Decorating the White House- Past and Present

dscn6375
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
img_3401
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.

501
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.

102
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.

016
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
img_4354
East Room mantel decorated with a giant ferris wheel in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley
dscn6444
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
img_5013
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

img_1587
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
white-house-volunteer-picture2
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!

2015 In Review

Outdoor Fairy Garden
Outdoor Fairy Garden

What Are Gardeners Reading?

I am always interested in what my readers are reading and using from my blog and sometimes I’m surprised. Blogging for four years means I have gotten a little better about what people are clicking on and what gets the gardening juices flowing. Looking at my archives and statistics, I see a variety of topics that are capturing people’s interests. Perennial(!) or evergreen blogs that capture readers interest turn up again and again and  I re-blog them with better photos and updated writing. Maybe I need to write a book using one of these topics!

Comments

Pink Zazzle Gomphrena
Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

The Garden Diaries blog was viewed over 110,000 times in 2015 with 58 posts and I have regular thoughtful comments from people. Thanks for all those comments! Keep them coming. Feedback and questions are welcome and help me become a better writer. Readers from over 166 countries read my blog. That just blows my mind! My most commented post was Plant Geek Alert-Pink Zazzle Gomphrena. Lots of interest in this plant and I continue to grow and love it.

Controversial

My most controversial blog was on Butterfly Bushes-Should you plant these? Or not? Picked up by Garden Rant it received lots of comments good and bad.

The Great Butterfly Bush Debate
The Great Butterfly Bush DebateHere are my top read posts overall for 2015

The News

It was a big year for me in the news. My White House experience appeared in The Baltimore Sun and one of my designs appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

1. Broken Pot Garden   16, 649 Readers

Yes, you read that right! This post from March 2013 has had an awesome 16, 649 readers this year alone. Picked up by different Home and Garden sites and one called “Woohome” that has funneled thousands of readers to my site bumps this post to the top of the heap. You can read it at Broken Pot Garden if you haven’t seen it yet.

Broken pot garden
Broken Pot Garden

2. Containers With Pizzazz    16,605 Readers

the garden diaries container
Containers With Pizzazz

One other post which is right up there with “Gnome Home”, with 16,605 readers is my container post “Containers With Pizzazz: Not Your Ordinary Container”. I have refined this post over the years, adding new pictures and techniques to create containers which stand out from the crowd.

3. Swarming of the Bees    4,078 Readers

bee swarm
Swarming Of The Bees

Whenever I do talks on beekeeping, this is the number one question that I get-Why do bees swarm? So, no surprise here with this being a top post. “Wrangling” swarms is something I do every spring and is fascinating and fun. Honey extraction is another beekeeping topic that people can’t get enough of at Extracting the Flavor of the Year-Honey.

Extracting the Flavor of the Year-Honey
Extracting the Flavor of the Year-Honey

4. Luscious Honey Scented Body Butter  3, 734 Readers

body butter
Luscious Honey Scented Body Butter

Surprise, surprise!  I had no idea until I started reading my stats, that this was a top 5! Easy to make with a few ingredients, honey is the unexpected ingredient to make a wonderful soothing body balm.

5. Miniature Garden-Whimsical Creations

3,155 Readers

miniature garden
Miniature Garden Creations

People love miniature gardens! The above mini garden I photographed at the Philadelphia Flower Show and the purple splashes of color and attention to detail makes it stand out for me. Read how to put one together for yourself.

Other Top Posts

Thanks to all my readers who are just visiting or follow my blog. Here’s to another “fruitful” and bee sting free year in 2016.

