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Q: What advice can you give for unique holiday décor?

A: To start any decorating project, I always use the four elements of design principles: color, light, balance and harmony.

Ask yourself what kind of look and feel you’d like to create. Are you going for something understated and elegant? Do you prefer country casual? It’s a good idea to take your cue from the style of décor you have in your home and match your holiday ideas to that sensibility.

You can use traditional colors like red, green and white for Christmas, but you can also introduce nontraditional accent colors like purple. This is especially effective if you already have that color in your home. Introducing a nontraditional accent color that ties your decorations into your home’s color palette helps make your holiday look unique, unexpected and memorable.

A monochromatic color scheme can also make a big impact. Choose one color only, but keep in mind you’ll want to create some variation in textures to add interest. Then think about adding one other color as small as a single rose to add drama.

Another great trick is to layer the colors in your holiday palette. Keep one color dominant, and repeat it in different elements.

Because you want your holiday décor to feel like it’s your own and not something you saw in a store, try going outside to see what you can find. Many yards have holy berry bushes, for example. Sprigs of holly and their bright-red berries can be used in a variety of ways.

Play with combining inside and outside elements. A pine bough or pine sprigs in a clear glass vase layered with seasonal oranges or other fruit can be striking and elegant.

Think about how you might use pine cones, which are plentiful, charming and perfect for a holiday look. Pine cones combined with a swig of pine or some holly berries would look simple and festive on the fireplace mantel. Pile some pine cones under your tree and spray them with snow or glitter. Or hang the cones from ribbons in front of a window.

You can create a texture look by stacking loose branches across the length of the mantel for a one-of-a-kind garland. To decorate a staircase, tie ribbons in your nontraditional accent color with evergreen branches to the balusters for a fresh and festive look.

For light and balance, experiment with varying heights and textures for areas such dining tables and mantels. Remember that reflective materials such as glass, silks, metal and mirrors can cause reflected light to “dance” around the room. Greenery tends to absorb light, so think about incorporating some reflective materials into those types of displays.

Your displays will be more interesting if you vary the heights of the objects you use, but be careful not to use tall items on your dining table. They can block the view so that your guests can’t look across and see each other.

Decide which part of each room you want as your focal point, and use decorations elsewhere in the room sparingly to avoid a cluttered look.

Wendy Albee is the owner of Albee Interior Design and is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. HomeWork is the association’s weekly column about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to