Grab your glue gun, pruners, or pastry bag, and browse your favorite Pinterest boards and blogs. Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, and I’ll be serving up a hearty helping of crafting inspiration to get your house ready for the onslaught of family and friends. Rounding up my favorite posts on decorating for the holidays and adding new, these are inspiration for anyone who has a mantle, tabletop, or front porch/patio to add some holiday cheer. For a great source of glass containers, lanterns, urns, and other outdoor accessories, go to Arhaus.
Mantels and Living Spaces
A well-styled and accessorized fireplace mantel has lots of layers and harmonizing colors. A neutral background helps set it off perfectly. For how-to on creating the perfect mantel, go to Mantel Magic to see step by step on layering for a lush look as well as some White House examples when I worked at the White House. Arranging a sofa or sectional to create an intimate family space or a place to set your Christmas tree is also important during the holidays. Go to Arhaus to see all the options to creat a cosy and inviting space.
Miniature House & Gardens
Miniature gardens are fun to create with kids as well as adults and you can accessorize them for the season with tree ornaments or mini village finds at your local craft store. Go to Fairytale Christmas or Miniature Christmas Garden Craze for ideas on gifts for yourself or others on DIY dish gardens or terrariums. Bringing nature in for house bound people, these are always a hit to give and receive. Set one on your desk at work in your cubicle to look at when you need a dose of green, living things.
Baking and decorating a gingerbread house every year is a tradition at my house and gingerbread house parties are a big hit with my family. Fairytale Christmas has great examples of Gingerbread creations. Storing my Gingerbread houses in plastic over the years gives me the opportunity to enjoy these all over again.
Easy to grow succulents with juicy leaves, stems, and roots have always been fascinating to me as a great architectural touchable plant. Working/crafting with them for Christmas was a natural for me and they make perfect little decorated trees that last and grow as a beautiful miniature tree. For how-to on making a succulent tree, go to Succulent Christmas.
For a different twist on terrariums, try planted succulents, inserted with white pumpkins, cymbidium orchids, ornamental balls, beaded wire, and tiny lights. A wonderful centerpiece for a holiday table or as a entrance table eye catcher.
Outdoor Fresh Arrangements
For fresh arrangements to place on your front porch to greet visitors and last for months, go to Grand Entrance to see how fast you can put together a stunner. Using a base of a pre-made evergreen wreath and other greens, you can simply push the stems into potting soil of old containers from the summer. When the weather turns freezing, the inserted stems just freeze into place and last for months. Here are some examples of fall containers that can transition into winter and can continue to greet guests for months to come.
Fresh holiday arrangements are easily whipped up in minutes after you gather the right materials for an indoor show. Holidays are a great time to force Amaryllis too. Amaryllis bulbs are inexpensive and in bloom can last for a full month of color. Go to Amaryllis Primer and Amaryllis Planter for more information on forcing these and incorporating the bulbs into arrangements.
Boxwood is the ultimate green for decorating at Christmas and the classic piece to create with boxwood is a small tree which at a nursery can set you back $75. If you have boxwood shrubs growing in your garden, trim them up and use the pieces to make a great little centerpiece. Try your hand at making this simple but beautiful classic at Boxwood-The Ultimate Green for Christmas.
Stay tuned for new ideas on decorating your outdoor and indoor spaces for the holidays in the next couple of weeks as I unearth my Christmas decorations and cut my greens.
Decorating the White House is every designers dream come true. I had a second chance to take part in this one of a kind volunteer event again in 2015! Read about my first time in 2011 at Decorating the White House for Christmas. Anyone can apply by going online to https://www.whitehouse.gov/, filling out the form and add a short essay with pictures of your work and by October you will find out if you made the cut. I’m sure that the White House Social Office gets thousands of applications from all over the country and it must be tough to choose the lucky people.
When I opened the acceptance email from the White House Social Office, I couldn’t believe my luck in participating again!
