In the weeks before the holidays, walks become serious leaf-collecting, branch-toting business for lifestyle blogger Annie Diamond.
Want in on a secret? You can grab your holiday decor right off the ground—just ask Annie Diamond, the Connecticut-based author of the blog Most Lovely Things. Decorating with naturals reminds Annie of family beach vacations when her kids were little. They would fill their pockets with sand, which Annie poured into a growing collection of small jars to commemorate their trips. Once the kids left for college, Annie turned to nature again, this time for the holidays.
As soon as Thanksgiving is in sight, she starts perusing parks and pathways for sticks, pinecones, greens, and leaves she can use to deck their halls. A few things she can’t pass up: gingko and magnolia leaves, berries, branches in intriguing shapes, and lots and lots of pencil-size twigs. Annie immediately sorts her finds into bins on her front porch so they’re ready to go. “Give me a glue gun and bowls of nature finds, and I am happy,” she says.
Annie gathers other essentials like bunches of baby’s breath, eucalyptus, and cinnamon sticks during grocery store runs. She stocks her craft closet year-round with bakers twine, spray paint, and kraft paper so everything she might need is on hand by her crafting kickoff the day after Thanksgiving. Her family—husband Brent and kids Madeline and Patrick—settles in and spends the day assembling stick stars and painting leaves between trips to their coffee-station-turned-dessert-bar.
When her children were younger, Annie trimmed the tree with the ornaments they made. “Now I like to keep things natural,” she says. She hangs handmade twig stars and uses leather cording to tie in bunches of baby’s breath she scores at Trader Joe’s for under $10. “At first, I thought I might have to change out the baby’s breath every week because it would look tired. But it dries beautifully,” she says.
"Everything I like to do for the holidays is easy. I like to keep things simple, and I love to find inspiration in nature." -Annie Diamond
The Diamonds’ 1920s home has a long, narrow living room, a fact they’ve learned to keep in mind when they pick out their tree. “We don’t want one that’s too tall or too wide since it needs to fit in a tight space,” Annie says. Like the tree, the rest of their holiday decor is designed to blend into the neutral space, already filled with natural materials like wood, leather, and a mix of textured weaves.
Annie likes to cut ornaments and gift tags out of air-dry clay. She punches a hole at the top for hanging and stamps them with holiday endearments before drying them on racks by the fireplace. A ready-made pinecone swag gets the Annie touch with a stick star and a sprig of seeded eucalyptus.
Brent made the dining table over 30 years ago using distressed wood. They figured out the right size by perusing tablecloths in a Williams Sonoma catalog.
Annie adorns her dining room windows with paper snowflakes. To make them, place a lunch bag flap-side-up on a table and run a bead of glue down the center. Put another bag on top and repeat, gluing and layering until you have a stack of eight. Cut three or four simple matching shapes through both sides of the stack. Fan them into a circle, glue the ends together, and hang with twine.
The everyday coffee station becomes the holiday serving center. “It’s set between our kitchen and dining room,” Annie says, “so at Christmastime, I make it a dessert bar since it’s so easy to make festive.“ She hangs a garland of dried orange slices and leaves with tape that sticks to the metal shelves and ties a lush evergreen swath to eye hooks in the molding.
Annie gets a bakery-window effect by arranging a variety of treats on pedestals of different heights. Her must-have is the impressively tall Italian pandoro cake she buys from her local grocery store. One of her easy tricks for dressing up a store-bought dessert: She cuts a tree stencil out of cardstock, lays it atop the dessert, and dusts on powdered sugar.
Who says presents only go under the tree? Annie sets a few packages on a campstool to greet people. Annie dries orange slices and uses ribbon to tie them onto the tree, packages, or anywhere else that could use a little color. You can purchase dried orange slices at crafts stores and online at Amazon or Etsy.
Annie drapes her mantel with two or three lengths of fresh evergreen garland she finds at garden centers, placing a vintage candlestick on either side. The picture-frame-style TV plays a slideshow of past family Christmas card photos on slow loop. “This one is from around 2000 when Patrick was 2,” she says.
Annie knows the key to keeping the mood merry and bright is to spread out the process. To that end, she keeps a table in the living room set as a staging area. All the wrapping materials, leaves, and orange peel stars are sorted into bowls and jars so they are grab-and-go ready whenever she has a free morning to hang garlands or a few hours to wrap gifts. It makes for a fun holiday surrounded by nature—and even more time to sit back and relax when Madeline and Patrick are home again.
The tulip table, Annie’s favorite furniture piece, is the perfect place to wrap presents since it sits near the tree. Because her motto is to decorate as she goes, the bowls are constantly being refilled with new finds she can use as inspiration strikes. “I go outside with the mindset that I might find something on a walk,” she says.
As gingko leaves turn yellow and fall, Annie dries them between the pages of a heavy book. She sprays one side with gold paint, then they’re primed to be gift toppers. Annie stamps every family member’s initials on her handmade air-dry-clay tags. “I can reuse the tags each year and change them by putting a different color twine on them.”
Annie’s prep table stays pretty and organized throughout the season with her crafted bits gathered into bowls. Annie can fashion a dish of stick stars in 15 minutes with help from her handy glue gun. “They are ready to go when I’m ready to wrap,” she says.
Annie dresses the entryway in greens. She hangs a full evergreen swag to frame the door, sets off a wreath with a cut-up-canvas bow, and fills a pair of planters with mini shrubs. On the door glass, she writes a cheery greeting in acrylic paint pen that can be wiped away easily with glass cleaner.
Annie and Brent created an outdoor room around the firepit by laying a pea gravel foundation, painting the garage wall, hanging a peg rail for blankets, and adding string lights and container plants.
The family gathers around the firepit Thanksgiving weekend before they head out to pick their Christmas tree. “We’ve been doing this since the kids were little. It’s fun to keep it going now that they’re on their own,” Annie says. “Sometimes it takes some coaxing to get everyone outside when it’s frosty, but once they’re there, they love it.”
Styled by Jennifer Condon