Holly, Jolly Houston

How to Decorate Your Christmas Tree

Caroline Harper Knapp—of the popular lifestyle blog House of Harper—shares her tips. Plus: Where to find a real Christmas tree in the Houston area.

By Abby Ledoux and Gwendolyn Knapp October 28, 2019 Published in the November 2019 issue of Houstonia Magazine

Image: Marco Torres

Back when Caroline Harper Knapp lived in New York, she lacked the space to store ornaments—but that didn’t stop her from decking the halls. “We used all the holiday cards from family and friends as ornaments on a tree we bought on the street,” she recalls of her first Christmas in the city. “It will always be one of my favorite trees.”

Five years ago Knapp moved to Houston; today she runs wildly popular lifestyle blog House of Harper while raising two young sons with her husband, Fred. Their Briargrove home is everything their Manhattan digs were not, which means Knapp can finally go all-in on her holiday décor: wintry wreaths, festive table settings, a garland-draped mantle, and the pièce de résistance, her stylish but character-filled tree. Seeking some inspiration this year? In the spirit of the season, Knapp has shared her tree-decorating tips:

Image: Marco Torres

The actual tree

It’s seven feet tall, it’s glorious, it’s … fake. “I love real trees,” Knapp says, “but they would always die and drop needles before I was ready to take them down!”

The lights

For Knapp it’s all white: “And I believe you can never have too many!”

The placement

Knapp prefers the dining room window of her open-concept home for maximum visibility. “You can see it when you’re walking up to our front door,” she says. “It also provides the perfect backdrop to holiday entertaining.”

The extras

Knapp tops her tree with a giant bow and threads the ribbon throughout. “It helps fill in holes and make the tree look more complete,” she says. “We also have a metallic monogrammed tree skirt, but once the presents are under the tree, you don’t see too much of it.”

The mementos

Think twice before you relegate that dried pasta angel to the back of the tree. “It’s those special ornaments that I get the most excited to unpack and hang year after year, and they certainly are our kids’ favorites as well,” Knapp says. “Themed trees are beautiful to look at, but for me it’s about creating memories and traditions for our family.”

The ornaments

“Our tree features ornaments from our travels, life milestones, and a few made by our toddlers’ hands,” Knapp says, and the baubles that mean the most to her are always front and center. She prioritizes memories of a special time or place, like a New York taxi cab, Santas hand-painted by her grandmother, and the classic “baby’s first Christmas.” She sprinkles in decorative pieces with personal keepsakes, and considers size, shape, and color when placing them. “I try not to hang anything too similar next to each other so there’s a good visual mix,” Knapp says. If you’re just starting out, she suggests building a collection around a specific color scheme and adding personal ornaments over time.

Where to Find the Best Christmas Trees

For a festive family outing, cut down your own Texas-grown pine or cypress—or pick up a pre-cut Fraser fir—at the family-run Old Time Christmas Tree Farm in Spring, which offers train rides ($3) and pictures with Santa ($9) on select days from Nov. 23 through Dec. 15. Leashed pets are welcome, but no saws from home, Dad. 

For a fun day trip, visit Dewberry Farm in Brookshire, where the wild things grow—2,000 untrimmed Murray and Leyland cypress trees in its 40-acre “forest.” Budget $50 to $250 for your tree, and extra for pics with Santa, Trail of Lights wagon tours, the Christmas Village, and a stop at the Country Store; open Nov. 29 to Dec. 15. 

For the multitaskers among us, Holiday Acres in Manvel rolls out hayrides and complimentary cocoa for merrymakers who’ve come to cut down their own cypress, Virginia Pine, or Fraser fir trees, which range in price from $50 to around $320. Snap a few family pics on the scenic grounds for your holiday card—if you haven’t mailed it out already, super mom. Open Nov. 23 to Dec. 8.

For pre-cut-tree fans, Cornelius Nursery on Voss is beloved for its winter wonderland full of every type of tree you can think of—artificial or fresh, apartment-size or fit-for-a-mansion, cutesy faux-balsam or majestic Nordic fir (with prices to match, naturally). Whatever you want, you’ll find it here—just add ornaments. 

For the time-crunched, Houston Garden Centers sell about 70,000 Christmas trees a year—there are locations everywhere, and shopping here is a relatively quick and painless experience. You’ll find a tree the whole family will love among the rows of 5- to 9-footers, along with that life-size lollipop yard ornament you didn’t know you needed.

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