BY JENNY BROWN
Last year I was invited to decorate a room at the Executive Mansion—home to the governor—in Springfield for Christmas. I was delighted for the opportunity, as I love Christmas, and I was curious to see the storied house.
Yet the prospect was a bit daunting, as I only had access to a photograph of the room they assigned me, and I had to come up with an entire room’s worth of holiday trimmings, knowing our inventory would be decking my own halls.
Where to start?
I decided on a general theme—cardinals (the state bird) and tartan—and built around it, hoping to create a room that felt festive and formal but not stuffy.
I amassed dozens of sweet faux birds in all shapes and sizes and equally as many rolls of ribbon and wrapping paper in different patterns of plaid. I bought about a mile of the best looking pre-lit faux garlands I could find, a couple dozen little wooden ornaments that reminded me of the charming German ornaments we had growing up, and a few boxes of sparkling and satin balls for good measure. I found online some garlands of faux popcorn and cranberries that reminded me of a holiday party we went to when I was very young where we would make such garlands to decorate the tree. Throw in a pair of 36″ faux wreaths, two aprons, multiple scissors, tape and my trusty glue gun, I packed up my car to the gills, picked up my assistant, and headed down to “The Patch” the Sunday before Thanksgiving at 5 am.
We hit the ground running wrapping the columns with garlands and bedecking the tree with additional lights and ornaments. While I had a general vision of what I wanted it to look like, I tend to shoot from the hip when it comes to these things. I’ve learned in my years that while you can plan every last detail, you wont know how things really look until they are in place.
We hung greens bedecked with lights on every surface with well-placed birds and berries hot-glued on where they seemed right. We zipped around town for additional greens and decorations, which was fun and amusing. After weeks of jetting to every store in Chicago with holiday decorations I am convinced I could have done the whole thing in a single trip to Hobby Lobby. Who knew?
I was thrilled with the way the room turned out and jumped in the car the next afternoon, returning to Chicago and my own holiday prep.
I love the holidays, but there is no doubt they can be overwhelming, and humbly offer my few tips for staging—and surviving—them:
-Buy what you love. It is easy to get caught up in the glitz and glitter of the holidays, but you can quickly blow your budget (and mind) buying things en masse. Remember you are buying for FOREVER, and a few well-chosen items will be more effective and special to you than buying so many things you don’t even have a place for. Think of everything you buy as an investment and keep your receipts in case you cant find a place for each item.
-Go green! Literally. Bunches of evergreen or boxwood on the mantle and on side tables will go a long way in adding a festive feeling to your house without cluttering up your storage locker. Add some pinecones, berries, and maybe even a string of lights for a little extra sparkle.
-Show off your friends. I love giving and receiving Christmas cards, but it always seems somewhat nosy flipping through a bowl of cards at someone else’s house (though this has yet to stop me). Growing up, my mom would tape them on the wall in our family room and we loved seeing our friends and family smiling back at us year after year. Some friends taped their Christmas cards among the books on the shelves in their library—a clever display and a welcome distraction after running out of holiday small talk.
-Include your family. My boys insist on helping me decorate the tree, and while they have broken a handful or ornaments along the way, they take such pride in the finished product it is truly heartwarming. I cherish the memories of sitting on the floor in our living room when I was young, testing the colored bulbs on the strand, replacing the dead ones, and then handing them off to my dad to put on the tree with John Denver or the Muppets Christmas album playing in the background.