This season’s theme A Timeless Tradition, inspires visitors to celebrate deeply rooted Christmas traditions while also creating new memories. Combining the old with the new was the trademark this year. From my time working in 2011, the decorations just keep getting more elaborate and over the top with stunning displays of creativity. Sixty-two firs fill the White House with over 70,000 ornaments to create the magic.
Work, Work, and More Work!
It takes tons of volunteer hours to make the magic happen. I spent a week in D.C. starting on Thanksgiving evening in a hotel a couple of blocks away from the White House. Everything is at my expense- hotel, transportation, time, and most meals (the White House fed us very well at lunch). Taking on this task is a real commitment of time and money but well worth it. Everyone who accepts the challenge knows that this is a chance of a lifetime. Getting up early to meet at 6:30 AM every morning isn’t my idea of fun normally, but when you’re on a mission to decorate the White House, everyone is so psyched that you jump out of bed ready to go! Five days of decorating later, the White House treats you and a guest to an evening reception with such a fanfare of food and entertainment that you gasp as you see everything in place.
Tour of the White House-Ground Floor
A giant penguin family greets you as you enter the East Visitor Entrance. When you visit the White House, there are layers of security to go through. I had a gorgeous formal invite as a keepsake but did not need that in hand to enter. Standing in line for two plus hours until the gates opened ensured that I was close to the front of the line to get an early peek and take some memorable pictures before it gets too crowded.
As you enter the East Landing, a sea of snowflakes shimmer overhead. Each of the fifty-six states and territories are represented with a dangling snowflake suspended from chicken wire. Your wintry stroll continues along the whole length of the East Colonnade until you tear your eyes off the ceiling and glance to the left into the East Colonnade garden. There, an army of snow people gaze in at you. I stopped to take pictures of this magical constellation of unique frozen snow people with the traditional smiley faces and scarves.
Again, there are fifty-six snow people representing all the states and territories. The snow people were extremely heavy and awkward to move around in the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden. Redesigned in the Kennedy Administration with Littleleaf linden trees and Kennedy saucer magnolias bordered by low hedges of boxwood and American Holly, events and parties are frequently held in this semi-formal garden.
Dedicated to serving members of the military, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, the East Landing greets you with a gorgeous tree and mailboxes. Visitors are invited to pause and send a message of thanks to our troops with the array of mailboxes and air mail envelopes. Volunteers spent many hours making garlands and wreaths out of the airmail envelopes by stuffing them with card stock and stapling them together.
East Garden Room
A place for the furry residents is next. Sunny and Bo, the First Pets, are both Portuguese Water dogs. I pet and admired the dogs during my time at the White House. The dog-themed tree, giant dog bed, tennis ball wreaths and trees were the perfect accessories for them. Constructed of over 55,000 feet of black yarn that was wound into 7,000 pom-poms, larger-than-life Sunny and Bo greeted visitors to the White House. These pom-poms were the result of many hours of work by volunteers!
The Night Before Christmas poem hung on the wall, altered to reflect the antics of the First Dogs.
Twas the holiday season inside of these walls,
And the first Dogs were prancing, playing fetch down the halls.
The First Lady was bustling with holiday cheer,
Decorating for visitors soon to be here.
Bo and Sunny were snuggled quite deep in their beds,
While visions of tennis balls danced in their heads.
So sleepy were these Portuguese Water Dogs,
The pups fell asleep much like the giant yule logs.
When out on the South Lawn there arose such a clatter,
They ran to the West Wing to see what was the matter
through the West Colonnade they both flew like a flash,
Pushed open the doors, to the Rose Garden they dashed.
They barked the alarm, but to their relief,
‘Twas the return of the Commander in Chief.
Up high in the sky they saw Marine One,
They knew what this meant-a night of great fun.
With a gleam in his eye, POTUS greeted his pets,
Knowing holidays with friends is good as it gets.
The First Lady joined them as they gazed at the snow,
What a magical moment for Sunny and Bo.
To all the guests who are headed this way,
The family sends warms wishes for the best holiday!
