For my husband, the best day of the year is the day all the holiday decorations come down. It’s not that he’s a Scrooge, it’s just that when you’re married to a retailer, your Christmas season begins in July, so who can blame the guy for being tired of tinsel and trim by the end of December? But for me, boxing up the holiday décor is bittersweet because my home feels a bit bare when all the finery’s gone. So in the next few weeks, I’m going to blog about ways you can brighten your home this winter.

Let’s start on the outside, because no matter what time of year it is, you want your home’s exterior to be lovely to look at – think of all the people who pass by it every single day. It’s easy to keep your outdoor spaces from looking like a sad, frozen wasteland with these five fast tricks.  


1. Tweak Your Holiday Displays

After the holidays are over, I don’t want to create all-new winter displays for my home’s exterior. So through the years, I’ve developed a great way to get the outdoor tribute to winter I want in a snap. I start by building exterior holiday displays filled with winter greens and accents that are generic enough to stay up until the crocuses push through the snow. On January 1, when I’m ready to transition from my holiday show to a more general winter look, I just remove the overly holiday themed décor from my existing displays. I’m done in minutes, and back inside with a hot cup of tea.

Can you leave any of your holiday displays in place, then just take out holiday icons, like Santas, reindeers or tree balls? Fill in the empty space with a garden statue or a cluster of silver or natural orbs.


2. Fill an Urn with Winter Greens

Don’t leave your garden urns sad and lonely all winter long. Fill them with winter greens until it’s time for the spring planting. The photo above is of one of the set of urns that flanks my front door year round. I love this shimmering display from my Holiday Open House so much that I’m going to leave it up through February to give my front porch a bit of shine.

Here’s a super simple yet lovely display you can use to give your home a welcomed pop of color during the winter. We filled a black iron urn with a no-frills bouquet of faux greenery and berries. It took just minutes to create, yet will give my home lots of punch during the long Kansas winter. If you wanted, you could easily punch up a display like this by inserting a garden statue, as we did on my front porch.

The front porch of my historic home is dotted with a phalanx of concrete planters. I love them because they are so unique, and I consider it a fun challenge to come up with things to put in them during the various seasons. In the summer, I go the easy route, planting them with Kimberly queen ferns, which do not die, no matter how much I mistreat them. In the winter, I like to fill them with displays that look festive enough for the holidays, yet generic enough that I can leave them up until it’s fern planting season once again.  I’m nuts about orbs right now, so I plunked these big fat silver gazing balls down on premade winter wreaths that had a wild, woodsy feel. They look sensational dotted with fall leaves and dusted with winter snow and ice. In fact, these orbs are so timeless, you could leave them up all year long if you wanted to.

We created this fun arrangement in the birdbath in my courtyard for my Holiday Open House, and I’m going to keep it as-is all winter. I really like the mix of orbs in this arrangement, paring the earthy wicker materials with the tarnished silver balls. Lovely! And, the addition of the humongous pinecone is perfect. Do you have a birdbath or fountain you can fill with greens this winter? Try this super simple treatment that takes seconds to do: Top the birdbath with an old faux pine wreath and insert a statue or gazing ball.


3. Lighten up with a Lantern

My front patio is exposed to the elements, but I still want it to look inviting during the harsh winter months. So I pulled together a few winter friendly centerpieces featuring weather resistant lanterns. I adore this cute little wire lantern, one of our hottest sellers at Nell Hill’s. I used a few of these chubby guys in my summer decorating, but they are just as perfect for winter, I think. All it took to cute them up for January and February was to tuck in a few winter greens. We placed the pillar candle on a bed of faux pine branches and tied up a tiny bouquet of pine, holy and berries with a wintry bow. This photo features a real pillar candle, but I’d recommend filling winter lanterns with battery operated candles that utilize timers or remote controls, since it’s no fun to go out in the deep freeze to light a candle, which will almost certainly blow out in the winter gale. We have a ton of them at Nell Hill’s, so stop by and stock up!

I’m captivated by this simple lantern because it looks like a display box. Maybe that’s why I filled it with some of my favorite things. I found this nest on the ground in my courtyard, forgotten by south-going birds. You can’t tell from the photo, but the birds used a wrapper from an ice cream sandwich as nesting material. How cool is that? More proof that the best stuff for your home is often right outside your door. I put the nest in a sherbet cup to give it the proper honor, then tucked in a votive candle to add a ray of light. I finished off this whimsical still life by threading in a string of tiny lights.

Have you seen these light strings yet? If not, get ready because you are going to love them as much as I do! They are 20 feet long, so you can do a lot with them. And, the tiny lights are simply magical. Just what you need to brighten that dark January landscape!

