Christmas is still a month away. But Kathleen and Dale Putrah's home has been decked for the season since the week of Halloween.

"Decorating kicks off the season," Kathleen said. "It puts you in the mood."

The couple's big house in Faribault, Minn., serves as holiday headquarters for their big extended family. They also go big with their decor.

How big? Ten Christmas trees, each with a different theme -- from a small European-style tree in Kathleen's office to the giant "family tree" in their great room, filled with handmade and homespun ornaments representing their grown kids, 16 grandkids and two great-grandkids.

And that's just the trees. The couple's holiday decor also includes mantel displays, table centerpieces, garlands for the staircase and Kathleen's massive collection of Nativity scenes, arrayed throughout the house.

"It's a big job," she said. "I can't do it alone. If you're going to do the magnitude we've elected to do here, it's not a one-man show."

So she turns to Scott Ellingboe, senior creative design consultant for Bachman's, and a team of helpers to trim her trees. "I don't have the talent. He does," she said.

Ellingboe combines the Putrahs' heirloom ornaments with new decorations to create a look that's both stylish and personal. Here are his tree-trimming tips:

First things first. Decorations that wrap the entire tree, such as lights or ribbons, should go on first. "Get the swirl right," Ellingboe said. Then add individual decorations, big ones first and finishing with the smaller accent pieces. He typically starts at the top of the tree and works his way down.

Think outside the box. "They don't have to be Christmas ornaments to be Christmas ornaments," Ellingboe said. He's trimmed trees with old photos and vintage cameras, Mardi Gras masks, mirrored disco balls and even Slinky toys. "Don't be scared to do what you feel -- it's your tree," he said.

Have enough. When you see a ribbon you like, never buy just one bolt. "The ribbon manufacturers will never make that ribbon ever again," Ellingboe said. "Buy by threes or sixes. Always have backup." Likewise with ornaments. "Don't buy one," he said. His formula: For a 7-foot tree, buy ornaments by the dozen; 8-foot, two dozen; 9-foot, three dozen. Giant trees call for bulk buying -- 54 to 72 ornaments.

Think scale. A tiny ball will disappear on a 9-foot tree. If your tree is large, look for balls the size of grapefruits or even basketballs.

Go deep. Layer your decor, so that ornaments hung on the tips of branches are balanced by others hung "inside" the tree.

More is more. If there's one occasion that calls for excess, Christmas is it. "My motto is: Overdone is just begun," Ellingboe said. "Make your statement. You can't have too many ornaments."

Keep it personal. You can use humble heirloom ornaments and still have a beautiful tree, Ellingboe said. Use larger unifying elements to make a design statement, then finish with the smaller personal ornaments. If there are kids in your household, make sure they participate in the tree-trimming ritual. "Involve them, or you forget what Christmas is," Ellingboe said. "The tree should say, 'Our family.'"

Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784