Decorating the White House 2018

I decorated the blue Room mantel in 2017

Volunteering to decorate at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people, and I have posted on this blog in the past about my experiences working there in 2011 , 2015, and 2017. Though I didn’t participate this year, I have lots of pictures. Anyone can apply, and to my delight, discovered others have been accepted after reading about my experiences. For my past posts, go to Time Honored Traditions, Decorating the White House-Past and Present, Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 1, and Decorating the White House, 2015, Part 2.

Life size snowmen decorated the Rose Garden in 2015

Planning and Application Process

Work on the White House decorations starts at least six months in advance by designers who  consult with the first lady, Melania, via sketches and concepts for each room. During the preceding summer volunteers can start applying online to decorate the White House by going to WhiteHouse.gov. Learning if you make the cut in October, there are about 85 to 120 people across the country and some overseas selected to take part. Explaining why you want to volunteer in a required short essay and  the option of sending pictures of your work are on the application.

Linda Goldfarb from Oregon volunteered this year from Oregon and placed tiny lights in the trees for “days”; the White House Creche is behind her, photo from Linda Goldfarb

As a volunteer you do not receive any compensation and you are responsible for paying your hotel, transportation, and most meal costs during Thanksgiving week, so this isn’t an inexpensive proposition. But the experience of working at The White House is exhilarating and so much fun, that everyone is really excited, even if you are just wiring up ornaments and moving boxes! Many jobs are repetitive such as wiring up the trees with lights or making bows. I was on the bow team in 2015 and must have made over 500 bows in three days! But you are working with interesting and dynamic people who like to decorate as much as you do.

Most volunteers stay at the nearby Kimpton Hotel

Since I decided to not apply this year, most of my pictures are from another volunteer that I worked with last year, Marci Lindsey and also a new volunteer from Oregon, Linda Goldfarb. Thanks for your pictures!

Blue Room

The Blue Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor in the White House and is distinctive for its oval shape and contains the largest tree in the mansion.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump accepted the official 19 1/2 foot Fraser Fir that went on display that anchors the holiday season in the central part of the mansion. Removing a massive chandelier is necessary to accommodate the tree which is anchored to the top of the ceiling.

I was part of the team that decorated the Blue Room tree in 2015 & 2017
Blue Room tree in 2018 with over 500 feet of blue velvet ribbon, photo by Marci Lindsey
Closeup of the Blue Room tree with the embroidered state names, photo by Marci Lindsey

“American Treasures” Theme

The First Family is celebrating their second Christmas at Pennsylvania Av. and the theme this year was “American Treasures” to honor the unique heritage of America. The patriotic spirit is evident  in all the decorations throughout this living museum that is held in trust for all Americans.

The theme is especially prominent in the Gold Star family tree In the East Wing with displays of patriotic ribbon. Decorated by Gold Star families, this tree honors all our troops and families who have sacrificed greatly to protect our freedoms. I recognized the patriotic stars and stripes ribbon as we used that last year also. A high percentage of the decorations are reused/recycled from year to year. Digital tablets are placed in front to encourage visitors to write messages to the armed forces.

Visitors are encouraged to send messages to the people who serve our country
An ornament on the Gold Star tree, from 2011

 

Patriotic ribbon decorates the Gold Star tree, photo by Marci Lindsey

Surrounded By History

Grace Coolidge’s portrait with her beloved collie, Rob Roy is in the China Room where china is displayed from each administration

 

China Room in 2015
China Room in 2018, photo by Marci Lindsey

Working in the White House which is a “living museum”, is so interesting that you realize the tremendous stories and history of the place. Just glancing around, you are surrounded by hints of what took place in the past. When I spotted the gorgeous full length portrait of Grace Coolidge in the China Room, I was intrigued and inspired to find out more about this remarkable woman. The wife of Calvin Coolidge, President from 1923-29, she was voted as one of the 12 most remarkable living women of 1931. One of the most popular hostesses of the White House, she adored her white collies and Rob Roy was the first dog that appeared in an official White House portrait. She even kept a pet raccoon at the White House briefly!

