The Inviting Home | Welcoming Guests in the Winter Season
The winter months can be a wonderful time for entertaining. With holidays bringing cozy weather and good cheer, it’s a great time to reconnect with longtime friends, or to welcome new friends into the fold.
Unfortunately, winter months can also be a challenge when it comes to creating a welcoming arrival for guests. The approach to your front door might lack the easy charm of summer and spring, when flowers and greenery can help create a natural, cheerful flow.
This time of year, the focus is on curb appeal and your home’s exterior to provide that welcoming touch. To create a truly inviting home, there are several key areas to address and enhance.
Time to clean house
Just as you clean the inside of your home to keep it looking and functioning its best, to create a welcoming exterior you first need to tidy. Plan to tackle some basic seasonal “housekeeping” chores — both for visual appeal and general house maintenance.
Start with having your gutters cleaned, which you can hire someone to do or handle on your own. Just be sure to have someone spot you on the ladder as you manually remove leaves or blow them out with a leaf-blower extension. Make sure gutters are clear by running water through them to ensure the flow isn’t blocked.
Next, rake your leaves. Allowing them to remain on your lawn through winter will smother your grass, although a few left among plant beds won’t hurt and will actually help insulate your perennials and provide natural compost. After raking them, you can compost them over the winter to use in spring, or you can see if your area has a recycling center where they can pick them up for mass-composting. After the leaves are off the lawn, mow it one last time before winter, trimming it short to help prevent any matting if it continues to grow. It will deter rodents and prevent disease and, it will look better.
Pull out your annuals and cut back all your perennial plants as they die. Take caution when cutting back trees and shrubs to avoid “dieback,” when too much stress at the same time can damage them. Trees and shrubs can also dry out over winter, however, it’s fine to cut back unattractive dead branches, and certainly to gather any fallen branches and garden debris from the yard.
Remove any dead annuals from empty pots and window boxes so you can use the containers for winter plantings or store them away until next spring. Secure and adjust any loose or crooked shutters, repair any issues with fences or mailboxes, and address anything else you’ve been letting slide.
Color me impressed
Now that you’ve removed anything unsightly, time to add some color. One way to do that is with hardy, cold-tolerant plants.
Some popular choices include ornamental kale and cabbage, chrysanthemums, and pansies. Plant them in window boxes and in containers flanking your porch steps—anywhere you want a pop of color. Cabbages and kale offer some lovely purples and dark greens, and mums are great to layer in various harvest hues in your landscape. Evergreens are also good options, and can last beyond the winter season when planted before the first frost or potted in a sheltered spot. (Any containers you don’t use for winter plants or decoration should be tucked away in a garage or out of sight.) Plant your favorite seasonals or evergreens directly into garden beds to fill the void from annuals that have died off. Or, hang them in big baskets on the porch, or clustered in decorative pots around the front door.
Other ideas for color include wrapping thick ribbons or tying festive bows around columns or railings. To add additional color and interest, use boughs of evergreens to line the railings of stairs, to wind around a mailbox pole, or around columns flanking your front door.
If you don’t want to use bright colors, look for ways to incorporate metallic accents into your outdoor decor. You can spray paint gourds, fruit, or even wine bottles to create a shimmering tableau. Metallic ribbons and bows add sophisticated cheer.
Depending on the exterior of your home, white can also provide the “color” you need, so consider adding plants, decorative items or ribbons in winter white.
You can buy birdhouses in deep, vibrant hues and keep them stocked with seed or suet. You’ll ensure some cheerful wildlife in your yard while adding a charming seasonal touch.
Accent furniture can also bring some practical color to your exterior. Brightly colored garden benches, painted wicker chairs and tables, colorful end tables placed near the door, or repainted metal café table and chair sets all add visual appeal.
Cue the lights
With the sun setting earlier, weaving in temporary lighting adds some whimsy and fun to the exterior of your home. Wrap white string lights around small, leafless trees to provide a cheerful winter look that can last beyond the holiday season. String lights can also be wrapped around porch railings, or you can hang café lights under your porch to create a sparkling entry—and a place to curl up at night with a cup of tea or a hot toddy.
If you’re crafty, chicken wire can be used in a variety of ways and lit with string lights. Balls of chicken wire wrapped in twinkle lights add a charming glow to porch decor. Large-scale lanterns near the doorway can be lit with either real or battery-operated candles. Or get creative with lighted letters and spell out a welcome message.
On a more practical note, you can also purchase solar-powered lights to sink into the pathway leading to the house, providing a lighted walkway from sidewalk to front door. If your walkway doesn’t get enough sun during winter to power solar lights, consider having landscape and border lighting installed for year-round safety and ambience.
Once you’ve got the house in tip-top shape, added some bold color you can see from the road, and found some engaging lighting options, you can also have fun by adding props throughout your exterior— from the start of your entry path up to your front door.
Focus on key areas, such as your mailbox (the first thing people will see when approaching the house), porch steps, windows and doorways. There are many creative ideas for adding final touches.
Wreaths: These aren’t just for Christmas. You can change out fall or harvest themed wreaths in November for green and red themed for December. You can also hang wreaths that span multiple occasions and last into January by choosing materials such as burlap, neutral ribbons wrapped around branches, or wreaths of materials that have been spray painted winter white or in metallic shades. You can even make alternative wreaths using sheaves of wheat or branches.
Pine Cones: Like wreathes, these aren’t just for Christmas either. They’re cold-weather decor that can be woven into boughs of evergreens, clustered inside hurricane lamps, piled in baskets, and added wherever you want some natural seasonal charm. You can spray paint these in fanciful or neutral colors as well.
Hurricane Lamps or Large Lanterns: In addition to using them as a light source, they can also be filled with colorful spheres, pine cones, ornaments and other knick-knacks. You can place them on porch steps or flanking a front door. Look for interesting materials like copper, wrought iron, galvanized steel, or colorful metals.
Colorful Textiles: Your front porch furniture doesn’t need to go unused in the winter months. Add some colorful pillows to brighten chairs and sofas. Or cover current cushions with seasonal shams. Plaid blankets or other bold designs can be draped over furniture for visual appeal—and also come in handy to curl up on the porch for cocoa and conversation.
Signs: The trend of messages on signs remains popular, with some places even offering sign-making parties where people can personalize their own messages. You can have large, bold signs leaning against your front door, or display signs made from painted pallet wood with designs or messages. Think about ways to highlight your street number with a sign and a small light focused on it, allowing people to see your house number clearly when the sun sets earlier. Or, spell out the family name. Get creative with materials too. Signs can be made of wood, metal or cloth. You can even have a large chalkboard set up and change the message daily.
There are a host of other ideas to think about. You can set up beautiful tiered shelves in iron, copper or galvanized steel featuring live plants or other decor. Fill vintage wagons, wheelbarrows, metal tubs, milk cans, or metal buckets with plants and arrange them at strategic points in your landscape. In addition to real birdhouses stocked with food, you can spray paint decorative bird houses and birdcages and set up a display on your porch. Or lean a vintage sled against the door with a pair of ice skates hanging from them.
Whatever you do to spruce up your exterior in winter—whether by tidying, lighting, using color or adding decor—make sure it reflects your personal style and makes you happy when you arrive home. Because the most inviting house of all is one where the hosts themselves feel at home. ✦
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