White House Christmas-2011
White House Christmas-2011
White House Christmas
Decorating the White House for Christmas, 2015
Monarch
Butterfly Watching
Amaryllis Primer
Amaryllis Primer

 

Plant These For The Bees
Plant These For The Bees
Making Of A Labyrinth
Making Of A Labyrinth
Salvia Amistad
Salvia Amistad
Magical Sunflowers
Magical Sunflowers

 

Shade From the Ground Up
From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade
Sex in the Garden
Sex in the Garden

Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 2

Silk ribbon garland inscribed by a calligrapher with messages from military families on the Blue Room tree
Silk ribbon garland inscribed by a calligrapher with messages from military families Blue Room tree

Decorating the White House for over 68,000 guests is a mammoth task. An army of volunteers along with countless White House staff work feverishly to create a magical experience for all visitors. My volunteer assignment this time was the Blue Room which has the largest tree in the White House, topping off at 18 feet and one inch. Volunteers were scattered all over pitching in where needed, clambering up scaffolding and ladders to get every ornament and wreath hung in time. To read about my first time at the White House in 2011, go to Decorating the White House for Christmas . Check out Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 1, if you missed my first post for this year.

A pom pom Bo sitting on the entrance security desk at the White House in 2011
A pom-pom Bo sitting on the entrance security desk at the White House in 2011

Volunteers start working in a warehouse a couple of days in advance of working at the White House where I was assigned to the “bow team.” I can make bows in my sleep and I am always surprised by people when they have trouble with this task. It was a pleasure working with the sumptuous ribbon to create bows and garlands for all the sixty-two trees and assorted mantels in the White House. My team created multi-layered bows and garlands for two straight days before going to the White House to start decorating the rooms. Boxes of wired ornaments and other decorating items were delivered to the White House in hundreds of carefully marked boxes the morning that we started.

The Red Room tree wore a ribbon garland that I worked on at the White House
The Red Room tree wore a ribbon garland that I worked on at the warehouse

 

State floor room locations-Wikipedia
State floor room locations-Wikipedia

East Room

Continuing our tour of the White House, from the ground floor you ascend steps to the main State floor which includes the historic East Room, the largest room of the White House. Greeted by four imposing fir trees covered in frosty icicles, shimmery white and silver ornaments and dancing reindeer, the whole room sparkled. Displayed against one wall is the ornate historic crèche or nativity scene made of terra-cotta and carved wood. Fabricated in Naples in the eighteenth century, the crèche was donated to the White House in the 1960’s.

The beautiful shimmery white and silver ornaments of the East Room
The beautiful shimmery white and silver ornaments of the East Room
Flying reindeer on the East Room's mantel
Flying reindeer on the East Room’s mantel

White House DSCN6441

Green Room

The Green Room was probably my favorite decorated room (besides the Blue Room which was my team’s job!), because of the peacocks adorning the mantel and trees. Jewel tone ornaments were coordinated with the emerald silk covered walls. A historic meeting between first Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart took place in this beautiful room. Teal, emerald-green, and purple colors dominated this room.

Mantel of the green room with peacocks
Mantel of the green room with peacocks
Close up of the mantel's peacocks
Close up of the mantel’s peacocks
Details of the ornaments in the Green Room
Details of the ornaments in the Green Room

Blue Room

I spent several days working in the Blue Room as my assignment and I was “star struck!” Stars were the overall theme in the room-wreaths, tree, and even the stanchions that surrounded the tree had stars. Holding the largest tree, at eighteen feet and one inch tall, the Blue Room tree comes from the famous Bustard’s Christmas Tree Farm in Lehighton, PA, only about a two hour drive from me in Maryland.

The red, white, and blue Christmas tree in the Blue Room
The red, white, and blue Christmas tree in the Blue Room

An oval room, the Blue Room is primarily used by the President to receive many of his guests. Ornamented with a beautiful 6 inch wide silk ribbon overlaid on top of large gold stars, the tree is a shimmering display of red, white, and blue, inspired by the U.S. flag. It took our team a full three days to completely decorate this monster tree, using ladders and scaffolding and lots of patience.

Families of the military were asked to write messages to their loved ones and the messages were beautifully inscribed on a wide silk ribbon that wound around the tree. After Christmas, when the decorations are dismantled, the families will receive the snippet of ribbon with their note.

