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Christmas Countdown: Tips on decorating from the Biltmore

One day I'm going to visit the gorgeous Biltmore estate in Asheville, NC. I know several people who've visited the home, created for George Vanderbilt, and its beautiful gardens. My sister loves to brag, um tell stories, about her preChristmas trip to the famous estate, and she doesn't even like adventures that include touring homes, castles and gardens. Really, on a trip to Europe, she became bored on our fourth or fifth castle tour and refused to look at any more "old stuff."

I don't think she's just trying to make me jealous by talking about the Biltmore but I guess I won't know for sure until I visit it for myself. Until then, I'll have to settle for gazing at photographs online at and taking to heart the following 10 decorating tips from the Biltmore decorating team.

Check out a video of the tree raising here.

1. Choose a theme. A theme repeated throughout your holiday decorating scheme will bring continuity of style, color and overall look. Themes can be as simple as a particular color or color palette, or objects that represent memories of family events. Family photos and travel souvenirs are perfect for creating ornaments.

2. Be choosey. Use restraint and stick to your theme. You don’t have to use every ornament or decoration you own each year.

3. Avoid the “this and that” syndrome. Random placement of glittery things around the room lacks the impact you can achieve if you concentrate on three to five elements (embrace the design “rule of three”). The Christmas tree is one, a mantle might be the second, and the third might be an arrangement on top of an armoire. Within those elements you can go over the top. 4. It doesn’t all have to be red and green. Let your year-round style and colors inspire your holiday look. Take cues from your wall and fabric colors to make your seasonal decor unique to you and your home.

5. Pack away the everyday. Don’t be timid about sending some of your everyday decorative objects on a short vacation. Replace the mirror over the mantle with a fresh evergreen wreath. Cover your neutral sofa pillows with vivid and bright shams (or replace entirely for the season). Bring out some of your china or silver.

6. Bring the outside in. Spend an afternoon outside gathering woodsy elements to create a rustic and natural look. Collect pine boughs, holly berries, pinecones, dried flowers and grasses. Add favorite ornaments for a pop of color, or purchase an inexpensive bouquet of fresh flowers, pull it apart and add your own natural materials to create a beautiful seasonal display.

7. Create the Biltmore sparkle. For a dazzling tree, tuck shiny ornaments deeply into the tree, starting at the trunk, and work outward. This creates depth, color and supersized shine. Hang special and more decorative ornaments close to the branch tips. Mound your favorite ornaments into bowls on your dining table, or mix them in baskets with pine cones and pods. Accent your wreaths and garlands with clusters of berries and shiny glass balls of different sizes.

8. Punch up the glow. Group candles in varying heights throughout your decorating scheme to generate the warmest effect.

9. Cue the lights. Biltmore’s team has perfected a no-fuss light-stringing technique you can use on your own tree. First, work each light strand from the top of the tree down, and in sections, rather than round and round. This cuts down on ladder-climbing time. Second, work the lights in toward the trunk of the tree, and then back out to the tip of the next branch, securing the strand by slipping the tree tip between the two wires of the strand. And, a 6-foot tree requires 8 sets of 50 lights, a 12-foot tree needs 26 sets, and a 14-foot needs 32 sets.

10. Do the squint test. To make sure the tree is evenly lit, step back, squint your eyes to make things look blurry, and look for dark or overly bright spots. Rearrange or add lights as needed.