Time Honored Traditions-Decorating the White House 2017

Volunteering at the White House for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people. It is a great honor to be accepted to decorate at the White House and I have written about previous years. This year was the third time that I participated and I always meet people at the White House who have applied after reading about my experiences and been accepted.

Great friendships are formed between the volunteers

 

Mandy Tucker Barkley and her sister Reisha Rust are both talented designers

Lots of people apply, so if you are enthusiastic about Christmas decorating, have experience with designing or decorating, and enjoy working as a team, you have a good chance of being accepted. Most of your day is spent standing or climbing ladders and scaffolding, and doing such tasks as rewiring Christmas ornaments for hours at a time. But as anyone will tell you, its lots of fun meeting like-minded people from all over the country and being part of a cohesive, passionate and caring team of people. I love it!!  The best part is the friendships that are formed that last a long time.

Cinda Baize with long-time decorator Bill Hixson who has participated in decorating for 37 years!
Touring the Willard Hotel in D.C. with my fellow decorators

Over 150 volunteers from 29 states were selected. Everyone works during Thanksgiving week for a partial week or the entire week. I elected to work the entire week and since I live within driving distance, I drove home for my holiday meal. But others who were flying in to work, found a local restaurant for Thanksgiving.

Getting ready to go the volunteer reception

Around 12,000 ornaments, 53 trees, and 71 wreaths, were used to transform the state floor and the lower level into a winter wonderland.  The theme “Time-Honored Traditions” was designed by First Lady Melania Trump to pay homage to 200 years of holiday traditions at the White House.

Taking selfies outside the White House

Monday morning before Thanksgiving at 6AM, we all gathered in the lobby of a D.C. hotel and started our first day of work. The first few days we worked at an offsite warehouse doing prep work, like wiring new ornaments and removing old wires from recycled ornaments. Many ornaments are recycled from previous years and are stored from year to year. Another team worked at the White House early, wiring up the many Christmas trees with lights.

Many ornaments are reused from previous years

I along with a helper, worked on four different boxwood topiaries. Two were double ball topiaries and the others were large ( 12-15″ diameter)single balls. Tedious and exacting work, inserting short lengths of fresh boxwood into the Styrofoam took us almost two days. Others were working on wiring ornaments, organizing room boxes, making Cricut paper cutouts for garlands and trees, wiring garlands together, and going through old ornaments.

One of the boxwood topiaries that I worked on
I worked with a team that made these beautiful tree skirts edged in gold ribbon
Marcie worked on these beautiful dark green bows and the mantels in the East room
The fresh garlands were extremely heavy and took 4-5 people to carry, picture from Theresa Cardell Houston
I worked in the Blue Room which included an 18.5′ tall tree and the mantel

Volunteers and staff at the White House were always cheerful and accommodating and each person had a story to tell about how they applied and got chosen. I met some old friends from previous years and caught up.

Deanna Berry helped me out with the topiaries and tree skirts
I worked with Theresa in 2015 in the Blue Room; here she is with her husband Don, photo from Theresa Cardell Houston

Blue Room

I was thrilled to work in the Blue Room again as it is the center of the State Floor with a breath-taking view of the South Lawn. Oval shaped, the Blue Room has been the traditional place for presidents to formally receive guests. After making and placing some “ribbon bursts” on the beautiful State tree, I moved on to decorate the mantel. I love doing mantels, more so than decorating trees, so I was excited. After the huge garlands were placed on the mantel we wired the garlands up with tiny white lights. Making sure that the wires were concealed by fresh greenery, I and my helper Cherry, labored on the garland for several hours, pushing the wire into the body of the garland. We ended up adding five strands of lights to completely cover it. The ends of the garland were left to “puddle” on either side for an elegant rich look.

Many garlands, like these in the East Room, puddled on the floor on either side
Blue Room mantel details

Adding large blue velvet bows with dove-tailed ends in the center and on either side started the process of decorating the garland. Antique gold oak leaves, state seal balls, and large gold balls were added to the garland which mirrored what was used on the towering tree in the center of the room. More blue velvet ribbon pieces were added weaving through the garland and I added large gold sprayed sugar cones on either side dangling from gold-wired ribbon. Being careful that the garland doesn’t touch the walls and possibly damage them, the whole process took about a day and a half to complete.

