At the home of Nicole Sforza, senior home editor at Real Simple, you'll find several clear-glass vases filled with candy, which she likes to separate by color: green in one container, red in another. "You won't have leftovers. It will all be gone," she promises.
The same vases could have been used last month to hold her Thanksgiving centerpiece of clementines, and they'll hold flowers in the summer and colored leaves in early fall.
Colored candles, which are so easy (and inexpensive) to switch out depending on the occasion, add an inviting glow to the house, especially when it's dark and cold outside, says Ralph Snyder, design director of homes for Kohl's Department Stores. He recommends clear glass hurricanes to hold the candles, while Sforza might lay an inexpensive mirror on the dining table and put pillar candles on top, surrounded by greenery for Christmas and confetti on New Year's Eve.
Green glass Perrier bottles as well as wine bottles make easy, elegant candleholders for tapers, adds Rosemary Watson, of Mesa, Ariz., who runs home and garden classes and the Hello There House! blog.
Snyder figures you can get year-round use out of one of this season's hottest trends: a distressed, metallic material called mercury glass that's particularly popular for candleholders. It has the shine you want for the holiday season, but it's not so gleaming and bright that it would look out of place on an everyday basis, he says.
"The most important thing is to buy things you love," Snyder says. "Then you'll want to use them season after season, year after year."
He suggests investing in the trend of bringing nature inside. That means natural fibers, gray pillows and linens, and blond wood - all of which are easily jazzed up with metallics, red or even more novelty motifs such as snowmen. (Red cardinals will last you longer through the winter than reindeer or snowmen, he notes.)
"The bigger the piece, the more neutral it should be. The very seasonal items should be small and easy to store - like red napkins, although you could use those on Valentine's Day again," Snyder says.
Watson is a mother of five and a believer in budget- and eco-friendly holiday decor. She suggests beginning with real-but-cheap wine glasses and clear-glass dinner plates bought at a dollar store. Then, the glasses get ribbons around the stems - maybe even jingle bells - while the plates sit on colorful, cheerful scrapbook paper that shows through the glass.
Sometimes, she'll use brown craft paper as the tablecloth. It gives her flexibility, she says, and because the dishes are glass instead of paper, it seems tasteful and special.
Real Simple's Sforza thinks white dinnerware is a wise buy because it complements any red-and-green or silver-and-gold themes you might have going on, and an all-white theme can be sophisticated. "It's very festive if you use it all across the board - and it's not cliché."
For that touch of "holiday," she'd go with red or gold (note that's not red AND gold) place mats for the pop of color. They're easier to store than dishes or glasses.
Don't limit yourself to the dining room though, adds Sears' Warwick.
Sofas in the family room or living room get a quick makeover with decorative pillows or throws, and a guest bedroom is more inviting with a faux-fur comforter. Guests always seem to work their way into the kitchen, where you can line up holiday-themed mugs for coffee or even all-red dessert plates, she suggests. None of these are space hogs in the closet, a problem you might have with giant serving platters.
The consensus seems to be you'll get more mileage out of red than other colors - save white and clear - but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for green.
Sforza likes a wreath on the door, and if you choose one with magnolia leaves, it will look appropriate for weeks to come, she says. Watson buys potted fresh herbs and puts them throughout the house, including the dining table, and then plants them in the spring. "They give the right holiday smell," she says.
Anything broadly wintry, such as birch branches or those cozy throws, should take you through early spring, when you're ready to switch it all over again to bright colors and floral prints.
"By then, people definitely want to make some change dramatically," says Warwick. "And then they'll be ready for outdoorsy stuff in the summer, back-to-school in September, and then holiday stuff again."
Just remember where you put it all.