When it comes to trimming the Christmas tree %u2014 the visual center of attention for many homes in December %u2014 there are definite...

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When it comes to trimming the Christmas tree — the visual center of attention for many homes in December — there are definite dos (lots of lights) and don'ts (too much tinsel). We've asked some savvy holiday decorators to share their creative twists on designing themed trees that dazzle. Here are some examples of their creations, along with a few tips.

Year-round search

Shopping around is a good way to spark ideas when it comes to designing a tree, suggests Lisa Pickford, a retiree who creates and displays artful holiday trees at her Snohomish home.

Pickford decorates several artificial trees of various sizes in themes from the whimsical (Tinkerbell-like fairies and storybook motifs including the Wizard of Oz, Hansel and Gretel and Peter Pan) to the traditional (Santa, sleighs and snowmen) from her Polonaise heirloom and Old World Christmas ornament collections.

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Tips: Shop year-round. Pickford shops even while on vacation for ornaments to add to her massive collection.

[Shopping in the offseason is a good way to find unusual pieces and sale items. The digs crew has found ornaments that normally range in price from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars sometimes marked down to half-price after the holidays.]

When developing a theme for the first time, check out the holiday displays at arts and crafts shops and department stores, Pickford says, and peruse holiday catalogs and magazines (think Martha Stewart Living and Victorian Homes) for inspiration.

Resources

Here are a few of the many stores and online retailers selling decorations and Christmas trees. For stores with multiple locations, check the Web sites.

Molbak's: 13625 N.E. 175th St., Woodinville; 425-483-5000 or 866-466-5225; www.molbaks.com

Wight's Home and Garden: 5026 196th St. S.W., Lynnwood; 425-775-3636l; www.wights.com

Party @ Display & Costume: www.displaycostume.com

Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts: www.jo-ann.com

Michaels, the Arts and Crafts Store: www.michaels.com

Macy's: www.macys.com

ChristmasTreeForMe: www.christmastreeforme.com

Cost Plus World Market: www.worldmarket.com

Target: www.target.com

Kmart: www.kmart.com

"They offer wonderful ideas this time of the year."

And don't be a scrooge with lights.

"When lighting your tree, you really want it to shine," she says. "So put on more lights than you think you should."

But be careful with tinsel, Pickford says, "as it can detract from the theme."

Instead, she suggests mixing textures with garland, such as strings of pearl-size beads, twigs and holly; colorful ribbon; or dried fruits.

Think small

If space is a factor, or you don't want to lug around a large tree, try Victoria Harrington's spin on tradition: tabletop trees with everything done in miniature.

For more than a decade, Harrington has designed 2-foot-tall artificial trees to decorate her historic Snohomish home. Each tree is done with a different theme.

Harrington, a retiree and current president of the Snohomish Historical Society, festoons one in tiny teddy bears and garland made from candy-cane-striped ribbon found at a crafts store. At Cost Plus World Market (www.worldmarket.com), she found dainty bulbs to dress another tree. To achieve an elegant look, she pairs dainty pearls, rhinestones and gold ribbon with clear lights.

The tiny trees are ideal, Harrington says, for their portability, "and they allow for a lot of flexibility."

TIPS: Look around the house for unusual but stylish ornaments. Harrington's tiny trees feature cookie cutters hanging from silver-colored string, cinnamon sticks tied with raffia and discarded jewelry clipped to branches.

Display a small tree on its own or arrange several together for a different look.

Decades of ideas

Fanciful ideas for decking your tree may be as close as the nearest store.

For example, at Wight's Home and Garden in Lynnwood, which has been creating themed trees for more than 20 years, the flocked "Christmas Concerto Tree" spreads holiday cheer with miniature ornaments of sheet music and instruments. "Sweet Tooth" is a pastel, confectionary delight with decorations that replicate ice cream cones and peppermint-swirl candies. Blue-green lights and seafoam green ribbon set the backdrop of the ocean-inspired "Beachcomber" tree, featuring a sea of starfish, seahorses and shells.

Wight's also showcases one of this season's hot trends in holiday decorating — penguins.

The little birds seem to be popping up everywhere. They've been featured in several recent movies, including this year's "Happy Feet." They're also in ads, toys and ornaments.

As an ode to the 2005 movie "March of the Penguins," Wight's features a glittering red tinsel tree packed with black and white ornaments of the tuxedoed bird.

In addition to the traditional blown-glass ornaments of Christopher Radko and Old World Christmas, Wight's offers a diverse selection of seasonal trend decorations, from animals to country western to retro-chic.

Vintage and nostalgic ornaments that have an heirloom quality are "very big this year," says Karen Block, co-owner and general manager of Wight's. The same is true with nature-inspired adornments, "which are always popular with all the outdoorsmen around here," she says.

TIPS: To avoid a too-trendy tree, Block suggests mixing and matching ornaments collected over the years with contemporary pieces. "Christmas is a blending of tradition and trends," she says. "With theme trees, you can incorporate the old and the new together."

• Color counts: After settling on a theme, select a color, Block says. Olive, burgundy and coppery-bronze are all the rage this year, she says, along with the tried-and-true hues of red and green.

Ornaments, ribbons and garlands in a single color can help tie ornaments together.

Mix it up: Another important tip when creating a unique design: layering.

"You want to use different sizes of things," Block says, "and different scales, so everything isn't all the same."

Judy Averill, digs editor contributed to this report