Are you overdoing your Christmas decorations?

Christmas decorations can really liven up a home, but add one string of lights or strand of tinsel too many, and it can easily cross the line to tacky.

Worried you might overdo it? Then look for guidance from a new book, "Christmas by Design," where the nation's top designers reveal how to make your holiday decor look tasteful without going over the top.

The co-authors, interior designer Patricia Hart McMillan and her daughter Katharine Kaye McMillan — who also wrote "Home Decorating for Dummies" — are no strangers to translating high-falutin' home decor ideas for the masses. And the proof is in the pages of their latest guide, which is packed with both current and classic ideas for dressing up staircases, mantels, trees, tables, doors, and more.

So if you're eager to create a gorgeous holiday wonderland that won't look like a snow globe threw up in your house, take a look at some of these great designer-approved ideas below.

Use what you have on hand

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Hart McMillan is all about economizing. "One newspaper editor wrote that I didn't sound like an interior designer because I talked about saving my clients' money, even the wealthy ones," she says. One of her favorite tips is to make use of what you already have.

For example, "Christmas dinner centerpieces — costly if purchased from the florist — can be as simple as a collection of colorful on-hand ornaments heaped into a bowl. For drama, I use a footed cake plate, bowl, or urn. For a long table, use two! Add some real or faux greenery around the base."

Hart McMillan also suggests using "fabric scraps to sew up ornaments in simple geometric shapes."

Your color scheme need not be red and green

"The red-and-green color scheme, of course, is magically traditional," says Hart McMillan. "Seeing a red-and-green scheme transports me into a very special world where I am a child again — experiencing the wonder of this season. Other color schemes that depart — blue and gold, blue and silver, amber, white, and gold, and so on — are beautiful, but they do not evoke the same sentiment."

If you want your decorations to invoke the classic feel of the past, red and green is the way to go. But if you prefer your decorations to reflect a more modern or diverse take on the season, try something new and different.

Children's toys make great decorations

Children's toys are generally less expensive and can be found year-round. Hart McMillan advises using "small ones as ornaments for the tree, larger ones on the mantel with candles and greenery. ABC blocks are fun to use to spell out messages like 'joy,' 'Merry Christmas,' and so on across the mantel or a tabletop."

Take a bough

"I love stopping by the pop-up Christmas tree sale sites and collecting branches that have been clipped from the trees being sold," she says. "I put armfuls in large colorful containers and place them at the entry door and include them in casual arrangements throughout my house. The fragrance is heavenly. And the Christmas tree sellers thank me for taking the clippings away."

Use your wrapped gifts as design elements

"Designers in my books love using wrapped gift boxes as decorative accessories," says Hart McMillan. "These money savers have great visual impact when used in a group, as designer Shay Geyer does in her home in 'Christmas By Design.'" Meanwhile, designer Mary Douglas Drysdale suggests that you be eclectic, using diverse papers and an array of colorful ribbons.

"My advice," Hart McMillan continues, "is to use patterned paper that plays up your overall theme." For vintage design, you'll want to try Currier & Ives–like patterns; for traditional, elegant reds, greens, golds; for rustic, craft paper and twine; for contemporary, bold colors, newspaper, and geometric designs.

Fresh vs. artificial tree: Which is better for you?

Hart McMillan believes that they both have their advantages. "Designers are both romantic and practical!" she says. Those who decorate multiple trees usually do one real evergreen tree and faux trees for other rooms. The reason is that no faux tree captures the fragrance of Christmas.

"On the other hand, faux trees look great throughout what can be a long holiday period for those who decorate the day after Thanksgiving," McMillan points out. For the book, "designer Mary Douglas Drysdale revealed that she no longer uses real evergreen garlands on the stairs because they're just too messy."

Mind the pets and kids

Children and animals lend a whole new dimension to Christmas decor, and that involves safety. Hart McMillan suggests securing Christmas trees so they can't topple, and perhaps placing a children's gate to block off the room where the tree and presents have been placed, so the decorations can be seen but not ruined or eaten. Or perhaps placing a portable pet fence around the tree when you're not in the room.

Also, it's a good idea to hang your most fragile and precious ornaments securely, out of reach of children and pets. But you knew that already, right?

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