Decking the halls, Lowcountry style


The porcelain insides of oyster shells have always looked like angels’ robes to Stacey Collins, a local attorney who makes holiday ornaments from the shellfish. After gluing the shells together with hot glue, Collins adds Spanish moss for hair and wings made out of burlap. The rough-hewn fabric is used at outdoor roasts to cover oysters steaming over a fire.

“I started making them for myself, and then all my friends wanted one,” said Collins, who lives in Bluffton and works at a law firm on Hilton Head Island.

The most festive holiday decorations often are inspired by our surroundings. In the Lowcountry, that means natural elements like plants and moss and beach themes.

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Found objects from nature are more than just raw materials for crafty individuals. Professional designers also use the bounty of the Lowcountry in residential and commercial jobs.  Local designer Cynthia Bailey is an expert at Lowcountry holiday scenes. The founder of CW Bailey Interiors and a self-described “individual consultant,” she tackles decorating jobs of all sizes, from selecting the perfect holiday home accessories to crafting a color palette for a client’s walls. When decking the halls for the holidays, she suggests setting realistic goals instead of getting overwhelmed by the bigger picture.

“My philosophy is to make it simple,” she said. “Pick your big focal points first and really do those up.”

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Thanks to the Lowcountry’s mild winters, many people are able to take advantage of their yard planters year-round. Bailey suggests decorating planters and outdoor areas to reflect the season, especially if throwing a holiday party. Once she’s given the planters and front door a little holiday sparkle, she moves on to the mantel and then the dining room table and the rest of the home.

When considering Lowcountry-themed decorations, trends in design don’t have to be ignored. Dawn Kiritsy of A Floral Affair loves to blend current trends — like today’s focus on metallics — with traditional Christmas decor. With notes of copper, silver and gold and a pop of holiday red, holiday arrangements are updated with a more modern aesthetic. To add a Lowcountry touch, Kiritsy suggests adding grasses and feathers from the area’s marshes or foraging for moss-covered branches. Using magnolia leaves and laurel instead of the typical pine boughs also reflects the area’s aesthetic. And there are other benefits to using local vegetation, Kiritsy said.

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“Some of our local foliage has a tendency to last longer,” she said. “Even using a live oak dusted with gold or copper, just the skeleton of the structure gives you a light, airy feeling.”

The nearby beach might lead some to use hues of soft blue and green, but Kiritsy also likes the look of darker green or plum accented by a starfish or sand dollar.

Coastal Christmas5“I like the contrast of the stark bleached color against the darker plant life of what nature provides in the Lowcountry,” she said.

Incorporating locally sourced natural elements into your home’s décor can also be a cost-effective and unique way to prepare for the holiday season. And it certainly sets the scene. Magnolia leaves intertwined with faux pine roping and decorated with shells collected from the beach give any holiday scene a coastal vibe.

“I also love to intertwine cotton. It is becoming more readily available,” Bailey said. “That says ‘the South’ all over it.”

Those without the time or talent to craft —or the budget to hire a professional decorator—will be happy to know that many local stores embrace natural elements at the holidays. Collins’ oyster shell angels are on sale at Traditions on Hilton Head Island. The gift shop at the Coastal Discovery Museum also carries ornaments and other decorations made from materials found in nature.