For some people, the scarier the better when it comes to Halloween decorations. A zombie girl with glowing eyes who rips the head off her teddy bear? OK. A 6-foot-tall, chainsaw-wielding hulk who emits bloodcurdling screams and buzzing? Trick or treat!
Decorating with scary stuff can be part of the fun.
But other people, including those with little kids, find the aesthetic disturbing, and prefer their Halloween without the gore.
“I want to preserve my little ones’ innocence as long as possible, and the creepy, mischievous, evil side of Halloween brings up topics I don’t want my child to know about until they’re old enough to understand it’s fake,” says Jamie Morrissey, who has three children under 3 in suburban New York.
For those after a more dialed-down but still spooky and dramatic look, there are plenty of decorations and themes.
Some play off of old science and wizardry, with celestial illustrations and apothecary elements. Some take a playfully gothic turn. There’s the traditional orange-and-black color scheme, but no reason to stick only to that.
(Note: As for fake cobwebs and dangling lights, wildlife experts urge people not to put them up. Animals can get tangled and trapped in them, leading to injury or death.)
BASIC BLACK. OR A HALLOWEEN RAINBOW
Jessica Dodell-Feder, HGTV Magazine’s executive editor, bleeds the color from her decorations.
“I love keeping everything black and white, then using natural elements that have a little bit of a creepy factor like bats, snakes, bugs or Venus fly traps,” she says. “Think black-painted branches sticking out of an urn; framed faux moth specimens; black-painted faux snakes ‘crawling’ across the center of a table like a runner.”
At the other end of the spectrum, if you want to take your Halloween a little bit ’90s, a little bit Barbiecore, then professional crafter Kara Whitten of Austin, Texas, has some zingy, rainbow-hued, Halloween-themed ideas at her site, akailochiclife. She offers garlands of multicolored pumpkins or phrases, like “Hocus Pocus” or “I Put a Spell on You.” She has instructions for spatter-painting faux pumpkins in day-glo colors.
Another craft idea that kids and adults can do together:
Submerge a few white tapers in warm water until they’re soft enough to bend into curvy shapes. Then with a permanent marker add facial features. Once they’ve cooled and hardened again, you’ve got some candle ghosts for the table. There’s a DIY video on Whitten’s blog.
Betsy Cribb Watson, Southern Living’s senior homes and features editor, favors fall colors.
“I’m not huge on Halloween, so I love leaning into the season’s abundance of natural colors instead: sage greens, burnt oranges, golden yellows and chocolate browns,” she says.
“Plus, when you skip the zombies in favor of fall color, you can enjoy your decorations from the start of the season through Thanksgiving.”
GHOSTS, JACK-O’-LANTERNS AND OTHER STALWARTS
But Watson acknowledges it’s no fun to be a Halloween Scrooge, either.
She finds the handmade ghosts from Mollie Jenkins Pottery “just the right mix of sweet and spooky.”
Jenkins is a Columbus, Georgia, ceramic artist who found herself with a little extra white clay one fall semester while pursuing her B.F.A. at Auburn University.
“My mom’s always loved decorating for the holidays, and growing up we had spooky Halloween candlesticks along with big terracotta jack-o’-lanterns. I took a spin off of those, creating my whimsical ghost,” she said.
Her little specters have developed a following, and sell out every year on her site.
DECORATING FOR A PARTY
Inviting some friends over for a spooky soiree?
For a Hogwarts feel, hang some of Balsam Hill’s battery-operated “floating candles” over a party table or entry. The retailer also has stacked black pumpkin lights with cat faces, and glittery black twig trees.
Crate & Barrel’s got a twiggy, matte-black wreath for a mantel or door. Or create a modern Halloween village with a few of their matte-black haunted houses.
Lauren McIntosh, an artist in Berkeley, California, has created a collection of glassware and napkins for Anthropologie with illustrations including a fortune-teller’s palm, ravens, night-blooming flowers, and mystical moon and star patterns. Also for Anthropologie, London ceramicist Francesca Kaye has an endearing array of bats, cats, owls and ravens on trays, mugs, lanterns and a candelabra.
Dodell-Felder shares a party idea connected to the movie “Beetlejuice,” which gets a new installment as early as next year.
“I’m a huge fan of Tim Burton, and recently ended up purely by accident at a Beetlejuice-themed bar. It had black-and-white striped décor with neon green elements. The drinks were served on dry ice, and they had old-timey portraits on the walls. You couldn’t look away!” she says.
For “an elevated Halloween party,” The Spruce’s editorial and strategy director, Caroline Utz, suggests setting up a tablescape with luxe textures like velvet, and adding orange, purple and green candlesticks in different shapes and sizes. Sculptured Greek or Roman busts might add a “Night at the Museum” vibe.
CREATIVE BUT GENTLE
In San Francisco, Emily Reaman works in interior design, and she’s also got a preschooler. While he loves some “spooky” things, she’s careful about her decorating.
“I don’t have cobwebs or skeletons hanging by my front door,” she says. “But I do add lights to the trees, and my son and I decorate gourds with paint and glitter that we keep out during Halloween, then use on the Thanksgiving table.”
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