How to decorate a Christmas tree professionally—a step-by-step guide

Discover how to decorate a Christmas tree like the experts to help yours look stylish and impressive come December

An example of how to decorate a Christmas tree pictured in a living room with an open fire
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Learn how to decorate a Christmas tree just like the professionals, with our expert guide that'll give you a step-by-step process for getting your tree looking its very best. 

"There's no right or wrong way to decorate your Christmas tree," Helen Ashmore, Head of Design at Laura Ashley, told w&h. "However, there are a few small tips and tricks that might make the process feel a little easier."

To help bring your Christmas tree decorating ideas to life this year, we've rounded up advice from professional Christmas tree decorators as well as interior designers, to take you through the easy process you can follow to decorate your tree. 

So, whether your stumped on what goes on first, ornaments or the lights, or need help ensuring your best Christmas decorations are displayed perfectly, let the experts guide you through how they do it...

How to decorate a Christmas tree—a step-by-step guide

1. Make sure to fluff your tree if it's artificial

artificial christmas trees

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Like any good Christmas decorating ideas, preparation is key when it comes to decorating your tree like the pros. This step won't apply if you buy real Christmas trees for your home each year, but if you have one of the best artificial Christmas trees then this is an important tip for decorating your tree. 

According to Christmas decor expert and founder of Qube Luxe, Debbie Marks, it is  essential to fluff out your tree after bringing it home. She said, "Fluff out your tree, especially if you have an artificial tree. Make sure all the branches are spread out really nicely, so there are no big gaps."

Celebrated interior designer and founder of La Di Da Interiors Steph Briggs also said, "This takes a while if it’s been crammed in a box in the attic all year, but time spent here is worth it—it will make a real difference to the end result."

2. Ensure your tree is upright

man holding a Christmas tree above a stand in a living room

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Most Christmas trees won't come with a stand—but it's essential to have one. Professional Christmas tree decorator Laura Perry, from Team Festive, said, "Remember the tree stand. You can keep this for multiple years and your tree supplier can usually sell you one."

But in order to get the best-looking Christmas tree, you need to make sure your tree is as upright and straight as possible in the stand.

“Keep your tree netted if possible and lift it into the stand, turning the screws equally all around the trunk so the tree is secured vertically (this is easier with two people if you have some help)", Perry said. "Keep checking what the tree looks like from a distance to make sure it ends up as straight as it can be!"

3. Place fairy lights from the bottom to the top

Christmas tree lights on a surface

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Fairy lights are the key to a festive, magical tree, so they're the next step in making yours look beautiful.

Marks explained that you should "wrap them from the bottom to the top around the tree. Try and wrap them up and down each branch to get the full tree coverage. And a top tip—make sure you check all the lights are working first before you put them on the tree!"

For a really luxe look, she also advised, "The more lights the better. If you can, I always recommend buying a pre-lit Christmas tree. It's much easier as all the lights are already in it positioned in the optimum placement." You can usually get a pre-lit tree for a good price in the Black Friday Christmas tree deals.

However, if you want to choose/use your own lights, Steph Briggs advises 3-4 sets of warm white lights, to cover your entire tree. She told w&h, "I favor warm white lights for most trees—but colored lights can work well too if you’re going all-out kitsch. Whichever you decide, it's worth noting that for a regular 6ft tree I usually use 3-4 sets, to cover the entire tree."

You may need to learn how to fix Christmas lights if they have stopped working since last year, but it can be easier than you think to get them working again rather than buying new ones straight away.

To expertly fit your lights, Briggs suggests this method:  

  1. Use florists wire to attach the lights to the branches.
  2. Weave in and out so that each branch has lights on it.
  3. Trim off any excess florist wires carefully as you don’t want to damage your lights.
  4. Finally, turn them on to check you’ve got an even coverage before applying the next set.

Perry also shared the importance of having more lights than too few. She explained, "With too few, you may put them too tightly across and constrict your tree but with enough, then light from the tree becomes the main mood lighting in your room—it brings some incredible warmth and coziness on winter nights."

4. Add in extra foliage to fill any gaps

green foliage with red berries

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No matter how well you've fluffed your tree, or how full it may be, there are bound to be gaps—especially if it's a real fir tree. According to Briggs, a great way to combat this issue (as well as adding a few more decor pieces), is to add sprigs of foliage to your tree.

She said, "You can add anything–your imagination is the limit. Eucalyptus (a popular addition to the best Christmas wreaths) adds a beautiful scent, or silk flowers or berries add some lovely color and texture. If you have a faux tree, this is a great way of hiding the trunk too which is usually the bit that looks most unsightly."

Sprigs of moss, vines, or pine cones can also work well as extra pieces of decoration to fill out your tree—add as much as you want to yours and see what works with your style.

5. Add ribbons to fill out the tree

If you want to, now is also a good time to add ribbon to your tree for a fun yet classic look. It's best to do this before adding your decorations and after adding your lights, to ensure you don't dislodge any baubles, and to make sure the ribbon fits in with the fairy lights already on your tree. 

Deemer Cass, a Christmas tree delivery and decoration expert at Fantastic Services, explained, "Gather various-sized, colorful ribbons for your tree. For a professional appearance, 3-4 different types of ribbon are recommended. Vary between wider widths and thinner ribbon styles."