Messages were inscribed by a calligrapher on the silk garland
Messages inscribed by a calligrapher on the silk garland

I helped design and construct the three star wreaths that hung in the Blue Room windows. Up high on a ladder, I wired the large stars in place and suspended stars from ribbons on the wreaths.

Star wreaths in the blue Room windows
Star wreaths in the Blue Room windows

Red Room

In 2011 when I was part of the team to decorate the Red Room, I really enjoyed the color scheme and rich decorations for this ruby colored room. In 2015, I was interested in how the decorations would change. Cranberries were still used in the wreaths and in topiary trees elsewhere in the room-no surprise there! This year though, different shades of red and gold were interwoven into the tree and mantel and the beautiful striped garland was striking. Magnolia leaves were also a nice addition to the mantel. The cardinals on top of the tree were perfect.

Red Room Mantel
Red Room Mantel
This is the Red Room color scheme in 2011 when I designed it-the mantel had more gold and copper added
This is the Red Room color scheme in 2011 when I designed it-the mantel had more gold and copper

 

Cranberry wreaths in the windows and cardinals on top of the trees in the Red Room
Cranberry wreaths in the windows and cardinals on top of the trees in the Red Room

white house

State Dining Room (Nutcracker Heaven!)

The first Christmas party in the State Dining Room was hosted by President John Adams and his wife in 1800, so like the rest of the White House, there is a lot of history here. Seasonal delights, such as the imposing gingerbread house with Bo and Sunny perched in front, is probably the star attraction. Close to 500 pounds, the gingerbread house has more than 250 pounds of gingerbread dough, 150 pounds of dark chocolate, 25 pounds of gum paste, 25 pounds sugar work, and 25 pounds of icing. I liked the small groupings of snow people on either side and there was a small White House garden to one side.

Nutcrackers flank the door of the dark chocolate gingerbread house
Nutcrackers flank the door of the dark chocolate gingerbread house
Close up of the nutcrackers on the gingerbread house
Close up of the nutcrackers on the gingerbread house
A gathering of snow men outside of the mammoth chocolate gingerbread house
A gathering of snow people made out of gum paste arrayed in front of the chocolate gingerbread house

Nearby, a large gumball machine full of treats is on display along with the many nutcrackers and toys, sure to delight the younger children who visit.

Gumball machine full of treats
Gumball machine full of treats

DSCN6388

Nutcracker tree
Nutcracker tree

white house

A giant nutcracker on the State Dining Room table
A giant nutcracker on the State Dining Room table

Grand Foyer

The Grand Foyer held my favorite designed trees, which flanked the Blue Room. Imposing fir trees arrayed with giant glass balls and stars arranged with a very heavy gold ball garland positively glowed with color. The use of ball garlands used in several areas of the White House created a rich layered look and each one was wired in by hand so that they stayed put.

Grand Foyer trees with giant ornaments in jewel tones
Grand Foyer trees with giant ornaments in jewel tones

DSCN6360

Volunteer Reception

To finish off my week at the White House, all volunteers with one guest received an invitation to a special evening reception with food and entertainment. Tables in the Dining Room and East Room were laden with all kinds of food and drink. The dessert table was especially appealing with iced cookies, sticky pudding with caramel sauce, yule logs, cakes, macaroons and other special treats. Smoked salmon, crab claws, carved roast beef and ham, and the famous mac with cauliflower and cheese were enjoyed by all.

Early in the evening the dessert table was empty but quickly became jam packed
Early in the evening the dessert table was easy to get to but quickly became jam-packed
The sublime egg nog was served by an employee of the White House who has been there since the Kennedy administration
The sublime egg nog was served by an employee of the White House who has been there since the Kennedy administration

white house

A choir serenaded the volunteers
A choir serenaded the volunteers

The First Lady welcomed all the volunteers and graciously thanked everyone for all their efforts in making the White House a magical place.

I met lots of new people, learned some great tips on decorating in a grand manner, and had some of the best food of my life. I will never forget this Christmas!