Tragically on June 30, 1924, sixteen-year old Cal, one of Grace’s boys, played tennis on the White House courts, and developed a blister on his toe which became infected. Blood poisoning set in. In a day before antibiotics would have cleared his system of the spreading infection, Cal died at Walter Reed within a week.

Another nugget that I uncovered about Grace, was her famous meeting with Helen Keller and companion Anne Sullivan in a silent newsreel clip. Fascinating stuff from looking at a White House portrait!

Vermeil Room

In the Vermeil Room, which means Silver-Gilt, you are surrounded by more First Lady history and the colors of muted gold is a great back drop for Christmas decorations.

Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower in the Vermeil Room
The Vermeil Room in 2015
The Vermeil Room in 2017
The Vermeil Room in 2018, photo by Marci Lindsey
Topiary tree in the Vermeil Room, photo by Marci Lindsey

Green Room

The Green  Room, one of three state parlors, had a very handsome tree this year, decorated with a variety of fruits, and vegetables. Designed to remind Americans of the country’s great harvest bounty, grains were showcased on the tree along with artichokes, and fruit.

On a Green Room table, photo by Marci Lindsey
Green Room tree, photo by Marci Lindsey

 

Gingerbread House

Gingerbread House from 2011 with Obama’s dog Sunny out front
Gingerbread House in 2017; the outside is made of pastillage which is a mixture of sugar, gelatin, and water
One of my favorites was the gingerbread house from 2015, made out of dark chocolate

Constructed by the White House pastry chef, the gingerbread house is always my favorite decoration. A tradition started in 1969, it seems that each year, it becomes more elaborate and detailed.

This years creation is not a house, but an entire replica of the Mall, including the Capitol, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Washington Monument and the White House, complete with tiny green wreaths with red ribbons on each window.

I asked the White House pastry chef what happens to old gingerbread houses, and she told me with a twinkle in her eye that, “They go to the North Pole!”

This years Gingerbread House is of the entire Mall, photo by Marci Lindsey

 

East Colonnade

More than 40 topiary trees line the East Colonnade as guests make their way toward the East Garden Room, where the First Family Christmas card and ornaments are on display.

Cranberry trees line the East Colonnade, photo by Marci Lindsey
East Colonnade in 2015 with hundreds of hand cut snowflakes suspended from the ceiling
East Colonnade in 2017

Reception

Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015
Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015

A volunteer reception is held at the conclusion of all your decorating efforts on the last evening and you get a formal invitation from the First Lady, Melania Trump.

Invitation to the volunteer reception
My invitation to the volunteer reception in 2015
My aprons and badges from past years

Throughout the month of December, the White House will host more than 100 open houses and receptions.  More than 30,000 visitors will walk the halls taking part in public tours.

Many visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the staff and volunteer’s work over the coming weeks as the building is opened to private holiday receptions and public tours.

For more pictures of Christmas decorations, go to White House.

Decorating the White House- Past and Present

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I decorated the Blue Room Christmas tree in 2015; the garland had messages  inscribed to members of the armed forces from their family
The Blue Room tree had sayings from the Constitution on the garland, picture from Linda Foley Vodney
The Blue Room tree in 2016 had a “We The People” theme on the garland, picture from Linda Vodney

Volunteering at the White House for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people, and I have posted on this blog about how to apply and the best way to get accepted at Decorating the White House 2015. I have participated twice, in 2011 and 2015, and to my delight discovered others have applied after reading about my experiences and been accepted.

