Blogger Karen Bertelsen shares her gorgeous holiday decor that has the perfect blend of traditional and kitschy decorations.
A connoisseur of secondhand chic, Bertelsen knows where to find fabulous vintage treasures and—just as importantly—how to haggle. That gilt baroque mirror behind the sofa, for instance, was a yard sale gem she talked down to just $3. And those outrageously expensive antique ornaments sprinkled throughout the space? They were snagged for a song when Bertelsen gought a bulk container of baubles at the Christie Antiques Show.
Even if you’re not inclined to hoarding, holiday decorations have a curious tendency to multiply. Fight the urge to put every last ornament on display and, instead, pull an edited selection from the ever-growing stockpile. “If you don’t set it all out, you can actually focus on individual ornaments,” says Bertelsen, who tapped just three-quarters of her stash for this year’s decorating scheme. “Just because you don’t use a decoration one year doesn’t mean it wasn’t worth buying.”
The plush-looking perch in the corner of the living room looks significantly less shaggy after the holidays. “It’s actually a little mustard-coloured chair that I found on the curb. I just toss a Mongolian throw over it in the winter,” says Bertelsen. “It changes the whole look of the room in an instant.”
If Bertelsen’s mix of vintage finds and budget-friendly buys looks effortless, there’s good reason. “The moment I stopped caring about whether everything went together is when everything started to go together,” she says. “Maybe it’s because I’m at a place in my life where I’ve got a handle on my own sense of style. You just get to know what you like, and everything works.” Sofa, eq3.ca. Table lamp, crateandbarrel.com. Drapes, fabricland.ca. Rug, costco.ca. Cloud White CC-40 paint (on walls), benjaminmoore.ca. Design, theartofdoingstuff.com.
Rein in your decorating materials and you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve—not to mention how seamlessly everything comes together. “Give me burlap, pine garland and sparkle, and I’ll give you a holiday,” says Bertelsen. Of the three basic components, it’s burlap that fuelled her festive refresh, weaving its way through each room in a number of inspired applications. “Burlap is the pauper’s linen,” she says. “It’s natural, it drapes beautifully and it’s cheap. I love burlap!”
Although most of the festive greenery is freshly cut and delightfully fragrant, Bertelsen makes an exception on the mantel, where faux spruce garland frames her signature swag of burlap. “Nothing dries out evergreens like the heat from a roaring fire,” she says.
Bottlebrush trees are a seasonal decorating staple, but when have you seen them serve as protective cover? Vintage toy soldiers not only bring a quirky one-of-a-kind flourish to Bertelsen’s fireplace vignette, but they also have sentimental value—they were childhood favourites of her late father.
Instead of hanging these stunning antique ornaments on the tree where they’d be lost in the mix, Bertelsen came up with a crafty way to put them on display. “I drilled holes into a piece of barn board and attached Ikea cupboard handles as legs,” she says. “Although I use it to show off favourite ornaments at Christmas, it’s an egg holder the rest of the year!”
The Victorians may have been fussy, but they knew how to accessorize. In fact, the Victorian practice of displaying accessories under glass is still a great way to elevate everyday decorations like these bottlebrush trees.
Bertelsen’s home dates back to the 19th century, so it was only natural for her to take a few decorating cues from Christmases past—particularly when it came to dressing her dining table. “I wanted to do Downton Abbey— what they would’ve had in the kitchen, not the upstairs,” she says. That translated into period-appropriate decorations such as the zinc candelabra, pinecones and oranges (“Though they never would’ve had that many oranges—or sparkly pears—back then,” she laughs).
Some decorations have been in Bertelsen’s arsenal for years, but her most recent finds earn prime real estate. The latest addition to the lineup, a matte black candelabra gets maximum exposure as a striking centrepiece for the dining table.
With its pared-down palette of whites and warm woods, Bertelsen’s home has a somewhat Scandinavian vibe. In keeping with that style, plush sheepskins are scattered throughout each room—not only underfoot but also on the dining table bench in the form of cozy seat cushions. “I have a cowhide rug that stays out year-round, but the sheepskins all get put away for the summer,” says Bertelsen. “They feel more special when you bring them out for only a few months of the year.”
Despite its ornately framed antique oil portrait, the dining room is far from stuffy—and that’s not just because Bertelsen has taken to cheekily calling the portrait “Margaret.” Rather, contrasting contemporary furnishings, such as sleek Panton-style chairs, have given the room’s traditional trappings a shot in the arm.
Bertelsen fashioned her own tree skirt by winding a few yards of burlap around the base of the tree—and not just because of her affinity for the fabric: she was frustrated with the meagre proportions of ready-made options on the market. “Unless you wrap only four presents, store-bought tree skirts just aren’t big enough,” says Bertelsen, noting that virtually anything can be repurposed for this oft-overlooked slice of seasonal decor. “In my Carrie Bradshaw years, I even used a vintage fur coat!”
It’s increasingly en vogue to dispense with a tree topper, but Bertelsen has a very practical reason for following the fashion. “The ceiling in the foyer is only seven feet high, and I always want to mash the biggest tree possible into the space,” she explains. “If I allowed room for a star, I’d have to settle for a tiny tree.”
More than just a gift, a gorgeously wrapped package can become part of your holiday decor. Bertelsen traded in store-bought gift wrap for a roll of kraft paper, a few yards of rhinestone ribbon and some dollar store tags for a DIY approach that strikes the perfect balance between rustic and refined. “That bit of sparkle from the ribbon is just what was needed under the tree,” she says.
Forget everything you’ve heard about picking a specific colour scheme for your Christmas tree. Bertelsen has found that vintage ornaments defy conventional decorating wisdom. “No matter their colour, antique ornaments always seem to go well together,” she says. “They share the same patina, and that’s enough.”
Guests receive a warm welcome from this stylish sentinel—a made-over mannequin that Bertelsen lifted from decidedly unglamorous surroundings. “I found it in the garbage,” she laughs. “There are two of them, actually, and I normally put them on either side of my living room entrance on Oscar night as big gold statuettes.” This year, however, she dressed one in swathes of burlap, cinching the waist with tightly knotted rope. To finish the festive ensemble, she tucked cedar boughs under the rope, which she then covered with a length of burlap ribbon.
In lieu of a ready-made bow, try your hand at the rustic rosette that Bertelsen used to dress this pretty present. Fold a two-foot by threeinch strip of kraft paper lengthwise, creating three accordion-style one-inch folds. Roll the folded strip to create a coil, then attach the loose end to the outside of the coil with clear tape. Affix the rosette to a wrapped gift, and give it pride of place under the tree!
While the snow blanketing Bertelsen’s woodpile is the real deal, the frosted windows on the shed came straight from a can. “At first I thought, This is going to look like spray snow on the window. And you know what? It does,” she says. “I just love a bit of kitsch at Christmas!”
Getty Images Credits: Getty Images
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