Scaring up a sophisticated Halloween look at home is easy when you use your imagination and have the right tools.
Many of the ideas here I've presented before - and certainly bear repeating.
If you use kitschy Halloween props like skeletons and "dismembered" body parts in your decor, don't overdo it. For instance, one Halloween I wanted to give guests a jolt when they stepped onto my porch, so I reclined a skeleton on the chaise and put a copy of one of my books in its hands.
Another year, I placed scrim-covered skeletons in the host and hostess chairs in my dining room, positioning them like they were ready for a ghoulish dinner.
But perhaps my favorite display to date was last year's, when we spray-painted some mannequin legs and arms black and stuck them in the floral displays on my dining table and on my porch. Black iron urns made the perfect vases for this bloodcurdling bouquet.
For less outlandish displays that are still lots of fun, put a black skull encrusted with glitter in the punch bowl or on a cake plate. Or let a skeleton hand hold the salt and pepper shakers.
Scrim, an inexpensive gauzelike fabric, is a blast to use at Halloween. For my fall open house last year, we cut scrim into long, thin strips, then draped them over the dead branches we had secured to the trim around my dining-room window.
We also hung scrim from the dining-room chandelier and from the centerpiece. It took just minutes to do, yet it made the room look otherworldly.
Like scrim, Spanish moss is another easy and inexpensive tool that gives just about any fall display an instant Halloween feel. For a display on my front door, we draped a few handfuls of Spanish moss over some bare twigs, and suddenly it felt like they were stolen from a haunted forest. You can also add pinches of moss here and there in regular fall displays.
Take glass apothecary jars, compotes and bowls, and fill with treats like candy corn.
Another fun touch is to include vintage-looking jars affixed with Halloween labels on your drinks table. Or cluster a few of them together, place them on a silver or wooden tray, to create a simple centerpiece for your kitchen island or table.
What's Halloween without some super-creepy critters, like rats, bats and spiders? At Nell Hill's, we have critters that are playfully fun, like fuzzy black rats and fluffy black owls, a perfect pick for young families who want a whimsical touch of Halloween without the gore.
Dress your dining table, hutch, bookcase or side tables with your nicest silver, and then give it a macabre twist. Silver serving pieces, like five-armed candelabras, are just the things when you want to present a gothic Halloween look. Top candlesticks with drippy black candles. Place a silver serving tray on your buffet and top it with a skull or hand.
Adapted from Mary Carol Garrity's blog at www.nellhills.com