Here’s a different take on the lantern-as-display-case idea. I put a small garden statue inside this big lantern, then dressed it up inside and out with faux winter greens. You know how I like to have fun with these statues, so I’m sure you weren’t surprised to see the garden girl holding a few winter greens of her own. A lovely display like this would look superb in a sheltered entry or screened porch.


4. Dress up Your Door

The focal point of your home’s exterior, your front door is one of the most important places to decorate for the winter months.  I kept up the swag of winter greens and florals I had on my door for my Holiday Open House. Can you modify your holiday door display, too? If not, dress it in winter greens and a pretty winter ribbon. If you need ideas for winter front door decor, come on in to Nell Hill’s – we have a million of them!


5. Deck Out Your Patio or Porch

Depending upon where you live, you might be able to leave your patio furniture cushions out during the winter. If you can, do! The textiles will add color and warmth to the bare vista of your January garden. I used a mix of punchy plaid fabrics for the pillows that soften up the iron furniture in my courtyard. They are not weather resistant so I can’t leave them out in the snow and icy rain, but when the sun is shining, they are a welcomed sight out there in the frozen garden.


Next Week … It’s time once again for the Nell Hill’s decorating New Year’s resolutions. I’ve asked a few talented members of the Nell Hill’s team to share ways you can make your home more beautiful in 2013. Come hear what they have to say!

P.S. Nell Hill’s will be closed for Christmas, but the day after, get ready to shop for bargains! All our Christmas tree ornaments will be 50% off!

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25 Responses to “4 Ways to Perk up Your Winter Exterior”

  1. Lisa Fernandez Says:

    HI Mary Carol,
    I was just thinking of what to do and this post had so many lovely ideas to keep a secret Christmas feel but changing it to winter. I too hate when I take everything down. The house feels naked. Now I wish I had done the birdbath idea before my party, honestly forgot I even had a birdbath. I have two. Go figure! But believe it or not I went out and bought a few items for next year already this morning that were 60 percent off so I’m gonna pull these photos of your birdbath out and file them for ideas for next year. Love this post! And I’m already loosing sleep over your news revealing a new book next fall. Yippie! Hee Hee.
    So fun.
    God bless you and your family on this Holy Night.
    (Hope you got my thank you!)

  2. Kay Erickson Says:

    I love your ideas to brighten the some times dreary and overcast days of winter. I like the winter theme staying in place after you remove the Christmas items. This plan keeps it simple to do and cheery enough to get your spirits lifted every time you look outside. Makes a easy transition for a “welcone to our home ” look for the winter season.

  3. Betty Bakk Says:

    Beautiful options! Love all the ideas, now I’m ready to make some changes in a couple of weeks. I feel like my home is “naked” too when all of Christmas is packed away.

  4. Ann Waters Says:

    What a lovely and well time article on saving us from winter blues. It can make for us a new project as we look forward to the New Year.Many times I think there is the “after shock” of what your home looks like when all is taken down. You have simple and affordable ideas. Perfect!

  5. Franki Says:

    It’s ALL ABOUT orbs!! I am smitten with them…just got two 12 inch copper steel orbs that I’ve put in the urns on the front steps. Your ideas are truly inspirational and I’m off to put them in view!! THANKS! franki

  6. Phyllis Airington Says:

    Just want to wish you and your family the very best in 2013.
    Looking forward to visiting your shop soon.

    K.C. MO

  7. Bobbie Pullen Says:

    Thank you for the inspiring winter decorating ideas.

  8. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Such an important area of decorating to address this after Christmas blahs . I too just slip the Christmas decorations out of my greenery arrangements … Add a plate on a stand …. Maybe a couple of leather bound books and a few sticks and a birds nest …. Chasham ! I fill my garden pots with fresh evergreen just before the dirt freezes … It stays green all winter and georgous when the fresh snow falls . My best friend and I head out together with cutters in hand to country lane and cut greens to our hearts content ……. Can’t wait to see what treasures we find on our next trip to Nell Hills ……. Now that will help the winter blahs !!!!!

  9. Mary Carol Says:

    What a great idea, Robin, to head out to the country and snip greens before they are frozen! I’ve gone on similar nature hunts for fallen branches. Once, Dan and I were zipping down one of the country highways around Atchison when I spotted the PERFECT dead branch and I hollered for him to stop and back up so I could drag it into the car to use for future displays. He thought I’d gone insane. But, honestly, by now he shouldn’t be surprised by much of anything I do, right?