I loved how these translucent ornaments shone in the dark
I loved how these translucent ornaments shone in the dark

 

Next: How to decorate you own mantel like the White House!

To follow this blog and get regular updates, click on “Follow” in the right hand column.

 

 

Decorating the White House, 2015 -Part 1

Floral arrangement in the library
Floral arrangement in the library

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.

My daughter and I in front of the Blue Room tree which I helped decorate at the volunteer reception
My daughter and I in front of the Blue Room tree I helped decorate at the volunteer reception

Tour of the White House-Ground Floor

Ground floor of the White House, from Wikipedia
Ground floor of the White House, from Wikipedia

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.

Giant penguins greet you at the visitors entrance
Giant penguins greet you at the visitors entrance
Baby penguins perch in a giant sled
Baby penguins perch in a giant sled

DSCN6282

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.

The East Colonnade is lined with framed photos of all the first families
The East Colonnade is lined with framed photos of all the first families

IMG_9737

Smiling snow people are scattered in the garden
Smiling snow people are scattered in the garden

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.

Military tree decorated with air mail letters, stuffed with card stock, folded, and stapled to make garlands and wreaths
Military tree decorated with air mail letters, stuffed with card stock, folded, and stapled to make garlands and wreaths

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.

Garlands made out of air mail envelopes
Garlands made of air mail envelopes

DSCN6295 DSCN6537

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!

Dog area had tennis ball trees
Dog area had tennis ball trees

dog

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!

Library

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.

Scenes from the library
Scenes from the library

Vermeil Room

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.

There are lots of mantels in the White House to decorate and this is one of the most charming interpretations with patchwork teddy bears
There are lots of mantels in the White House to decorate and this is one of the most charming interpretations with patchwork teddy bears
Heaps of wrapped packages decorate the hearth
Heaps of wrapped packages decorate the hearth

White House

 

White House

China Room

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.

The China Room has one of my favorite portraits at the White House; This one is of First Lady Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie Rob Roy
The China Room has one of my favorite portraits at the White House; This one is of First Lady Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie Rob Roy painted in 1924
The China Room's dramatic mantel trimmed in silver
The China Room’s dramatic English neoclassical mantel trimmed in silver

 

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.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the room papered with antique French scenic wallpaper produced by Jean Zuber et Cie in Rixheim (Alsace), France c. 1834. The Zuber wallpaper, titled Scenes of North America, was printed from multiple woodblocks, and features scenes of Boston Harbor, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, West Point, New York, Niagara Falls, and New York Harbor. The sweeping panorama on the elliptical walls provide a sense of space negating the lack of windows.
First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy had the room papered with antique French scenic wallpaper produced by Jean Zuber et Cie in Rixheim (Alsace), France c. 1834. The Zuber wallpaper, titled Scenes of North America, was printed from multiple woodblocks, and features scenes of Boston Harbor, the Natural Bridge in Virginia, West Point, New York, Niagara Falls, and New York Harbor. The sweeping panorama on the elliptical walls provide a sense of space negating the lack of windows. From wikipedia
l
Here I am with my daughter who was my guest for the party in the Diplomatic Reception Room
Details of the mantel decorations in the Diplomat Room
Details of the mantel decorations in the Diplomat Reception Room
Details of the ornaments used
Details of the ornaments used in the Diplomatic Reception Room
When you enter the center hall in the lower level of the White House, the atmosphere is magical with all the hanging silver bells
When you enter the center hall in the lower level of the White House, the atmosphere is magical with all the hanging silver bells arranged on the historic vaulted ceiling
I took this photo of a framed picture of Obama entering the central hall of a past Christmas
I took this photo of a framed picture hanging the the White House of President Obama entering the central hall a past Christmas

white house

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

 

If you want to receive my weekly posts in your email, click on the Follow space in the right hand column.

Christmas at the White House-Part 2

A Bo in Every Room!

Decorating at the White House
Decorating at the White House

While working at the White House, we were very excited to see Bo, the presidential dog, run through the hallway one morning.  He was leashed up to go for a walk and we were delighted to see the most famous dog acting like a normal dog, prancing and ready to run!

