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.

Time Honored Traditions-Decorating the White House 2017

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

Great friendships are formed between the volunteers

 

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

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

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

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

Getting ready to go the volunteer reception

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

Taking selfies outside the White House

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

Many ornaments are reused from previous years

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

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

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

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

Blue Room

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

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

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

Completed Blue Room mantel

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

Presidential Seal above the Blue Room door

Green Room

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

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

Red Room

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

Red Room tree

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

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

Cross Hall

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

 

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

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

Towering trees of snow and crystal

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

East Room

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

East Room tree skirts

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

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

East Colonnade 

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

East Wing frosty branches

Up lighting the branches created a magical feeling at night.

Dining Room

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

Vermeil Room

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

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

Library

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

Boxwood was behind the books

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

Diplomatic Reception

The Diplomatic Reception Room tree next to the historic wallpaper

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

One of the scenes on the wallpaper

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

The gold eagle was a flag pole topper!

Gold Star Tree

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

Reception

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

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

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

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

 

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