There’s no denying the allure of fabulously over-the-top holiday decor. But often it’s the simple, sentimental elements that make the holiday season truly magical—even for top interior designers. Because few things hold as much meaning as holiday ornaments, we asked a few of our favorite decorators which pieces they love to collect and display, from treasured family heirlooms to playful childhood favorites. Read on for a serious dose of nostalgia—and get inspiration for your own festive collections.
On Marking Memories
“Every year we get a handful of ornaments from people, and I like to take out a Sharpie and write on the back who gave it to me and the year. That always makes it fun when we’re taking out ornaments again because we’re able to recall who gave them to us. The girls get excited to see the ornaments that they remember from the previous year.”—Lilly Bunn
“I have strings of glass Mardi Gras beads from the time that I lived in New Orleans as a child. I have a collection of handmade ornaments, some that I made myself, that I’ve had since childhood, as well as an extensive collection of sterling-silver ornaments that friends have given me over the years. I have also collected ornaments from my travels around the world, so my tree is filled with memories!”—Timothy Corrigan
“I love decorating my tree because I’ve collected ornaments over a lifetime. I still have ornaments from when I was a child. I have lots of felt ornaments. I think it’s more fun to have things that look more homemade, and they don’t break, so they’re great for kids.”—Bunny Williams
On Sentimental Favorites
“The running joke in our house is that every ornament is my favorite, but in truth—I counted last year—I have exactly seven favorites, and they’re my favorite ornaments from childhood; most of them glittery animals of some sort. For me, they’re like Pavlov’s dog for Christmas nostalgia.”—Lauren Liess
“I have a huge collection of ceramic ornaments that were painted by my grandmother and me when I was a kid. I don’t use them much anymore, but I always have a look at them every Christmas when it’s time to decorate.”—Shawn Henderson
“We inherited several ornaments from my husband’s German family, which are beautifully painted angels, nutcrackers, and Nikolaus figurines. It brings me so much joy to open the Christmas decor boxes once a year and experience memories as we unwrap each ornament.”—Anne Hepfer
It brings me so much joy to open the Christmas decor boxes once a year and experience memories as we unwrap each ornament.
On Family Collections
“Thirty years ago, the first Christmas my husband, Rick, and I were together, we did not have much. We had a small scrap of a tree and a few ornaments from Walgreens—red glass birds. We still have some of them, and if we see any more red bird ornaments we buy them.”—Thomas Jayne
“My mom has given me an ornament every year since I was a baby, and so when I moved into my first place, I had a treeful of sentimental ornaments. She’s carrying on the tradition with our four kids now.”—Lauren Liess
“I’ve been collecting vintage mercury ornaments for over a decade. The more pastel and unusual, the better. In my daughter Tallulah’s room, we have a small tree with vintage figurative ornaments that are sentimental, passed down from her great-granmommy. The white chapel with a pink steeple is my favorite.”—Jennifer Vaughn Miller
I’ve been collecting vintage mercury ornaments for over a decade. The more pastel and unusual, the better.