When early humans discovered fire, they not only stumbled upon a great way to grill up woolly mammoth burgers and keep the cave cozy at night, they also came up with one of my all-time favorite decorating tools: candlelight. The older I get, the more I'm convinced that everything — and everyone — looks better bathed in a warm, forgiving glow.
Although I decorate with candles year round, I'm crazy about them during the holiday season and the following cold, dark months. My current favorites? Clusters of votives and groupings of pillar candles.
If you look closely at the candles burning in my home, you'll see that most of them aren't really burning at all. They are fakes: battery-operated candles that look like the real thing, with drips and flickering flames. I've almost completely thrown over real candles for the cheaters.
Selecting the shape, size and style is only the beginning. The fun part is picking candle holders that will add style to your displays.
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For unsurpassed elegance on a dining table, look no further than a silver candelabra. I use my trusty five-arm candelabras for dinner parties and open-house tours. Sometimes I top them with tapers. More often, I place something unusual on one or more of the candlesticks cups, like a little gourd, a Christmas tree ornament, a pomegranate or a pinecone.
It's also fun to use these formal candelabras in unexpected places. My friend has a gorgeous candelabrum on a stand next to the bathtub.
When our daughter got married at our home a few years back, she wanted an understated elegant but dramatic look. To give our guests a warm welcome, we lit up our front walk with two grand candelabras fitted with battery-operated pillar candles. We added pools of votives clustered on each step leading to the door. To lend sparkle to the trees in the front yard, we hung wreaths from low boughs, covering them with faux votives. The effect was breathtaking.
Also high on my list? Large, chunky pillar candlesticks. A pair of turned-wood candlesticks brings vertical height to a display on a coffee table ottoman at Nell Hill's Briarcliff. Even though the sticks are the same height, we use different heights of pillar candles for interest. The tableau is anchored on a wooden tray that matches the candlesticks so they won't look out of place.
I have been using sleek, contemporary silver candlesticks as part of a centerpiece, serving as a riser for an unexpected natural treasure such as a pumpkin, a potted fern or a bird's nest. I've grouped them in front of the hearth in warm months. Today, they are the focal point of this knockout coffee-table display.
Shorter glass pillar candlesticks are great for mantels, coffee tables and side tables. For the holidays, I can see them holding up large tree ornaments, surrounded by twists of faux pine greenery. Or top them with flickering faux pillar candles on a mirrored tray.
If you have a lovely piece of artwork to showcase above a console table, try flanking it with a pair of tall, beefy pillar candlesticks. They act almost like a frame.
Lanterns are work soldiers of lighting. Like candlesticks, you can use them as they were originally intended — to hold candles — or as display cases for seasonal decor. A rustic lantern stuffed with white and pale green gourds graced my front porch.
This holiday season, we are decorating with clusters of hanging lanterns. We've grouped odd numbers of similar lanterns hung at different heights. How about hanging three or five lanterns together from a tree branch in your backyard? Or suspend them from the pot rack over your kitchen island. Groups of lanterns also look ideal hung over a kitchen table. For added charm, hang the lanterns from seasonal ribbons or attractive chains trimmed with a bow.
To dress up your front porch for the holidays, place a lantern on a black iron garden urn, then have fun adding seasonal embellishments. Twist a faux pine garland around the lantern and urn, trailing it slightly on the ground. Tie a seasonal bow on the lantern handle. Insert a big battery-operated pillar candle in the lantern and, presto, your door will look amazing in only a few minutes.