Vintage Expert Offers 5 Timeless Tips For A Classic Christmas

Despite Bob Richter’s well-documented love of Christmas, there’s one time-honored tradition he just can’t get behind.

“I’ve found that I’m too much of a control freak to have a tree-trimming party,” the author, designer and self-professed “holiday healer” quipped. “I wind up moving the ornaments and re-doing a lot of it, so it’s really counterproductive. What I’d love to get going is a de-trimming party, where people help me put it all away. With the right music and refreshments, it could be fun.”

Still, Richter doesn’t expect his suggested alternative to catch on anytime soon: “Whenever I’ve brought it up, everyone seems to be busy that day!”

The Pennsylvania native playfully delves into his distaste for such fêtes in his latest book, “A Very Vintage Holiday.” The book was released in October and covers “the warmth and nostalgia of a year’s worth of beloved holidays.” Christmas is well-represented, with Richter’s ornament collection (which, he says, can fill about 20 trees) featured prominently in the book’s 226 full-color pages. But he also offers creative ideas on how to give one’s home decor a festive flair on Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, along with Independence Day, Presidents’ Day and other less-heralded celebrations.

Now based in Lambertville, New Jersey, Richter is nationally renowned for his throwback aesthetics. He rose to prominence in 2012 as a co-host on the “Antiques Roadshow” spinoff, “Market Warriors,” and continues to showcase his passion for bygone eras in a YouTube video series, “Flea Market Minute.” He made his publishing debut in 2016 with “A Very Vintage Christmas,” using his antiquing expertise to show how heirlooms and rummage sale finds can be seamlessly incorporated into present-day traditions.

The book is an unofficial tribute to his late mother and includes many of her recipes and other mementos. “One of my spiritual concepts is to be grateful for the time I have,” Richter said, “and for me, all holidays are sentimental.”

In an interview with HuffPost, Richter shared his thoughts on how best to approach decorating with vintage items and the surprise benefits of embracing interfaith traditions.

Go for a feeling and a look rather than a period.

A lot of people worry about mixing eras of vintage — a 1940s Santa with a 1960s snowman and a 1980s tree skirt, plus brand-new lights, but this is the way to make vintage feel both nostalgic and current at the same time. For me, the feeling is generally nostalgic and sometimes playful ― other times more serene. I let color and genre of decor guide me.

For example, I like to use blow molds and plastics in the kitchen, and I like to use glass ornaments and warm lights in the living room because it is more peaceful and relaxing. Also, I always let color and shape guide me when decorating. If you look at most of my displays, there are a few dominant colors and often a balance of shapes. That’s how I make it feel cohesive.

Richter’s ornament collection can fill about 20 trees.

Be open to new technology.

The fresh way to live with vintage is to not decorate exactly like your grandmother but to use her things, or ones like them, in new ways. I use new white lights on many of my trees as they do a beautiful job bringing my vintage ornaments to life. I also use LED tea lights and timers in many of my light-up objects as it saves me from unplugging or turning things on and off. I am old enough to remember having to unplug the Christmas trees and lights every night before bed. Now, they are plugged into power strips and cords with step-on buttons, making things much more efficient.

Add fun, decorative things in unexpected places.

I recently had someone tell me I’m why she now has a Christmas tree in her bathroom. We spend a lot of time in the bathroom, so why shouldn’t there be some holiday joy there as well? I also love adding ribbons and bows to light fixtures or hanging ornaments around lampshades — my nana did this. Even a Santa hat on the head of a statue or bust is an easy way to add some whimsy.

Richter's Thanksgiving table display.
Richter’s Thanksgiving table display.

Trees ― they’re not just for Christmas!

This falls under my mantra of using old or traditional things in new ways. I think a tree, whether for Christmas or Valentine’s Day or Easter, is a natural gathering place and focal point. I like using vintage cards as decorations for a Valentine’s Day tree. It’s a way of showcasing things from the past that might otherwise sit in a drawer or a box somewhere. For my Thanksgiving tree, I used dried fall leaves that I preserved with waxed paper. It’s a fun, unexpected bit of decorating and a way to celebrate not only the holiday at hand but also a season.

Embrace interfaith traditions.

My partner, Sefton, is Jewish, so we celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas. I love it because we share traditions, memories and ways of doing things dear to us. It’s a deeper way to share and know each other. Growing up, he also celebrated Christmas, so my ornaments, lights and decorations are familiar to him, but many of my customs are new territory. He’s helped me string popcorn and cranberries, watch classic Christmas movies each year and go to church services.

"Both holidays are a celebration of miracles — and that’s a beautiful concept," Richter said of celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas.
“Both holidays are a celebration of miracles — and that’s a beautiful concept,” Richter said of celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas.

Similarly, I’ve learned to sing the Hanukkah prayers as we light the menorah each night, guess which candle will stay lit longest, spin the dreidel and give eight nights of gifts. This is really working out quite nicely. Double the fun and the gifts! Now, I’m finding vintage menorahs, from majestic silver versions to their kitschy plastic electric counterparts.

Both holidays are a celebration of miracles — and that’s a beautiful concept. I believe a miracle is a shift in perception, and we all have much more in common than we realize. The holidays are the perfect time to underscore that concept.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

"The fresh way to live with vintage is to not decorate exactly like your grandmother but to use her things, or ones like them, in new ways," said Richter.

Daniel Yund & Blake Drummond

“The fresh way to live with vintage is to not decorate exactly like your grandmother but to use her things, or ones like them, in new ways,” said Richter.

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