Containing works of fiction to first-hand accounts of important moments in our Nation’s history, books dominate the library’s walls. Gold covered books were added to the shelves to add a holiday touch and decorations placed on the tables to make the library a festive place. A holiday forest of Christmas trees were arrayed and decorated to celebrate the American story.
Displaying a collection of gold-plated silver, the Vermeil Room or sometimes known as the Gold Room, displays several First Lady portraits and contained one of the most striking Christmas displays. Patchwork stuffed teddy bears, both large and small, with beautiful shell trees and miniature scenes were whimsical and creative. Originally, the Vermeil Room was used as a staff work room for polishing silver and storage.
Used to display Presidential china in built-in cabinetry against a bright red background, the China Room is one of the most beautiful and memorable rooms in the house – without any decorations. The china collection is arranged chronologically beginning to the right of the fireplace on the east wall. A good portion of the china goes back to the early nineteenth century.
Diplomatic Reception Room
The Diplomatic Reception Room is one of three oval rooms in the White House and located next to the China Room. Used as a reception room for foreign ambassadors, the most interesting feature 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 room has four doors leading to the Map Room, the Center Hall, the China Room, and a vestibule that leads to the South Lawn.
Next up: Entering the historic upper level of the White House -East Room, Dining Room, Red Room, Green Room, and Blue Room and the volunteer reception with the incredible gingerbread house
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Wreaths and holly berries go together like milk and cookies. The combination is a classic and McLean Nursery in Parkville, Maryland has it down to a fine art, growing all kinds of hollies since 1946. When Thanksgiving rolls around, McLean goes into full swing cutting all kinds of evergreens – boxwood, magnolias, and cedar, but in particular their specialty-holly. Bill Kuhl the owner of McLean, has many mature specimens to cut from, including American, English, and the deciduous hollies, commonly called Winterberries, or Ilex verticillata. Satyr Hill Holly, an Ilex opaca, was developed at McLean from a volunteer seedling and named Holly of the Year in 2003 by The Holly Society of America, Inc.
Starting with an evergreen base fastened to a wire form, bunches or picks of tips of evergreens, berries, and holly are added for texture and color. Last, cones, pods, and the odd vegetable are added along with a huge loopy bow. The yellow berries are especially striking on wreaths.
People know that when they buy a wreath at McLean that the greens will be freshly picked so that the wreath or arrangement will last through the holidays and beyond. The festive holly is used on almost every wreath and arrangement.
If you want to buy greens or berries to make your own arrangements, a scale weighs your selections and is priced by the pound.
Table arrangements of candle rings and boxwood trees are also made with the signature McLean style at a very reasonable price. The freshly picked beauty of the evergreens make McLean’s wreaths stand out from the crowd and people come from all over to snatch them up to decorate their doors and mantels.
After seeing Christmas centerpieces at Terrain nursery recently, combining flowering plants and greens that were over $300, I thought I could create something similar for a fraction of the cost.
I assembled my materials greens, pine cones, glitter balls, reindeer moss, budding Amaryllis in a pot, and oasis. A footed lime greenurn that I use often was the perfect piece to make the arrangement. You could use any wide-mouthed urn or planter. Place the Amaryllis into the urn and wedge oasis on all sides.
Gather your greens. I used variegated holly, magnolia, boxwood, white pine, and berried holly. Cut your greens into short lengths, about 1 foot or less for ease of working. Start inserting the greens into the oasis radiating out from the rim of the urn. I was sure to cut the oasis above the edge of the urn so you can insert the greens horizontally, rather than vertically. You want the greens to radiate outwards rather than upwards.
Fill in with the greens, covering any gaps with the colored reindeer moss. Lastly, add your large pods, pine cones, and glitter balls for accents. You could also add some glittery branches for extra pizzazz. I finished it up by arranging some beaded wire at the base of the arrangement.