6. Choose your core and hero ornaments

baubles and ornaments on table representing how to decorate a Christmas tree

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Now comes arguably the most important part of our guide on how to decorate a Christmas tree—choosing and adding in your ornaments. It can be helpful to think of your pieces in terms of core ornaments, hero ornaments, and classic nostalgic extras.

"Assuming that the children aren’t involved, now it’s time to lay out all of your ornaments on the dining room table and decide which are your core baubles, " Briggs said. "Choose a variety of sizes, shapes and finishes to create the ultimate show-stopping tree. If you’re unsure on what color to go for I’d recommend choosing a metallic to add timeless sparkle and elegance to any room."

To begin decorating, follow these steps: 

  • Add your core, more basic ornaments—"once you've chosen your core ornaments, these should be placed in the branches of the tree closest to the trunk." Briggs explained. "Again fasten with florists wire for a professional finish, and to make sure that they stay securely in place. Stand back, and check your work for balance and symmetry."
  • Then add your more unique ornaments—next you should reach for your favorite, bolder ornaments, to decorate the rest of the tree with some personality. Briggs said, "This may be with this year's themed ornaments, it may be with your favorite heirloom pieces from Christmas’s past. These decorations should go on the outer half of the branches—they’re your pride of place ornaments that you want everyone to see."
  • And don't be afraid to mix and match—Ashmore told w&h, "Whatever your look and feel this Christmas, it's lovely to mix and match your tree decorations to include a combination of trend lead pieces with vintage and nostalgic family heirlooms. This curated combination will be what makes your tree so unique to your home. Building into your collection each year with pieces you love and pieces that mean a lot to you is all part of the festive joy."

7. Add your tree topper and skirt last

Christmas tree with red velvet Christmas tree skirt

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The finishing touches to your tree are your Christmas tree skirt and your tree toppers, so be sure to add these last to make sure they fit with your tree theme, and won't disrupt the rest of the decor. 

Marks explained, "I always like adding the topper last as it's like the jewel in the crown, and your pride and job that completes the tree design. If you put it on first, you have to reposition again anyway because it will move around when you are dressing the rest of the tree."

When it comes to the most popular Christmas tree topper ideas, an angel, fairy, and star are amongst the favorites, so opt for one of these for a really classic look.

Rules to follow when decorating your tree

a white snowy christmas tree in a living room in front of the fire

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Decorating your tree is a personal experience and, of course, it's important to create yours in exactly the style you want, without any pressure. However, if you do want yours to look as close to professionally designed as you can get on your own, you may have to follow a few key design rules...

  • Don't just decorate one side or part of your tree—Ashmore said, "Remember to decorate all the way around the tree and not just the main front-facing side! Take time to spread out your decorations and make sure you don't group similar styles together." This will ensure your tree looks polished and put-together from every angle—rather than just the side that is most visible.
  • Avoid tinsel—it's been a popular item of festive decor for years, but according to Marks and Perry it's one of the worst things you can use on your tree. Marks told w&h: "If you are looking to create a luxury-looking tree, please ditch the tinsel!" For a similar effect, use ribbon, which is much more stylish. Perry agreed, saying, "At Team Festive, we never use tinsel."
  • Choose a color scheme if possible—if you're struggling with how to decorate a Christmas tree, it will make things much simpler to decide on a straightforward and simple color scheme. Cass said, "It’s not just about picking the decorations but deciding on a palette of a maximum of three colors that will complement the home's general decor, with a few statement pieces for a final flourish. If your old baubles don’t fit the theme, you can use them to inspire some great Christmas centerpiece ideas, or to decorate your Christmas table or mantelpiece."

If you're struggling to decide on a theme or a color scheme for your tree, knowing the go-to Christmas tree trends for this year could help to inspire your decorating decisions. According to Perry, some of the most popular trends for 2021 are:

  • Jewel colors—Perry explained, "The trends for this year began last year with an array of classical winter colors and materials, but largely with a jewel theme and a contrast of textures. The most popular colors this year are jewel colors of amethyst purple, emerald green and a deep burgundy red. And they pair so well with gold and champagne which together look striking and opulent. 
  • Pastels—or, if you're after something a bit less traditional, subtle and chic pastels are huge this year. Perry told w&h, "For snowy flocked trees, the perfect complement is an array of delicate pastel pieces in soft shades of champagne, cream, blush pink and copper for a whimsical look. Add a pastel green for some depth of color."
  • Full metallic—but if you're looking to make a statement, metallics are always popular. "Some people are opting for full metallic—gold, platinum and champagne strike an unapologetically festive beat and are quite the crowd-pleaser if done well," Perry said. "Metallic ornaments such as baubles, icicles and oversized jingle bells are also very popular this season not only for your tree, but for your overall decorative theme."

With thanks to Christmas decor expert Debbie Marks, founder of Qube Luxe, Professional Christmas tree decorator Laura Perry, from Team Festive, interior designer and founder of La Di Da Interiors Steph Briggs, Helen Ashmore, Head of Design at Laura Ashley, and Deemer Cass, a Christmas tree delivery and decoration expert at Fantastic Services, for their time and expertise for this piece.