There's no better celebration of any season than the decorated tree adorned with the rich symbolism of nature—my ritual to inform and inspire you in the journey called life.

Friday, October 11, 2013

fire and ice

IN DESIGNING my first tree, I wanted it to evoke one of those beautiful scenes of tall, slim, snow-covered, and downswept evergreen trees seen in an alpine setting, hence the name The Alpine Feather Tree. Since I also love the tension created between unexpected or even opposing elements in design, when planning the first decorations for this tree, I immediately thought of the phrase "fire and ice." And since this was a new take on an old feather tree tradition, both in style and shape, I wanted freshly-colored baubles that were bright, but not glitzy, with only an allusion to the beautiful, but sometimes stodgy Victorian tradition of feather trees. So I set about crafting my own set of ornaments. I wanted to keep it simple and doable. Painting your own custom-colored ornaments requires a lot of trial, error and literal elbow grease (when shaking the ornaments to coat the insides with colored paints). But as always, there is a method to my madness in getting just the right look I want.

The condensed magazine 
version available on 
newsstands everywhere.
My tree is on page 30 of 
both editions
 (above and below).
THIS "FIRE AND ICE" decorated tree is the result. Cool "snow-tipped" branches and pine cones, accented with tin icicles are contrasted with hot colored baubles—bright pink and oranges. The metal star atop the tree and the icicles are purposefully traditional to give a nod to the Victorian tradition. This tree (above) makes its decorated debut in Matthew Mead's Christmas All Through the House this holiday season as a page in a story titled "Good Tidings." Matthew and I collaborated on this story remotely and matched up the color-scheme and such. My tree is included in both the "bookazine" (below) and a condensed magazine version (right—available at newsstands everywhere this season). Although the Amazon version has many more pages of ideas, why not buy both versions and give one to a friend?

The bookazine version is available at

YES, VIRGINIA, I know there is a Santa Claus and he isn't supposed to appear until the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, but my design for the tree and the craftsman’s fine handiwork were united early this year to create this museum-quality heirloom. Since it takes time to meticulously handcraft these trees from real goose feathers, it's a good idea to order yours early to beat the holiday rush. Hometraditions is offering the tree on their website. Dennis Bauer in Ohio, one of the best-known craftsmen stateside to uphold the German tradition of the feather tree, makes each one by hand as they are ordered. You can even customize them slightly with a different trunk color or maybe even a smaller size if you want (just ask when you order). I whitewashed the trunk of this original version of the tree to give the trunk an icy look—specific directions for that are on the Hometraditions website. The decorations seen in this post are not included when you order the tree, but I'm including information below on how to craft your own from clear glass baubles and pine cones in any color scheme you prefer.

I'VE ALWAYS THOUGHT that the star atop a holiday tree was the perfect accent. Forget bows, angels or any other sort of topper. Give me a fine star to hand down as an heirloom any day of the year. This silver-plated star was found after a long search for the perfect size and form (on Ebay). I've found ornaments on Ebay that have been part of an estate and even plenty of newer items—oftentimes it's a rich resource for the unusual. It's important to find a topper that fits your tree proportionally as it will become the focal culmination of all of the joy found underneath it.

CLEAR GLASS ornaments in three sizes were swirled inside with high gloss, multi-surface acrylic craft paint thinned ever-so-slightly from the vibrating three-color ingredient list of amaranth, habanero, and marmalade (from Martha Stewart Crafts) at Michaels. Some of the baubles were left clear to give the tree more sparkle.

UNOPENED PINE CONES found under a stand of favorite pine trees I've discovered were gathered while they were green and allowed to dry—becoming a natural brown. Then I added a white grosgrain ribbon tied into a loop and hot glued to the top of the cone. Glue and coarse white mica glitter were added to give them the look of being capped by a freshly-fallen snow.

VICTORIAN TINSEL or "tin-twist icicles" were ordered online and became the finishing touch on the tree as they hang precariously from the tips. You could also use glass icicles for a similar effect. I always prefer to have a variety of ornament sizes and shapes on a tree. And I use the wise "rule of three" in almost everything I do (three sizes, three vibrating colors, and three shapes).

ALTHOUGH I'VE always thought it gauche to rush the season too much, when you're writing and producing a blog that centers around the holidays, it's necessary that planning has to happen months before—especially if you're going to be included in a magazine that hits the newsstands in October or get a new tree on the market before the holiday season. It's not unusual anymore to see Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas wares for sale all-at-once in the stores starting in October. So what are you doing to do?

YOU MIGHT AS WELL join in the merriment of the holiday season that starts in October every year now and gracefully accept that the commercial aspects of the season are not going away. The characters of Tim Burton's Nightmare before Christmas fell in love with Christmas, no? Even though none of us are stuck in Halloweenland (which rivals the retail space that Christmas gets), just consider it a positive and enjoy the special moments created with friends and family around your decorated tree, whatever the season!

tree design, photography and styling by Darryl Moland; handcrafted tree by Dennis Bauer; for; Matthew Mead's Christmas All Through the House (cover and spread) published by Time Home Entertainment/Oxmoor House.

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