A new pup means a holiday decor change-up for Karen Bertelsen

Karen Bertelsen usually has her home extensively decked out for the holidays. But this year her decorating plans have gone to the dogs.

Well, to one dog: her five-month-old blue standard poodle pup, Lip — short for Phillip, named for the character on the former TV series “Shameless.”

With a rambunctious young canine in the house, the former TV personality and DIY blogger (The Art of Doing Stuff ) had to reconsider some of her usual go-to Christmas choices. So this year, Bertelsen opted for a simple, easy decor plan that still makes her heritage home feel plenty festive.

“Usually when I do Christmas, it’s a three-day set-up and I love all of it. Give me all of the Christmas!” she says. “But now I have a puppy. I’ve decided to have an imperfect Christmas.”

Bertelsen bought her red brick 1840 English cottage in Dundas, Ont., 25 years ago as her first home. But she liked it so much, she’s never left. As well as Lip, her family includes two chickens that live in a backyard coop.

"I have a wood-burning fireplace so it immediately feels homey and wintery," says Bertelsen of the feature dressed up with white LED lights and natural elements.

For the holidays, she puts a huge garland on her front hallway mirror and sets up three Christmas trees: in the foyer, the dining room and her bedroom, and occasionally a small one on the vintage candy counter that serves as her kitchen island. She chooses real balsam fir trees because they smell good, have soft needles and at the end of the season, she can carve off a twig, remove the bark and make a weather stick. (Weather sticks, 15 to 16 inches long, can be nailed to a wall, fence post or pillar. When fair weather is coming, the stick turns up; if bad weather’s looming, it turns downward).

Normally, Bertelsen would deck her trees with her cherished vintage glass ornament collection, but mindful of puppy shenanigans, the treasures are on hold until next year. “I don’t care what colour they are or what they look like,” she says. “I have been collecting them for years at garage sales and at auctions and flea markets. Some of them are wildly expensive, but you can get the same look with cheap glass balls. They don’t have to handcrafted German glass ornaments. I have some that were garish colours and now are soft and muted.”

A huge mirror in the front hallway of Bertelsen's heritage home is treated to a big garland and tartan bow.

This year Bertelsen dehydrated orange slices and hung them on her Christmas tree, as well as DIY homemade candle lights that look like real candles but without the fire hazard. Outdoors, her plans included garland swags around the front windows, white lights and red bows around the yard, and a wreath with orange slices and pine cones for her front door.

“I like a very traditional, English-inspired look in this house,” she says. “I have an English saddle I put on display, and I use plaids and lots of red, gold and natural elements. It’s a cross between upstairs and downstairs ‘Downton Abbey’.”

Pine cones are a go-to element of Bertelsen’s decor scheme. There are “101 things you can do with pine cones,” she says, whether you buy them at a dollar store or collect them from your yard. “If all you have is pine cones and Christmas balls in baskets, you’re all set to make your home festive. You can scent the pine cones with essential oils.”

Waxed amaryllis bulbs coated in gold foil create a dramatic, living display as the stalks shoot up to grow their showy flowers.

Bertelsen says food items are useful holiday decorating accessories, such as clementine oranges that can be placed in bowls or lined up in a row for a more contemporary look. Clementin decorated with cloves can interspersed in a bowl, or lined up with pine cones, with LED copper wire lights wound through them.

“The lights run off batteries and most come with timers so you can turn them on at 8 p.m. and set them to turn off at midnight,” Bertelsen says. “It’s a beautiful Christmas display and makes you feel good.”

She makes waxed amaryllis bulbs that she decorates with glitter or gold foil and arranges on a buffet to watch them grown and bloom for Christmas.

“I don’t need a ton of accessories as I have a wood-burning fireplace so it immediately feels homey and wintery,” she says. She has a big antler on her dining room table that adds to the seasonal mood, along with lots of candles.

A tired five-month-old Lip safely snoozes beneath Bertelsen's tree decorated in natural and unbreakable items.

She’ll host Christmas Eve dinner at her house with family members who all live nearby. “I invite people for 6 p.m., but since it’s my family, they show up at eight. We fill up on appetizers or have a meal like chili.” She says her family knows to expect something interesting to happen at her place — a few years ago she ordered “miracle berries” that make things sour taste sweet, and vice versa. “We could eat lemons or drink pickle juice and it tasted great. We killed ourselves laughing.” She said she’s especially looking forward to holiday meals this year since she’s lost five pounds chasing Lip around.

Bertelsen's repurposed antique hardware cabinet gets vintage holiday treatment with sleigh bells and an evergreen garland.

To create special Christmas decor with a DIY twist, Bertelsen shares her tips for making your house look holiday-ready without breaking a sweat:

1. Use pine cones, fresh sprigs of greenery and Christmas balls. Put them in baskets, bowls and hang them. The sprigs have to be replaced once a week or so if they aren’t in water.

2. For every Christmas decoration you put out, take a piece of home decor away and put the items in the box you store your Christmas stuff in until the holidays are over. By replacing and not adding, it will help keep your home from looking crowded and overly busy.

3. Decorate with food. Clementines and mixed nuts in the shell are Bertelsen’s go-to Christmas foods that work for both decor and snacking.

4. Just because you own it, it doesn’t mean you have to use it. If you don’t like a Christmas decoration or don’t have room, keep it for next year — your mood could change and you might like it again. But if it hasn’t been out for a few years, it’s time for the piece to go.

Tracy Hanes is a GTA-based writer and a freelance contributor for the Star. Reach her via email: [email protected]

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