The last thing on my mind during the busy December when we opened Nell Hill's Briarcliff in Kansas City, Mo., was decorating my home for the holidays. I was working a zillion hours a week getting the new store ready and had no energy left to deck the halls at home.
But when Dec. 24 rolled around, I looked at my cheerless house and knew I couldn't bear to let Christmas come without some fanfare. So a few hours before guests were to arrive, I did an instant holiday makeover. I hung a few stockings, pulled together a quick centerpiece on my dining room table, filled some urns with tree ornaments and placed them on side tables, and hung some wreaths from the windowsills in my living room.
I looked around in amazement. In about an hour, I had given my home a happy holiday look just by adding a few tiny touches here and there. If you've been too busy to decorate for the holidays up until now, try a few of these quick, last-minute tricks to give each room in your home instant holiday magic.
* Kitchen: Fresh fruit is an excellent tool to use in quick holiday displays. Pomegranates, those cheery fat red globes, are a great pick when you want to make your kitchen feel like Christmas. Line up a few sorbet cups on your kitchen windowsill, then place a pomegranate in each one for a perky phalanx. Fill a red transferware bowl, urn or soup tureen with pomegranates and evergreen sprigs and, presto, you have a centerpiece for the kitchen island.
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Dress up your kitchen table with a holiday tablecloth, such as a vintage white cloth banded in red or green, or a topper in a red-and-green plaid. Then create a simple holiday centerpiece by filling a pitcher with candy canes or a bouquet of red tulips and evergreen sprigs.
* Foyer: Instead of taking the time to wind a garland of greens around your banister, simply hang a beautiful wreath from the newel post, and your entry is instantly festive. Brighten up your entry table by filling a glass apothecary jar or tall, clear glass cylinder vase with red and green or silver and gold tree ornaments. If time allows, tuck a faux evergreen pick behind the jars.
* Living room: Fill two cylinder vases with pine cones or ornaments, then place them on each end of your fireplace mantel. Or put a big iron urn full of pine cones in front of your hearth. If you have a coffee table or upholstered ottoman, top it with a silver tray, then dress up the tray with a few prettily wrapped gifts from under the Christmas tree.
* Dining room: Create a simple but colorful centerpiece with a trio of apothecary jars, cylinder vases or compotes. You can fill them with Christmas candies such as peppermints and gumdrops or with winter fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges. For a more woodsy look, use nuts and pine cones. If time allows, twist a strand of faux pine garland around your chandelier. And set your table with your china or white dishes, giving it an instant holiday feel simply by adding holiday salad plates or linens.
* Bedroom: If you're expecting overnight guests for the holidays, add a few fun surprises in your guest room. Hang a wreath or stocking over a bedpost, or drape evergreen garland across the footboard. Make a tiny bouquet of evergreen sprigs and place it in a cream pitcher on the nightstand.
* Hallway: It's easy to brighten up the doors that line your hallway. Tie up a tree ornament, pine cone or small holiday-themed picture with a pretty ribbon and hang it from the doorknobs. Or use the knobs as hooks to hang stockings or little baskets filled with holiday treats.