Place the bulb in pot inside the urn and wedge wet oasis on all sides
Gather a variety of fresh greens
Moss, glitter balls, pods, cones
Close up of center with mosses
Cost? I already had the urn, greens from my garden, the glitter balls, oasis, and pine cones. Purchasing a large Amaryllis bulb for $16.95 and beaded wire for $4.95, were my only costs. If you had to buy the oasis, the glitter balls, moss, urn, and pine cones, you would spend another $40 to $50, still far under the cost of the one at Terrain for about 30 minutes of design work.
Everyone loves to decorate for Christmas and after finishing decorating my house, I itch to do more! So I have always had a desire to decorate the White House but thought it was an impossible dream. But after watching the HGTV special last year and seeing the army of volunteers that are busily hanging garlands and balls, I was determined to try.
I wrote a letter to Michelle Obama right after Christmas and forgot about it. But in August I was thrilled to get an official letter from the White House Social Office informing me that I could fill out the volunteer application on line which I did right away. The application was pretty standard and asked things such as to list and explain in some detail your volunteer experience, and to send pictures of your work. I have decorated Hampton Mansion for Christmas with my Garden Club for many years and hoped that that experience would help.
In October I was thrilled to learn by email that I was accepted conditionally pending a security check. The Social Office also requested that volunteers not post to Facebook or blog about their experiences before the event but afterwards was fine. The reason was to keep the theme secret before “the big reveal” on November 30th. The theme was to be kept secret until our opening reception on the 30th but we suspected that it was a military theme.
Once I learned that I was accepted, I started to get emails from AgencyEA, an event planning company based in Chicago. AgencyEA is known for planning Ophra Winfrey’s events so I knew that they must be good. AgencyEA reserved blocks of rooms in two hotels that were within walking distance of the White House with a really good rate as it can be quite expensive to stay in D.C. I made arrangements to stay at the Donovan House for 6 nights and planned on checking in on Thanksgiving night.
After eating dinner at my brother’s house, my husband and I drove into D.C. and checked in to the hotel and met some of my fellow decorators and people from AgencyEA. I got a red badge, red work apron, and room assignment- the red room! The Agency told everyone that we would be working for 2 days at an off site warehouse and then 3 days at the White House. I learned that I would be working with a team of 130 volunteers and AgencyEA employees from over 40 states. There were mother/daughter , husband/wife, and sister teams, and the youngest volunteer was 12 and the oldest was 80!
After being told to report the next morning at 6:30 AM in the downstairs lobby to board the buses I turned in.
The next morning, the drive to the warehouse lasted about 40 minutes and we arrived at a huge brick warehouse that the National Park Service rents and stores all the Christmas paraphenalia from previous years and other props used by the Park Service. It was fascinating to walk up and down the aisles and see what was there. There were pallets of stuff, such as lumber, corn oil ???, sleds, silver bowls, large urns, plus tons of Christmas stuff. It was a veritable treasure trove of Christmas decorations- the mother load!!!
But we were put right to work and there was a huge amount of work to do!!! I started out inventorying boxes of ornaments, taking the wrappers off of ornaments and removing the hang tags from balls and replacing them with wires. People are known to steal the ornaments from the trees at the White House so the balls must all be wired to the trees. We worked with the decorations that belonged to a specific room and made sure that everything was accounted for and placed in the loading area when we were done. It could take hours and hours to do a room depending on the size. I worked with a team of about 6 or 7 people. Each room had a “key” basket that contained an example of every kind of ball, ribbon, or branch used to decorate that particular room. A designer from AgencyEA had selected the colors and ornaments and ribbon months before.
Wreaths and Things
Someone from the Agency asked if anyone knew how to make wreaths and I volunteered because I preferred to make something rather than count and wire ornaments. I was assigned then as the team leader for a group of 7 people to assemble 8 cedar stars about 3 feet in diameter that would be hung in the East room landing by the Gold Star tree. Since the cedar stars would be hung in the window, they needed to be double sided. After dragging 50 feet of extemely heavy garland over to our work station, we set to work dismantling the cedar garland and wiring the bunches onto the star wreath bases. The wreaths took all day and into the next as they were very labor intensive.