So of course Bo is depicted in many materials throughout the house.  There is one in nearly every room and it is fun to try and find them all – both for kids and adults. The library has the largest rendition where Bo is made of black and white recycled trash bags.  I call him ‘Trash Bo’! There is one perched outside the beautiful gingerbread house in the state dining room made out of liquorice, also one from buttons, and one from pom-poms out of spun wool.

Mr Liquorice

But I guarantee that no one will find the one in the East Room.  This is the largest room of the White House located on the first floor.  I worked there for two 12 hour days decorating. Sitting on the floor, I hot glued dozens of itty, bitty, pine cone scales onto a resin base replica of Bo for 3 hours straight.  Then he was sharpied in black ink and placed in a moss garden under a window.  He is only 3 inches high so I doubt that anyone will find him!

Pine Cone Bo

The gingerbread house was a masterpiece of 400 pounds of white chocolate made to represent the White House in detail with crazy candy trees.

Gingerbread House with Trees

The East Room

I headed to the East Room the next day which is the largest room on the first floor of the White House.  There were 4 very large fresh trees set up to be decorated that already had hundreds of tiny white lights.

Our task was to place hundreds of feet of chartreuse green cedar garland around the trees with out toppling the trees. The garland was extremely heavy and had to be laid carefully on the branches and wired in. Then, thousands of 2 to 3 inch high real rock crystals were dangled all over the trees to give them a shimmery effect.

I also climbed ladders and scaffolding to add magnolia leaves, white pine, and cedar to the garlands that were draped over all the mirrors. It is scary to climb up on those shaky structures! We were always losing a ladder when we left it for a few minutes and someone came in and grabbed it.  Ladders were at a premium.

Mirro Garlands in East Room

Rock Crystals on East Room Trees

I started on the moss gardens at the base of the windows when the room designer asked for someone with gardening experience. Hello!!! Waterproofed bases that were made ahead of time to fit into the embrasures of the four windows were set in place and we started filling them with soil and ‘mood’ moss which is simply mounding moss to give dimension. I quickly filled them up and started to mold the moss into hills and valleys to give the gardens a three dimensional look.  Then boulders were artistically added and made to look part of the landscape by sinking them into the moss. Next we planted paperwhite bulbs, White Hellebores, and some blooming paperwhites.  With all the bulbs at different stages of bloom, there should be a succession of fragrant flowers for weeks to come. These winter gardens were natural and fresh for the winter season when you need to see something growing, and I will definitely try to duplicate this at home.

Shine, Give, Share

The theme of Shine, Give, Share was used to honor all military families and to pay tribute to our troops.  There were present  ‘American Gold Star Mothers’ who are mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of our country.  The official White House tree was located in the Blue Room and was covered with purple hearts, military ribbon wreaths, medals, and patches from all the military branches. The ‘Gold Star’ tree was located on the East Landing and had memorials from servicemen and women who have died in service. I talked to two of the Gold Star mothers.  One had a small picture of her son around her neck and came all the way from Kansas to work on the tree.

Gold Star Tree

Blue Room Tree

Gold Star Tree

White House Basement

The last day we were working we were led downstairs into the basement to visit the White House gift shop which is actually a closet.  It was stuffed with merchandise with the Executive Seal imprinted on it and I picked up a few shirts, jackets, and an apron.  I was fascinated when one of the guards pointed out to us that the lintel over the door to the basement showed burn marks and bullet holes that were still there from the war of 1812, when the White House burned down.  That is certainly a piece of history that not many people see.

Basement Opening with Burn Marks

All the utilitarian offices are located in the basement, such as the carpentry shop, the groundskeeper’s office, the florist shop, cold storage, housekeeping office, and the laundry.  I never found the famed bowling alley! But I was interested in the florist shop where the florists come up with their beautiful designs and they magically appear upstairs. I was even interested in their piles of beautiful containers and supplies.