Completed Blue Room mantel

Each of the gold state seal balls were engraved with all 56 state and territory seals and I made sure to include a variety on the mantel.

Presidential Seal above the Blue Room door

Green Room

My next favorite room was the Green Room which is dedicated to crafts, paper, and classic design. Covered in a delicate green silk fabric chosen by Jacqueline Kennedy and striped cream, white, and coral drapes and furniture, it is located adjacent to the Blue Room. Because of its proximity, I checked on the decorating progress frequently and was awed by the silhouettes and Cricut cut pine cones and mistletoe. Cricut is the brand name of an electronic cutting machine that looks like a printer. Intricate botanical shapes were produced in the warehouse and then put together to form beautiful forms on the Green Room mantel and tree.

The White House calligrapher created the ‘Merry Christmas’ banner
Gold silhouettes were hand cut of president’s profile
Green Room tree
Detail of the Cricut paper tree box; this was on all four sides
Detail of the beautiful green striped ribbon with Cricut cut shapes
Framed vignette scenes were hung in both windows by the same beautiful ribbon; They depicted previous first families celebrating Christmas with their families
More framed silhouettes and cut paper trees were placed on tables throughout the room

Red Room

On the other side of the Blue Room is the Red Room with carmine red walls and drapes, an Aubusson carpet, and a gilded wood French chandelier.

Red Room tree

A peppermint candy theme was carried throughout the room with apothecary jars placed on the tree, mantel and sideboards. Exploding with lollipops, crushed candy, old-fashioned ribbon candies and red and white cookies (all real), the room was alive with color. The plaid red and white wired ribbon was gorgeous and paired perfectly with the white ribbon edged in red. The tree box similar to the Green Room was faced with Cricut paper pieces with an iced cookie from the White House kitchen topping everything off.

Glass apothecary jars were attached to the mantel
An explosion of candy in the Red Room

Cross Hall

The trees in the Cross Hall were carefully decorated with fake snow

 

Billowy snow was placed at the base of the trees; uplighting enhanced the fairy tale look

The Cross Hall runs East to West on the main floor of the White House connecting the East Room and the State Dining Room and includes the Grand Foyer.  A forest of trees decorated with crystal ornaments and glittery snow greeted visitors as they entered.

Towering trees of snow and crystal

The decorations celebrated the first themed White House Christmas, which was the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ in 1961, To create depth on the trees, we placed the ornaments close to the trunk as well as towards the outer tips of the branches. Light strands were treated the same way; The string of Christmas lights was twisted around the branch from trunk to branch tip and wrapped back to the trunk to start on another branch.

East Room

The East Room is the largest room in the White House and used as a reception room. The trees here were decorated with a gorgeous emerald-green velvet ribbon with a shiny gold reverse. I was part of the team that cut out the matching tree skirts and the ribbon was used to edge the hem for an elegant touch.

East Room tree skirts

Bursts of emerald-green ribbon were added to the trees with ornaments in varying hues of green for a lush elegant look. The mantels were treated similarly.

East Room mantel
Bow detail
A nativity scene is on display in the East Room

East Colonnade 

The long hallway in the East Wing is always a great decorating opportunity. In 2015, I loved the snowflake theme. But this year, the towering frosty branches that arched overhead were a sight to behold.

East Wing frosty branches

Up lighting the branches created a magical feeling at night.

Dining Room

The Dining Room mantel in gold and silver
Dangling ornaments on Dining Room mantel

Vermeil Room

The Vermeil Room contains portraits of First Ladies and houses the silver-gilt collection or “Gold-Ware” which is on display. I love the portraits that decorate this room and the decorations pick up the gold theme.

Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson over looks the room
Detail of mantel
Eleanor Roosevelt has an interesting portrait in the Vermeil Room
Detail of the beautiful beaded tree skirt in the Vermeil Room
Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower

Library

The library contained a Christmas tree made out of books- a novel approach to a Christmas tree! The books were artistically stacked on a tiered shelf with boxwood peeking out from the “trunk”.

Boxwood was behind the books

In a glass case next to the Library’s mantel is a copy of Charles Dickens’  “Christmas Carol” that belonged to Franklin Roosevelt who was said to read it to his family on Christmas Eve.

Diplomatic Reception

The Diplomatic Reception Room tree next to the historic wallpaper

One of three oval rooms in the White House, the Diplomatic Reception Room is papered in antique French scenic wallpaper. I loved seeing the details of the wall paper which was obtained by Jacqueline Kennedy.

One of the scenes on the wallpaper

One of the most interesting feature of the Diplomatic Reception Room is that a previously unused chimney was opened up in 1935, and a new mantel and fireplace installed for Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats.”

The gold eagle was a flag pole topper!

Gold Star Tree

The Gold Star tree honors service members and their families, particularly those who have given their lives for our country. Decorated with gold stars and patriotic ribbon, the tree is interactive, allowing visitors to write holiday messages to service members.

Reception

First Lady Melania Trump thanks all the volunteers for their hard work, picture from Theresa Cardell Houston

To cap off our hard work decorating, we were treated to a volunteer reception where we could see the results of everyone’s hard work revealed. Lamb chops, tenderloin, smoked salmon, and lots of other goodies are laid out in a buffet. And the White House has the best mac and cheese and egg nog ever!

The volunteer reception in the Dining Room
Spread of food at volunteer reception
The gingerbread house was covered in pastillage, a sugar based dough that dries hard
Detail of the wreaths on the gingerbread White House; fresh green wreaths were placed in the same windows on the real White House
The White House kitchen produces thousands of iced sugar cookies for parties
First day at the White House

For previous posts on decorating at the White House, go to Decorating the White House-Past and Present, and White House 2015.

 

23 Replies to “Time Honored Traditions-Decorating the White House 2017”

  1. Thank you Claire for giving your time and money and most of all your decorating talent to the “House Of The People Of The United States.” It is truly an elegant and beautiful home this year. Thanks for sharing this experience.
    Merry Christmas,
    Carolyn Rapisarda

  2. I tried applying to the White House last summer and I don’t think I was in the right place to submit the application. Could you please give me exact details on how to apply for next year.
    Thank you,
    Kim Duncan
    Kimrdunc10@aol.com

    1. Got to Whitehouse.gov and there should be a Participate tab with a drop down for volunteering. It only goes up for a few weeks in the summer though

  3. Absolutely gorgeous! You’re an inspiration! I’ll tackle outside when it gets into the 50’s next week. I’m focusing on the inside this weekend. Gifts and baking are great when the temperature is below freezing.
    The closest thing to working at the White House I’ll ever get to do was helping to decorate a tree to represent our county at the State House in Annapolis. What a fun time…small scale to your accomplishments, however.
    Rest up…you’ve earned it!

  4. Absolutely enjoyed the beautiful pictures and your “tour” of the decorated white house. What a wonderful experience for you and the volunteers involved. Certainly not to be forgotten.
    I appreciate seeing the pictures. Thank you so much for this interesting blog. Love and best wishes for a very Merry Christmas.

  5. Once again Claire you have documented a beautiful experience perfectly. It was an honor to work with you for the second time on the Blue Room! You have an amazing talent….thanks for sharing it with us all! Have a very Merry Christmas!🎄
    Theresa H

  6. What wonderful decorations and photographs!!!! I so enjoyed the “tour”!! Thank you for sharing this experience you have had again this year…I love to read and hear about you being one of the artists who creates this Christmas Wonderland at the White House….Thank you for letting us all experience the finished beauty of this special time of year!!!

  7. This was so beautiful and you are lucky to be picked twice! Can you direct me to where I can apply please?

    Thank you for sharing your unforgettable experience with everyone!

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