Outdoor Holiday Decorating Tips to Make Your Home the Envy of the Neighborhood

What’s trending, what’s timeless and what’s tired in outdoor displays this holiday season

Around the holidays, there isn’t much better than a bundled-up evening stroll in a light snowfall to take in the glowing seasonal decorations sowed throughout the neighborhood. What may be, however, is the feeling that comes with seeing many a passersby stop and admire the outdoor display adorning your home’s exterior, affirming the effort put in was well worth it. While holiday decorating can at times feel monotonous, there’s always an opportunity to expand on last year’s design for the better. ESTATENVY caught up with a few holiday lighting and outdoor display professionals to get a better idea of how homeowners can give their exterior some standout sparkle.

Scott Parrish, owner of Highland Park, Illinois-based Illuminight Lighting holiday lighting company, said he is fielding more requests for custom light shows from his customers this holiday season, a trend he has seen migrate from commercial settings to residential ones.

The world’s technological advances extend to holiday lights too, it seems. “More and more people are turning to colored lights, and they want them to do move and change,” Parrish said. “Outdoor lights are changing. They don’t just clip onto your gutters anymore. New systems have remote controls and are sleek and blend perfectly into a home’s facade when they aren’t on,” he added.

Kelly Fitzsimmons, owner and principal designer of Chicago-based Light Up Your Holidays lighting installation and decorating services, said her customers always come to her with a taste for the classic and nostalgic. “I take a timeless approach that is always tailored and complementary to the architecture of the home,” she said.

Both designers say they have made greater use of LED lights in their outdoor display designs over the last few holiday seasons. “The cost of LEDs used to be three-to-four times the cost of regular lights, but they have become more affordable as they become more available and in-demand,” Parrish said.

“Warm white LEDs are always a great option,” Fitzsimmons said, noting they are best utilized when “paired with elegant, beautiful red bow accents and mixed among wreaths and garlands.”

Beyond the lighting aspect of outdoor displays, Parrish said he’s noticed nativity scenes being increasingly passed over for more abstract, custom design pieces. “Holiday sculpture work is making its way into outdoor displays. More and more people are seeking modern tree sculptures made of welded metal or aluminum,” he noted.

With holiday decorating suggestions also come cautions. Fitzsimmons hesitated to call anything design-related a mistake because of how much she values creative diversity, but the most prominent technical error she sees homeowners make in their outdoor displays is the combination of incandescent lights with LED lights. “Not only is the technology incompatible, it's visibly evident to even an untrained eye,” she said.

The biggest mistake Parrish sees homeowners make? “Adding vertical lights up the pine trees in their yards. That, and leaving lights up year-round,” he said.

While both designers have made their careers on creating jaw-dropping displays for others that bring them a sense of pride and accomplishment, neither dedicate much time to their own home’s display due to their busy schedules during the holiday season.

“It’s always very last minute,” Fizsimmons said. “This year, my goal is to make our house first on the list instead of last put up and last taken down,” she added.

“I barely get my tree up, and then it stays there until April,” Parrish joked.