beautiful vintage ornaments. 

Any DIY tips when decorating for the Holidays?

I like to incorporate the kid’s holiday crafts by framing painted holiday pictures they’ve done with simple white Ikea frames. I’ll pull a whole gallery wall together of painted Santas, elves and winter scenes to set the mood in a kids’ den or toy-room. I also love finding branch trees to decorate throughout the house, or natural items from the park to use in centre pieces on the table as décor. There’s nothing more magical than combining elements from the outdoors with vintage sparkle. 

What’s your favourite thing about decorating for the holidays?

Creating really magical, calming spaces for my clients or my own family. I really believe that home décor or the way a space is pulled together can affect your mood, and personally I can always use a bit of a mood lift on the coldest, darkest days of winter, especially this year. Using things from my own childhood, things I saw at my grandparents’ house, brings me a lot of comfort. I love re-creating those spaces with a modern touch for my own kids. My four-year old came down in the morning to the sparkly pink and gold-branch tree I had set up the night before and said, “Mum! Where did you find this beautiful tree!?” I told her I made it for her while she was sleeping and used her favorite colours for the bulbs. Her face lit up like the tree in front of her and that for me is why I take such care in designing beautiful spaces for the holidays. 

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