Every Christmas season I look forward to the opportunity to decorate our modest home's exterior. While extravagant light displays and inflatables may be the decor of choice for many homes, I like to take a different direction that honors the age of our home as well as its Victorian simplicity.  

Last year when I set out to decorate, I used a theme featuring fresh greens and pop of bright green ribbon. I liked the fresh swag look so much -- and received so many compliments on them -- that I decided to make swags for the French doors again this year. However, I definitely didn't want to have the same look as last year, and inspired by the Scottish Walk Weekend in Alexandria and our participation in the Designer Tour of Homes, I opted to showcase tartan ribbon as the focal point of this year's fresh greens. 

The scope of the work included making two swags, adding a wreath to each of the three windows, and sprucing up the two cast iron urns with natural elements that had a Christmas flair. I kicked off the project by informing Alex that I would be needing two "roughly twelve inch lengths of wood." Oh where in the world could he find wood? I just haven't a clue. 

After a little grumbling about having "no wood to spare" and something about it being "set aside for safe keeping," he miraculously found two scrap pieces that somehow fit my needs. In addition to the wood pieces, I gathered the supplies I'd need and got to work. These supplies include floral wire, scissors, a hot glue gun, and festive satin ribbon.

I started the project by hot gluing and wrapping the two pieces of wood with a the red satin ribbon.

I first applied several dabs of glue down one side of the first wood piece, and quickly before the glue dried, wrapped the ribbon around the wood. Next, I completed this process for the second piece.

This pop of color gives the swags a good backing to sit against, but also protects the paint on the doors from getting scratched from swinging swags. It also disguises the simple wood support.

Once the sticks were wrapped, I gathered some of the greenery we had picked up when we purchased our tree. In addition to our two Christmas trees, I picked up some branches with long pine needles, a few bundles of western red cedar branches, and some boxwood sprigs at the Heather and Greens sale in Old Town. With all of my lovely greenery ready to go, I got to work laying out my vision.

Starting with the long cedar branches, I gathered several together with floral wire to form a bundle, and then secured them to the wood backing a with a second length of floral wire.

After twisting the floral wire, I could see the next benefit of wrapping the wood in ribbon. The ribbon actually allows the wire to sort of bite into it, keeping it all securely in place.

With the cedar branches in place, I grabbed the long white pine needles in a slightly smaller and shorter bundle and wire tied them together as a bunch, and next secured them to the wood.

Using a small bundle of boxwood braches, I topped off the swag's natural greenery, again with wire. Using several different types of greenery is very important as it offers visual interest through variations in texture and shape.

Finally, I topped the entire swag with a plaid bow, the perfect complement to our participation in the Scottish Christmas Walk Weekend.

The final step in the basic assembly was to trim back the tops of the greenery that were protruding from behind the bow.

The final step of the assembly was to hot glue a length of ribbon securely to the back of the swags. Taking this ribbon, I ran it up and over the French doors, affixing it to the back of each door by wiring it to a suction cup. 

I also placed a suction up on the outside of the door to secure the bottom of the swag and prevent it from swinging or banging against the door.

All in all, I'm really happy with how the swags turned out. They add a nice pop of color and texture to the front of the house. 

The scale this year is much larger than in previous years, and I think this really went a long way in making the decorations look great.

Here's a closer look.

Next I turned my attention to the windows. The fact that we have only three front windows makes it easy to make a decent statement without breaking the bank. 

For a bit of a more modern twist, this year I opted to use square shaped boxwood wreaths. When I laid the wreaths out on the floor, Mel was an instant fan.

I opted to keep it simple, and the only thing I added was a tartan bow to the top of each wreath. Using the same ribbon as well as boxwood greenery ties the window decor back to the swags on the French doors.

We hung each wreath from the meeting rails of the sash using a little floral wire and a 3M command strip.

The final step in our exterior decorating effort was dressing up the two cast iron urns. Our existing sky pencils, though we loved them, have been in a bit of a death spiral over the last several months. We felt there was little we could do to save them, so we decided it was time to transplant them elsewhere and choose a new trees for the front. It all started with a trip to our local nursery where we saw many different options.

After much deliberation, we landed on two small spiral evergreens -- a bit of a twist on the traditional Christmas tree. To us, it seems like the perfect fit. 

We expected to pull the old sky pencils with a simple tug, but man did they put up a fight! Their roots had grown down through the middle of the urns and they were nearly cemented into place. The right urn was so completely in place that we needed three people working at once to pull it out.

Once we removed the sky pencil we noticed a sweet potato growing in the soil. This is thanks to the sweet potato vine we had planted. We've heard that a sweet potato appears at the end, but we've never dug it up to verify this claim. 

With the old trees out, we popped the new trees in and added a whole bunch of soil.

Once the trees were in place I started playing with clippings from our Christmas tree, white pine boughs, cedar branches, and several clusters of red berries. After a little back and forth, I think it ended up looking really great.

