HOLIDAY LIGHTING! There’s magic in the air!” says exceptionally fabulous Washington designer Skip Sroka, who has a lot more exclaiming to do. “There’s nothing more exciting than lighting your whole house with candles — everyone looks fabulous!” he says.
Now amp that candlelight with reflective surfaces like silvery objects and mirrors. “I use huge mercury-glass urns on the foyer table — you get twice the illumination. One of the best holiday tables I’ve seen had tiny bits of mirror sprinkled about, mingled with candles. The table shimmered!”
More? “Lights that would be honest-to-god tacky any other time of year? Bring it on!” Sroka suggests twisting several strands of lights together into a thicker rope and draping them around the dining room; use adhesive hooks that won’t damage walls. “And don’t light the chandelier! Just the room rimmed with lights and candles on the table would make the most stunning dinner party!”
That indirect, candlelit glow is called ambient lighting, something often neglected no matter the season, says San Francisco-based lighting designer and author Randall Whitehead.
“Ambient lighting softens shadows so people’s faces look young and rested. It’s visual Botox without the pain,” says he. (Hoo boy, say we.)
The more indirect lighting you add, the more inviting the room. Highlight the ceiling with a bowl of Christmas lights on top of an armoire. Dazzle a dull corner with a torchere standing lamp. For a mysterious glow and alluring shadows on the ceiling, set “up lights” on the floor behind a potted palm.
Lacking a palm? Cut a pattern out of aluminum foil, then rest it on top of a light source for a magical ceiling or wall effect.
For Christmas lights, LEDs are the way to go, Whitehead says. “The last holiday lights you’ll ever buy.” But nix the cooler colors, which are not good for skin tones. For maximum flattery, look for amber-colored bulbs, or those marked “incandescent” or “dimmed incandescent” on the packaging.
“Tuck them in the bushes out front,” the designer suggests. “Wrap the banister, the garland over the fireplace, even inside the fireplace.”
Your Labrador’s tail plus candles give you shingles? Try LED versions. “The latest, from Plumeria, have an actual dancing flame that’s amazing and beautiful,” says Whitehead. “They look like candles but won’t blow out.”
For the piece de resistance, he adds, “I adore Bliss Lights!” This little laser projector lofts a mesmerizing twinkly light show, indoors or out, wherever it’s aimed. “I can light up all the trees in the back yard with one fixture and it looks like I laboriously hung lights in all the trees,” he says. “It’s pretty amazing.”