Outdoors, it’s now dark and gloomy by 5 p.m. But indoors, it’s a fabulous opportunity to create a festive, moody ambience for the holidays.

“Lighting is so important, especially when we do most of our entertaining in the evening when it’s dark,” said designer Marsha Hunt of Haute Flower Boutique.

The latest battery-operated string lights and flickering flameless candles, which come in more varieties, sizes, shapes and colors than ever before, offer more versatility when illuminating holiday vignettes.

“If you don’t have a nearby outlet, battery-operated strings really come in handy,” said Cindy Wellman, a designer at Gertens.

Now it’s easier than ever to weave a string of twinkle lights in garland draped over an armoire, to illuminate a dark foyer or add sparkle to a buffet table. Although battery-operated lights are safer than old-fashioned wax candles, “You just can’t match the ambience of candles with a real flame,” said Hunt.

We asked Hunt and two other designers to fashion holiday vignettes that intermingle both types of light, using materials found at garden centers, craft stores and florist shops.

The key is to use indoor lights sparingly for a soft and moody effect, say the experts. Don’t overwhelm arrangements with eye-blinding orbs.

“Mood lighting can transform your home,” said Renae Keller of Renae Keller Interior Design. “It can feel festive for a holiday party or intimate and comforting for just reading a book.”

So dim the lights, and let your creations shine. 

BLACK AND WHITE WITH BLING

Created by: Marsha Hunt, Haute Flower Boutique, hauteflowerboutique.com.

Vignette: This dining-table design pairs traditional red with black and white for a modern twist. “Red really pops when you mix it with graphic black-and-white patterns,” said Hunt.

How to make it:

• Place one or two small boxwood wreaths side by side, depending on the size of your arrangement.

• Flip over two highball glasses and place in the center of the wreaths. Lay a silver serving tray on top of the glasses.

• Weave LED white “seed” lights around the boxwood wreaths. “They have a delicate thin wire that’s easy to wrap around anything,” she said.

• Intersperse black-and-white accents, such as striped ribbon holding napkins and Harlequin planters.

• Add red using napkins, cranberries and floral arrangements.

• For the floating cranberry candles, place cranberries in a glass cube votive. Set a white floating candle on top, then layer more cranberries. Slowly and gently add water.

• Mix metals in antique gold and silver mercury glass, containers and candelabras, as well as gold chargers and sterling flatware. “It’s a great look and a way to use everything you have,” she said.

• For fresh floral flair, arrange pieces of white hydrangeas, green and red roses, fresh or faux greens and pepperberry inside petite silver Revere bowls and mercury glass vases, varying heights for interest.

• Add a clear apothecary jar holding a string of battery-operated white lights for a warm glow.

• Lastly, dress up a light fixture with a boxwood wreath strung with twinkle lights. For holiday bling, Hunt hung crystals reclaimed from an old chandelier from the light fixture. “It adds visual interest up high without interfering with conversation,” she said.

SANTA TAKES CENTER STAGE

Created by: Marsha Hunt, Haute Flower Boutique, hauteflowerboutique.com.

Vignette: Hunt created a 3-D shadowbox effect for this illuminated display above a mantel (pictured on the front page). The key is to “layer together what inspires you,” she said.

How to make it:

• Prop an empty picture frame above the mantel. Hunt found this frame at an antique store many years ago. “I’ve hung wreaths and mirrors inside of it,” she said.

• Attach a string of plug-in white twinkle lights to the wall with clear Command hooks, and arrange in a random pattern. “Use lights with a white wire so it disappears,” said Hunt.

• Place a centerpiece inside the frame, such as a vintage reproduction wood Santa, a nutcracker collection, holiday photos or a large wreath.

• Set favorite silver and red linear-shaped ornaments inside two finials. Hunt used vintage reproductions.

• Group an arrangement of odd-number red candles of different heights.

• Drape fresh or faux greens gathered in bundles around the frame and mantel, and layer lights. “Tuck in faux cranberries for color and texture,” she said.

• Hang a small juniper and spruce wreath. “Santa had his hand up and needed to be holding something,” she said.

SERENE SIMPLICITY

Created by: Renae Keller, Renae Keller Interior Design, renaekeller.com.

Vignette: Less is more in this minimalist mixed-metal arrangement.

How to make it:

• On a silver tray, arrange battery-operated candles in holders of different shapes and sizes — such as a mercury-glass candleholder for height, a bronze/gold star-shaped votive and clear Lucite stands. “Now there’s even tapered flameless candles with a flickering light,” said Keller.

• Loosely wrap two of the candles with tiny rose and turquoise sleigh-bell garland.“It’s a change from red and green, and feels current,” she said.

• For a graceful accent, add artificial or real white pine.

GOLDEN GLOW

Created by: Renae Keller, Renae Keller Interior Design, Minneapolis, renaekeller.com.

Vignette: The patina-gold doves and olive leaves add a natural element to this simple tablescape.

How to make it:

• Fill a clear glass hurricane with a cluster of favorite clear ornaments, such as holly branches.

• Wrap only the opening with a string of battery-operated tiny white lights with silver wire.

• Surround it with a mini olive leaf, boxwood or other green wreath.

• Nestle gold doves or other clip bird ornaments onto the wreath branches.

• Inside the tall center hurricane vase, Keller stacked patina-gold pod-shaped ornaments with twine hangers. “You could also fill it with bosc pears, or clementines and pomegranates for color,” she said.

SHINY BALLS OF LIGHT

Created by: Cindy Wellman, who leads decorating and gardening classes at Gertens, Inver Grove Heights, gertens.com.

Vignette: Classic simple ornaments paired with a fresh wreath and birch poles bring the outside in. “Create a scene using pieces of nature, then pop in a little glitz for sparkle,” said Wellman.

How to make it:

• Place a layer of faux snow on the bottom of a hurricane glass vase.

• Stack favorite ornaments or balls in one color, mixing matte and shiny finishes.

• Intertwine battery-operated white or colored twinkle lights around the ornaments.

• If you wish to use lights that plug into an outlet, buy a hurricane with a hole in the bottom.

• Encircle the hurricane with a fresh wreath, such as fragrant noble fir, and embellish with pine cones and berries.

• If you have a larger table to fill, lay a bundle of birch poles covered in glitter and banded together.

• For a final flourish, wrap the birch poles with battery-operated jewel garland.

TRIPLE TWINKLES

Here are three examples of ways to light up a foyer, room or buffet table.

1. Mixed metals: Stack platinum pine cones inside a glass hurricane. Loosely layer in gold organza ribbon or lace and a string of white twinkle lights. Encircle with a white ice-crystal wreath. Tuck in white bird and snowflake ornaments for accents.

2. Old World lantern: Place a curved sprig of artificial greenery, accented with pine cones, inside a painted white lantern. Add a white battery-operated candle with a faux flickering flame. “Set a lantern on a foyer table to light the way for guests,” said Cindy Wellman of Gertens.

3. Sleigh ride: Inside a decorative sleigh, place mini-pots of white “snowflake” campanula, ardesia winter berries and a lemon cypress tree. Weave in gold organza ribbon, and layer a string of lights. Place oversized ball ornaments for a pop of color in and around the sleigh.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619