I was finally able to take a step back and look at our newly planted urns. How grand?

We were both a little sad to see the sky pencils go, but we'll try to give them a better home elsewhere. Plus, we're really happy with our new evergreen friends out front, and their width will still allow for room to plant colorful flowers in the Spring.

Lastly, we added two electric candles to each window, and voila, we're ready for the holidays. Here's a final look at the front of our home. 

We set out to achieve a simple yet elegant look for our home this holiday season, and I think we achieved it. What are you doing to decorate your home, inside and out? Do you gravitate towards the more traditional, or are you going out on a limb with more unexpected choices? 

Comments 23


12/6/2012 at 12:30 PM
Your decorations are gorgeous. I love the plaid ribbon, the swags, and filling the urns with greenery around the trees. Also, the way you hung the swags on the doors with the suction cup on the other side of the door is ingenious.
Thanks, Jayne! I was really pleased with the suction cup option too. After all the hours we put into restoring the French doors, we didn't want to risk damaging them! :-)
12/6/2012 at 12:35 PM
Did you eat the sweet potato!?

I really love the swags, and I might try my hand at making my own from the cedar and pine we have in the yard. We'll see, though...because it's really cold outside and I don't like to be cold, haha.
I looked it up, and although I can eat the sweet potato since we didn't treat it with pesticides, it probably won't taste as good as the vegetable variety.

Put on a heavy coat and get out into that crisp Canadian air, girl! Your gorgeous farm house is calling out for swags. :-)
Paula Pagano
12/6/2012 at 1:00 PM
Love, love, love the urns!
12/6/2012 at 1:01 PM
Gorgeous! I'm very inspired by all of your holiday decorating! I've done zilch so far. Maybe I'll get in gear this weekend!
Thanks, Kate. You can do it! Christmas is only 2.5 weeks away! :-)
12/6/2012 at 1:17 PM
Just one tip about your new spiral trees ... root pruning! It won't hurt them for you to occasionally pull them out and saw a couple of inches of roots off around their circumference and from the bottom. It will both keep them healthy and help to dwarf the top growth (plus, it will allow the soil to be refreshed with the pruning is complete).
Thanks for the tip, Thad! We'll definitely give that a try.

Do you know: will we have to prune the top growth too to preserve the spiral shape?
12/7/2012 at 4:19 PM
Yes, you will need to top prune it to maintain its shape. Since it is a little evergreen, the best time to prune is the spring before new growth hardens but don't fret too much because they can be pruned most anytime (since you are not pruning them for either flowers or fruit). Also, most evergreens do not develop new shoots on old wood, so maintaining the spiral shape will be easier because those exposed sections shouldn't have new buds. For more detailed directions, check out Lee Reich's The Pruning Book (I bet that the Alexandria Library has a copy).

Becky Caudill
12/6/2012 at 3:00 PM
Looks great.
12/6/2012 at 3:17 PM
I'm impressed with your bows (and the swags are beautiful, of course)! Any advice or a favorite guide for bow-making. My past efforts have been just dismal.
I had help with the bows this year from Sarah, our designer for the home tour. I asked her what her secret is and she said it's to make the bow in two separate pieces -- one is the loops for each side as well as the middle loop, and the second piece is the ribbon tail. I used to always try to make bows with one piece of ribbon, and that's where I would get hung up.

Let me see if I can recreate it and I'll do a post on it. Thanks, Holly!
12/6/2012 at 3:18 PM
I think your decorations look beautiful! I really like the swags on the doors.
We did a theme of red and gold, and my husband built a planter for a tree to go on the front porch: www.the-comfortable-home.blogspot.ca/2012/11/trimming-exterior-of-house.html.
Nice job! I love the homemade planter for the tree!
12/6/2012 at 5:41 PM
The people want to know...did you eat the sweet potato? ;)
No, it's sitting outside on the table still. I looked it up and you can eat it, so I'm thinking about including it in Lulu's next batch of homemade sweet potato treats. www.oldtownhome.com/2012/3/19/Suh-weet-Homemade-Sweet-Potato-Dog-Treats/index.aspx
12/6/2012 at 7:21 PM
Love those swags! Thanks for the tutorial. And, yes, inquiring minds want to know-- did you eat the sweet potato??
Thanks, Bea. And no, we didn't eat the potato but I think instead we'll cook it up for the four-legged sweet potato lover in our house....Lulu!
12/7/2012 at 9:41 AM
I left the potatoes in the planters this year and planted ground cover over. I am hoping they resprout in the spring...its worth trying anyway!
12/7/2012 at 12:18 PM
Gorgeous. I especially love the square boxwood wreaths. I actually hadn't noticed they were square until you pointed it out. I am also impressed with your lovely bows. :D
12/7/2012 at 2:31 PM
Maybe Sarah can do a guest post bow tutorial for you all!
12/10/2012 at 10:04 AM
Lovely! I especially like the swags. Thanks for the tutorial. I have a narrow space by the front door that is just begging for some swag......
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