Arrangements to Go Upstairs
Florist Shop at White House
Arrangement in Progress
Floral Containers

 State Dining Room 

I kept peeking into the State Dining Room as the decorating progressed and this ended up being my favorite and most beautiful room.  The ornament combinations were breath-taking in the texture and colors.  Jim Marvin led the team for this room and he designed a lot of the ornaments that we used at the White House. The trees were adorned with a collar of beaded fruit in vibrant colors.  The garlands over the door and mantel repeated the theme.

State Dining Room Mantel
State Dining Room Tree

 The colors of the State Dining Room were rich and wonderful. The beaded fruit was wired with bay leaves and seeded eucalyptus to give a natural but lush sophisticated look.

The ribbon used everywhere in the White House was extraordinary.  I think that the quantity and quality of the ribbon really added to the look, but I shudder to think of how much all that ribbon cost. But we weren’t focusing on the cost, only how to get the most dramatic and striking effect with it.

Ribbon in the Red Room

 Opening Reception 

The most anticipated evening of my life was here!  Here, all the hard work and planning that went into this endeavor was revealed. All the volunteers with guests started to line up on the street at the southeast entrance to the White House in a chilly wind in their best holiday finery.  We progressed through the security checks slowly, anxious to start the reception.  The White House staff had cleaned and made everything spic and span for the onslaught of visitors.  We were greeted by a school choir and a five piece military band playing Christmas music.

Carolers in the East Wing

I was already anticipating excellent food from my experience the previous several days, but the reception cuisine was extra special.   There were raw oysters, a carving station, petite multi-colored potatoes, smoked salmon, shrimp, and crab claws.  I just took a bite of each.  Decadent desserts prevailed; there were even iced cookies in the shape of Bo, as well as honeybees.

We were all expecting Michelle Obama to appear as there was a podium set up and people started to gather in anticipation.  Mrs. Obama descended from the residential floor and, since I am too short to see anything, I relied on my taller husband.  All I could see was everyone’s cameras held aloft with her image. But my husband somehow got in front and shook her hand along with many others.

Before we knew it, it was time to go.  The White House staff doesn’t just throw you out though.  They go room by room and shut the doors so no one can go back in and the people already in there just trickle out.  It is done very unobtrusively, so you really don’t feel rushed, but people gradually meander out.

Bo in Library

Decorating the White House was huge fun for me.  Surprisingly, when I asked other volunteers if they would apply next year, most reponded that one year was enough.  They remarked about the expense, the time, and the hard work involved, and thought that would be it.  But I am already thinking about next year!

Copyright Claire Jones 2011

Unauthorized use, distribution, and/or duplication of proprietary material without prior approval is prohibited. If you have any questions or would like permission, I can be contacted via email at: jonesb1@comcast.net. Feel free to quote me, just give credit where credit is due, and please send people to my website, http://www.clairejoneslandscapes.com

Find me on Face Book!

China Room

Decorating the White House for Christmas-Part 1

East Landing with Bo

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 got to see the famous bee hive on the White House grounds
I got to see the famous bee hive on the White House grounds

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.

I love this portrait of Grace Coolidge at the White House
I love this portrait of Grace Coolidge at the White House

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.

Everything Red!

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.

The Red Room has red silk covered walls
The Red Room has red silk covered walls

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.

One of the gardens that I planted with bulbs and moss
One of the gardens that I planted with bulbs and moss

Warehouse

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!!!

The ornaments used were beautiful and each had to be individually wired to the tree
The ornaments used were beautiful and each had to be individually wired to the tree

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.

Fellow volunteers decorating
Fellow volunteers decorating

Wreaths and Things

Cedar Stars in White House East Landing

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.

Cut Out Poinsettias in East Landing
Framed Purple Hearts on Blue Room Tree

White House!!!!

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.

Security Checkpoint at the White House

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!

Red Room

Color palette of the red room
Color palette of the red room

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.

Red Room Tree

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.

White house collage

Copyright Claire Jones 2011