Holiday Lights

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

September 5, 2008 4 min read


How to keep decorations simple and beautiful

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

Whether your taste runs from rustic to traditional or from subtle to spectacular, there's nothing quite like brightening the holiday season with a display of outdoor and indoor Christmas lights.

And while it may look easy, choosing what to put up and where isn't that simple. Too many lights can look tacky and too few look dull. Getting the proper balance takes thought, advance planning and, for some homeowners, the services of a professional.

"It shouldn't have to scream Christmas," Jennifer Sypeck, product trends and development director for Smith & Hawken, said. What homeowners should try to achieve is beautiful and tasteful decor, both indoors and out.

For the 2008 Christmas season, Smith & Hawken holiday "basics" include a handmade spiral vine lit trees to decorate a front porch, multi-colored tear-drop string lighting that add dollops of color looped around a tree or strung along a roofline, a lighted silver snowflake pendant that casts a snowflake shadow on the surrounding area when hung on a tree branch and even a glittering wreath that can be used on a front door, wall or as a table centerpiece.

"What you need to do is pick your look," Sypeck said, adding that you should build your holiday decor around it. If you want rustic, think twigs, branches and candles. Want something more traditional or sophisticated? A pre-lit garland, a handsome wreath or a "Peace," "Joy" or "Noel" sign on a fence or front door may be all you need.

Traditional Christmas bulbs are fast being replaced by energy-efficient LED lights that use less wattage, last longer, are cool to the touch and brighter and more colorful than their older counterparts. The shift reflects changing technology and consumer demand for more environmentally-friendly products, Sypeck said.

If putting up holiday lights seems too much of a challenge, you can always join the parade of homeowners around the country who are turning to professional installers to do the job. In some cases, you may need to buy the lights and pay an after-season storage fee. Other companies retain ownership of the equipment with no charge for storage.

While it's not uncommon for owners of mega-homes and estates to use such services, a growing number of those who own more modest-sized homes are seeing the advantage of letting a professional do the work, Ed Bauer, co-owner and vice-president H2Pro Inc., (, said. The company has been installing Christmas lights for residential and commercial customers in St. Louis, Mo. and surrounding areas for more than 12 years.

"Many of the houses in newer subdivisions have steep roofs," Bauer explained. It's a popular design detail that's enough to deter some homeowners from scaling the heights themselves to install Christmas lights or hang a large wreath above a soaring entryway. During the holiday season, Bauer's crews typically handle eight to 10 of these type of houses a day, putting up lights and, in some cases, 60 inch wreaths.

The company custom designs each display, but owns the equipment that it normally begins installing in the fall and removes after New Year's. The service can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars for an average home to a few thousand, depending on the size of the house and the owner's lighting preferences.

While lighted and animated yard decorations ranging from waving Santas to dancing elves continue to grow in popularity, some homeowners add thousands of flashing lights, music and other fixed and animated holiday decor that draw crowds of sightseers and often the wrath of neighbors. For a look at some of these over-the-top displays, check out websites like and

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