  10. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Birds of a feather we are dear friend …… The greens do look SOOO great all winter … I fill all my outdoor pots and then will sometimes add branches too , Must push the evergreens into the dirt left in the pots after you’ve cut out your flowers etc . So I always cut some longer ones to add to the center of the pots for a pretty shape … Our husbands have been thru a lot … Haha . I made Robert stop the interstate out in western Kansas for some tumble weeds …. Dragged them home …. They were so pretty !!!! …. And yes …. Added them to my greened pots . We are so NUTS .

  11. Lynne Says:

    I love those giant silver gazing balls you had at your open house that you pictured in your post. I forgot to look for those when I went to your store afterwards( imagine losing focus in your store – it’s hard to believe :-) – anyway, do you still have those available at the briar cliff location?

  12. cindy Says:

    Thanks so much for the great ideas, I’ve been wondering what to do with my window boxes, now I think I know. Hugs, Cindy

  13. Mary Carol Says:

    HI Lynne, we do have the silver gazing balls. They are 24# and cost $146. Give us a call at 877-746-4320 and we can hold one for you. Take care!

  14. Vada Rose Says:

    Do you have the simple lantern (with the bird’s nest) or the wire lantern still? I would love to have those; they are wonderful? If they are available, could you please email the info?
    Also, are the little string of lights available?
    Your posts so inspire me–I just love them! I live in VA but hope to visit your store one day.

    Thanks and Happy New Year,

  15. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Bought a few of the little strings of lights … LEDS …. For the homes tour and Christmas … I have used them so long now ….. Many many hours …… Still going strong …. Left on even over night more than once and still going ….. Just love them …. Highly recommend them !!!! … Are they on sale now ???

  16. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Another request … Do you still have any flat back lanterns …? Dark burnished metal … Some had a Mirrow inside the back of it to reflect the candle …. Just love these lanterns . Lovely !! I will get to Briarcliff very soon and check there……. Would like to hang two of them on my gate harbor…Happy New Year to All

  17. Nancy Says:

    Thank you so much for all of the great decorating ideas!! I get excited every time I see an email from you in my mailbox!! Such “do-able” suggestions!!!=)

    Happy New Year!!!

  18. JOAN VINKE Says:

    How do you keep the metal balls in place? I put them in a display in a birdbath one year – then a huge gust of wind set one of them sailing never to be found again.

  19. admin Says:

    Hi Vada! Happy New Year! The lanterns have sold and sold and sold at Nell Hill’s, but we do still have two of the lanterns you mentioned at Nell Hill’s Atchison. They cost $47. They will be gone quickly, so if you’d like one, I recommend giving us a call at 913-367-1086 as soon as possible to reserve yours.
    I love the little light strings too! And, they too have been selling like hotcakes. We still have some of the electric lights left, and they are now on sale for $15.95. I’m sorry to say that we are all sold out of the battery operated light strings, but hope to have more in by late spring or early autumn. I’m sure your outdoor garden will be lovely!

  20. admin Says:

    Happy New Year, Robin! I’m so glad to hear how well the light strings are working and how you are using them. I adore them! Yes, these lights are now on sale. We only have the electric ones left and they are just $15.95.
    The lanterns are selling out quickly, and we don’t currently have any flat back ones in stock. BUT I’m going to market in two weeks, and ordering tons of fabulous lanterns is at the top of my shopping list, including those with flat backs that would be perfect for your plans. Check back with us, OK? Your home sounds magical!

  21. Mary Carol Says:

    Hi Joan,
    I’m sorry to hear about your gazing ball taking flight! I don’t anchor mine, and have never had one roll out, even with the crazy wind we have in Kansas. Perhaps the reason is I start by making a very deep nest out of greenery, then I snuggle the ball down inside. Perhaps you could try that? Or, maybe the ball you are using is lighter weight? It’s worth experimenting with solutions because the look is so lovely, don’t you think? Good luck!

  22. Mary Carol Says:

    HI Vada and Robin, sorry my earlier response says “admin” — I was logged in incorrectly. Computers!

  23. Vada Rose Says:

    Which laterns are left? I was interested in the lg flat black one and the round wire one.

  24. Robin Frank -- Vision Interiors Says:

    Keep buying those lanterns !!!!! We are all lantern crazy …!!! I use them soooo many different ways ! Funny how some things like lanterns are just the perfect , gotta have item !

  25. Mia Says:

    Well, a few years later now, do you still sell the small black lanterns? The one that you described as a display case–8th picture down from the top? (has birds nest). I will call, but it’d be hard to describe it if you no longer carry it. Thanks!

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