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I feel like I have known Zakk all my life, so when he reminded me he moved back to Kansas City just four years ago, I was floored! Extremely artistic with an eye for the curated home, Zakk also works as a designer at Nell Hills in Kansas City and is an absolute pleasure to work with. He has helped me with my Christmas trees for years, and I think his tree designs are not only beautiful, but truly works of art.
Zakk has an extensive background in visual merchandising dating back to his high school days where the job came naturally to him, having been raised in an artistic family. With an undergraduate music degree in vocal performance from Benedictine College and a graduate degree in the same from Portland State University, Zakk spent time as a professional opera singer, choral conductor and has worked in publishing religious music for hymnals and churches.
He has now returned to Kansas City, and when he is not working at Hallmark, he enjoys designing home décor for private individuals through his business, The Polished Rake. You will be in for a treat if you ever have the chance to work with Zakk. He loves designing because it’s a way of bringing beauty into one’s home and facilitating connections with people. A homebody at heart, his goal is to create charming spaces where people can feel comfortable.
We used frosted greens on our living room tree this year!
Seasons: What are the biggest misconceptions about decorating a Christmas tree?
ZH: People thinking they have to have a theme. You can have a coherent tree and still have your family ornaments on it! People tell me all the time that they want to buy new things or come up with a theme or if it’s handmade, it cannot go on the tree. I disagree with that – my personal tree has a collection of ornaments from my grandmother, my mom, Hallmark, Nell Hills (in KC), thrift stores and special ones my kids made. It all works because they each have meaning.
Seasons: What supplies are needed?
1) 20-24-guage wire – it comes in silver, copper, gold or green. Any hardware store will have it.
2) Different widths of ribbon (3 yards per ribbon per bow – more or less depending on the size of the bow) A 9-foot tree takes around 7 bows. Buy this at unusual places all times of the year – like fabric stores, home décor stores and garden stores.
3) Floral picks of berries or large pinecones. Buy twice as many as you think you will need. The absolute minimum is four to five per tree.
Our family room tree has such a wide variety of ornaments that are special to our family - everything from homemade ornaments by our children to drill team ornaments to my grandmother's handmade angel ornaments to ornaments of our dogs to special ornaments passed down through the years from family.
4) A tree skirt. There are lots of cute tree skirts out there, but a piece of burlap or a beautiful fabric can be just as effective. It’s up to you and what you fall in love with. I’ve even used cotton batting with glitter sprinkled on top to look like snow.
5) An urn for small trees. This is an option if you want to get more bang for your buck. It can also keep the tree out of the way for small children and animals. It literally makes a 6-foot tree look like a 9-foot one! If there is no hole in the urn, just fill it with sand and plop in the tree.
6) Wire cutters and good fabric scissors. (Cut ribbons on an angle so they don’t fray.)
7) A fresh tree should be purchased later in the month so that it doesn’t dry out and watered daily. LED lights, although they are cooler in color tone, they are getting more and more aesthetically pleasing and are better for real trees as they are cooler and don’t dry out the tree as much. If an artificial tree is your preference, ornaments hang better on shorter bristle trees like a Noble Fir or Frasier tree. Bushy trees like a Scotch Pine are homey but extremely difficult to decorate. There are advantages to spending a lot of money on a tree, like the needles may be more durable, it may store more easily, it goes up more easily and has a longer warranty. But the main priority is to buy one that will stay lit after one light goes out. (Look on the box for this.) The truth is that once the tree is covered in ornaments and ribbon, you really can’t see the tree very well anyway!
Seasons: So where do you start first in decorating a tree?
ZH: With a real tree or unlit artificial, you start with the lights. One good thing about lighting the tree yourself is that you can control it. I start at the back of the branch and wrap forward and then back again. There should be a minimum of 100 lights per linear foot of tree. So a 7-foot tree should have 700 lights – if not more.
I like to buy the cheapest lights I can find and cut them off my artificial tree at the end of the season. They won’t work the next year and that way, it stores nicely. It’s really nice to start with new lights each year. Amazon even has a light fixing tool you can order.
Seasons: What’s next?
ZH: The main trick to a beautiful tree is lots of TEXTURE! If you only have ornaments on a tree, that’s only two textures. So try to start with a floral pick consisting of berries or large pine cones – something unpredictable and much bigger scale. SCALE is the other important thing.
Seasons: Explain about scale on the tree. I know you like to hang all different sizes of ornaments.
ZH: Yes, bigger scale is much more fun!! The order in which I hang ornaments is based on size. The biggest are hung first - towards the center and at different heights. Christmas is one of those holidays where people don’t question how much fake gold you use and if your silver’s real. You might as well go for it!
Seasons: What about the bunches of ornaments I see on your trees?
ZH: Yes, I love to cluster ornaments by grouping them together on one wire so it looks like a bunch of berries. You can get a lot more ornaments on the tree that way. I suggest using plastic or cheaper ornaments for this.
Seasons: And how do you attach your ornaments?
ZH: Well, I don’t like to hang ornaments with ornament hooks, because I like things to hang at different heights and levels. I use the fine gauge wire (24 is best) and I even love to use zip ties for plastic ornaments. The wire and zip ties are sold at any hardware store and some craft stores
Seasons: This seems like a chore to me. Is there anything that makes it more fun??!
ZH: Of course! First of all, don’t take it too seriously, put on good music and if the kids want to be involved, let them – (even if you need to re-do a few things later).
• Put tissue paper in each loop of every bow.
• Invest in large plastic tubs with trays and dividers for ornaments. You use less tissue paper with these, and packing and unpacking goes a lot faster. Plastic boxes are important to avoid contact with any possible water in your storage area. These can be purchased at the Container Store or Walmart.
• Pack the ornaments by size – biggest ornaments all together as those are the first to put on the tree and smallest ornaments together since those are the last to put on the tree.
• Under-the-bed boxes are great for greenery. I pack them in layers with trash bags in between to keep them from getting tangled.
• Lights should be wound on a spool, a paper towel holder or formed into balls.
• I like using ziplock bags for special ornaments. I blow air inside the bag for additional protection.
• Hang wreaths on hangers with plastic bags (like dry cleaners’ bags) over them, tied at the bottom.
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