Mandy Barkley did all the mantels of the White House this year
Mandy Barkley did all the mantels of the White House this year, picture from Mandy Barkley
Linda Foley Vodney was accepted after reading how to apply from my blog
Linda Vodney was accepted in 2016 after reading how to apply from my blog, picture from Linda Vodney
Gold and silver tree in Cross Hall, picture Linda Foley Vodney
Gold/silver tree in Cross Hall 2016, picture Linda Vodney

How to Apply to The White House

Work on the White House decorations starts at least six months in advance by designers at Rafanelli Events and consulting with Michelle Obama via sketches and concepts for each room. During the preceding summer volunteers can apply online from April to August to decorate the White House by going to WhiteHouse.gov. Learning if you make the cut in October, there are about 85 to 90 people across the country selected to take part. Explaining why you want to volunteer in a short essay and sending pictures of your work are requirements on the application.

Waiting in line with other volunteers for the reception
Waiting in line with other volunteers for the reception in 2015
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I am posing on the left with other volunteers in 2015

As a volunteer you do not receive any compensation and you pay your hotel, transportation, and most meal costs for a week after Thanksgiving, so this isn’t an inexpensive proposition. But the experience of working at The White House is exhilarating and so much fun, that everyone is really excited, even if you are just wiring up ornaments and moving boxes!

Michelle Obama greets and thanks all the volunteers at the volunteer recepetion
Michelle Obama greets and thanks all the volunteers at the volunteer reception in 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

I have applied every year since 2010, and been accepted twice in that time and each time I decorated has been different. It seems that each year, the decorations get glittzier and more elaborate. But I see many ornaments and props being reused and only ten percent are new this year. Even re-purposed things like the snowmen that sat outside in 2015 are lining the Lower Cross Hall this year.

Snowmen that were placed in the Kennedy Garden outside are inside this year
Snowmen that were placed in the Kennedy Garden in 2015 outside are inside this year

Green Room mantel done by Mandy Barkley, picture by Mandy Barkley
Green Room mantel done by Mandy Barkley in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley

Since I was not accepted this year, some of my pictures are from Mandy Barkley who worked at The White House last year and did all the mantels this year, and Linda Vodney who was accepted for the first time and decorated the Cross Hall of the White House this year.

Cross Hall tree
Cross Hall tree 2016, picture from Linda Vodney
Cross Hall tree in 2015
Cross Hall tree in 2015

For a great article and more pictures of this last Christmas for the Obamas, themed “The Gift of the Holidays”, go to Daily Mail.

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Vermeil Room in 2011

The mantel below in the Vermeil Room, which has seven First Lady portraits on the soft yellow walls and features a collection of “vermeil”, which are gilded silver items or “dipped in gold”, glows with pinks and yellows and a ballerina theme. The colors complement the beauty of the Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson portraits that are among the First Lady’s portraits in the room.

The Vermeil Room with Lady Bird Johnson portrait was decorated with a teddy bear theme in 2015
The Vermeil Room with Lady Bird Johnson portrait was decorated with a teddy bear theme in 2015

 

A mantel decorated by Mandy Barker in the Vermeil Room
A mantel decorated by Mandy Barker in the Vermeil Room in 2016, picture from Mandy Barkley
Close up of the mantle of the Vermeil room
Close up of the mantel of the Vermeil room in 2016, picture from Mandy Barkley

Volunteers with a love of decorating are accepted every year, but it helps if you have floral/interior design experience or people-centered work, like volunteering, teaching or nursing. I have worked with lots of people at the White House who were teachers or people in the education field and Gold Star mothers. Regardless, you work with a cross-section of people from all walks of life and all age ranges.

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The Gold Star tree was hung with mementos in 2011
 I was in charge of a team that made these cedar gold stars that hung in the East Wing in 2011

I was in charge of a team that made a dozen cedar gold stars that hung in the East Wing in 2011

A Little History

Working in the White House which is a “living museum”, is so interesting that you realize the tremendous stories and history of the place. Just glancing around, you are surrounded by hints of what took place in the past. When I spotted the gorgeous full length portrait of Grace Coolidge, I was intrigued and was inspired to find out more about this remarkable woman. The wife of Calvin Coolidge, President from 1923-29, she was voted as one of the 12 most remarkable living women of 1931. One of the most popular hostesses of the White House, she adored her white collies and Rob Roy was the first dog that appeared in an official White House portrait. She even kept a pet raccoon at the White House briefly!

Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie, Rob Roy
Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie, Rob Roy in the China Room painted by the famous illustrator of the era, Howard Chandler Christy

Tragically on June 30, 1924, sixteen-year old Cal, one of Grace’s boys, played tennis on the White House courts, and developed a blister on his toe which became infected. Blood poisoning set in. In a day before antibiotics would have cleared his system of the spreading infection, Cal died at Walter Reed within a week.

Another nugget that I uncovered about Grace, was her famous meeting with Helen Keller and companion Anne Sullivan in a silent newsreel clip. Fascinating stuff from looking at a White House portrait!

Gingerbread House

Constructed by the White House pastry chef, the gingerbread house is always my favorite decoration. A tradition started in 1969, it seems that each year, it becomes more elaborate and detailed.

Gingerbread house 2016, picture from Linda Foley Vodney
Gingerbread house 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

The gingerbread house in 2015 was again modeled after the White House and designed by Executive Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, and made with 250 pounds of gingerbread, 150 pounds of chocolate and another 75 pounds of sugar and gum paste. Covered with dark chocolate, this whopper weighed in at almost 500 pounds! This 2016 season’s house, created also by Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, is made of 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing, and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.

Gingerbread house in 2015
Gingerbread house in 2015
Detail of the gum paste nutcracker on gingerbread house
Detail of the gum paste nutcracker on gingerbread house

This year’s theme, ‘The Gift of the Holidays,’ was chosen to reflect the joy of giving and receiving, along with such gifts as service, friends, family, education and good health. For the official White House tour book for an explanation of each decorated room, go to 2016 White House Tourbook which everyone gets a copy of when touring the White House.

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I decorated the Red Room in 2011
Closeup of the Rded Room mantel in 2016 done by Mandy Barkley
Closeup of the Red Room mantel in 2016 done by Mandy Barkley, picture by Mandy Barkley
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East Room mantel decorated with a giant ferris wheel in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley
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East Room mantel decorated in 2015 with reindeer
I help create these gardens in the East Room that had moss, hellebores, and boulders
I help create these gardens in the East Room that had moss, white hellebores, and boulders in 2011
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A pom pom Bo greeted people as they entered the East Wing in 2011
This Bo in 2011 was made out of trash bags!
Bo in the Library in 2011 was made out of trash bags!
Lego houses decorated the trees in the Dining Room
Gingerbread houses decorated the trees in the Dining Room representing the 50 states and 6 territories in 2016, picture by Linda Vodney

Volunteer Reception

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Giant nutcracker at the volunteer reception in 2016, picture by Linda Vodney
Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015
Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015

A volunteer reception is held at the conclusion of all your decorating efforts on the last evening and you get a formal invitation from the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Allowed to bring one person with you to see the “big reveal”, which is the culmination of all the decorators hard work in its full glory at night is a huge treat.

Invitation to the volunteer reception
Invitation to the volunteer reception
the volunteer reception in 2015
Volunteer reception in 2015
The variety of iced cookies is staggering!
The variety of iced cookies is staggering!
Cheese tray at reception in 2015
Cheese tray at reception in 2015
I am in front of the Blue Room tree with my daughter which took 3 days to decorate in 2015
I am in front of the Blue Room tree with my daughter which took 3 days to decorate in 2015
The East Colonnade was decorated with snowflakes from all 5o states and 6 Pretecorates
The East Colonnade in 2015 was decorated with snowflakes from all 50 states and 6 territories to create a winter wonderland
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Group picture of all the volunteers in 2015

Next year I will apply again with the new administration. It will be interesting to see what happens!