Other teams were involved in a variety of tasks- making endless pine cone garlands, sewing felt poinsettia petals and leaves, unloading and sorting tons of fresh greens, making knotted wreaths out of military medal ribbons, constructing felt trees, and wiring hundreds of thousands of ornaments. Someone was even sewing on an ancient Singer sewing machine. The tasks were endless.
Lunch was a festive affair with wraps, hot soup, snacks, desserts, and drinks. It felt good to be sitting down for a while!
Military Medal Ribbon Wreaths
Pine Cone Garlands
At the end of the day, we piled into the buses and went back to the hotel and collapsed. But we returned the next day and did it all over again, but at a more feverish pace because we had to get it done by the end of the day. By the end of that second day we all realized that the theme for the Holiday would be a military one as so many of the decorations were all about the armed forces.
Framed Purple Hearts on Blue Room Tree
Here was the whole reason we all volunteered! To actually go to the White House and decorate. I met some of my new friends in the dark outside our hotel at 6:15 AM for our trek. We walked 10 minutes to the White House and ended at the North East entrance for security check points. The Agency stressed to us beforehand that we needed our badges, name tags and a photo ID to get in.
There were two security checkpoints to go through where they look at your driver’s license and check your name off of a list. You and your belongings have to go through a metal detector. It was pretty much like airport security except you could keep your shoes on. The security lines took about a half an hour and then we were in! We entered through the East Landing and were treated to coffee and donuts and figured out where the bathroom was. The entrance hallway is quite interesting with lots of candid photos from past and present administrations lining the walls.
East Landing of the White House
We were given a tour of the White House and met the Chief Usher, the Special Assistant to the President, the Curator, and the Executive Housekeeper. We were made to feel welcome and appreciated. The Curator stressed to us that the White House is a living museum and asked that we not touch or handle the furnishings. All of us were just in awe to be inside and wouldn’t think of touching anything!
Our first task was to unload all the boxes that were delivered by truck to the White House and make sure that each labeled box was carried to the correct destination. Then we got to the best part –decorating!
The Red Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor of the White House and is decorated in different shades of red. The walls are actually hung with burgundy silk. Usually the Christmas decorations are all bright screaming red but I was relieved to see that the decorator had taken a different tack and we were going to use copper, gold, dark red, wine, cinnamon, and touches of cream. I approved of the color palette!
My job the first day was to decorate the Red Room with 5 other people. We looked through our “key basket” to see what materials we had to work with and started brain storming about the best way to get everything done. We had two 5 foot trees mounted in large red wooden planters, and a gorgeous Italian marble mantel with caryatid supports to decorate. For materials, we had beautiful glittery pine cone balls, yards and yards of 8″ wide coppery gold wired ribbon, gold leaf branches, fresh lemon leaves, 2 long balsam fir garlands, and assorted glass ornaments with some snowflakes. The ornaments ranged from a dozen large copper balls, smaller gold and white ones, to glittery tear drops. We were told to start decorating and we jumped right into it and made some very large bows for the mantels and adorned the garland on the mantel with an assortment of the ornaments.
Then we started to decorate the trees with doubled ribbon garlands swagged around the trees. We put the larger ornaments in the center of the tree and filled in every available spot with the smaller ornaments.
When lunch rolled around we strolled over to the formal dining room where a fantastic hot buffet awaited us. Salads, thick sliced ham, soups, breads, drinks and dessert were all available. The White House staff ate first and then we got in line. The kitchen staff was phenomenal! They must have known that with all the physical work that we did we would be hungry.
A crew from HGTV with Genevieve was circulating around the rooms filming and interviewing people for the Holiday special that will be aired Dec 11. They talked to me for a few minutes while I was decorating the trees and had me sign a release form.
After working all day, we left at 4PM to go back to the hotel and collapse.