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Home Advice: Niki Epstein

Magical, twinkling lights are intertwined with the holidays. They announce the arrival of the season, amplify the beauty of our surroundings and our celebrations, and elevate our souls. On the other hand, untangling miles of knotted lights and blowing fuses with competitive lawn tableaux are the stuff of movie spoofs.

To take the hassle out of holiday lighting, landscape designer and plant stylist Niki Epstein breaks down the process with some basic advice and important do’s and don’ts.

First, Epstein recommends buying more lights than you think you need to ensure that you have enough. Using the same style lights on a Christmas tree, mantle or other location looks best. Incandescent lights are warm and old fashioned, while LEDs are cooler and brighter and easier to find, she said. Epstein uses 100 lights per every 1.5 feet of tree. “The more sparkly, the better for me,” she said.

When working with clients, she chooses lights according to their favorite holiday decorating style: colored lights for a nostalgic touch when the look is traditional; white lights with shimmery elements and ribbon for an elegant look; and white lights for a minimal look.

For inspiration, she suggests considering the exterior of your home. For a client whose home overlooked Audubon Park, she went with a minimal approach so that the holiday décor wouldn’t compete with surrounding views of oak trees. For continuity, she also recommends using the same theme inside and out.

Professionals can solve electrical issues and tackle jobs both small and large. But when professional services and pre-lit trees (Epstein says these will be hard to come by this year) are not an option, Epstein’s tips work for do-it-yourselfers as well. She adds oomph to wreaths and garlands with strings of lights both inside and out, and while she prefers real wreaths, she recommends investing in artificial garland for outdoor use. It will outlast warm weather and can be used again next year.

Outside, she uses doubled swags of garland to stand up to exterior proportions, and likes the ease of net lights for hedges. Lighting pathways with holiday themed solar lights, edging a roofline with icicle lights and hanging large 12 to 20-inch light balls from trees also bring the outdoors to life. Inside, she often adorns a large gilded mirror with a lighted wreath hung from ribbon, placing it halfway down the mirror for impact. When ceilings are high, her top tip for the most foolproof source of shimmer: “make your tree the focal point.”

Group shiny silver items like heirloom candlesticks and/or mint julep cups for a romantic table setting illuminated by candlelight.

Fill mason jars with strings of battery-operated fairy lights surrounded by seasonal greenery.

To keep fresh greens looking spry, try Wilt Pruf, available on Amazon (avoid spraying furniture, mantles etc.).


Niki Epstein grew up in Florida but came to New Orleans in search of warmer weather after living in Chicago for more than a decade. Luckily for locals, she brought her talent for designing container-centric garden spaces for residential and commercial clients with her. Epstein’s work has been featured in “Garden & Gun,” “Elle Décor,” “Southern Living” and “New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles.”

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