15 Tips for a Chic and Happy Holiday from Designer Mary McDonald
I have loved Christmas since I was a little girl. For my entire life, I’ve been making ornaments, gingerbread houses, wreaths, and decorating my environment with scheme after scheme. It is one of the few times a year you can get kind of theatrically crazy without being seen as corny. It appeals to my more crafty side as well. And I always love going to people’s homes and seeing how they’ve embraced the season—from the most rustic to the most glittering and dramatic and everything in between. I’d like to share some decorative (and a few social) tips that have worked for me over the years.
1 PICK A SCHEME
Create a continuous scheme throughout: i.e., snowy whites, silver and green, holiday golds and brown. My scheme here is more of a Victorian hunting theme. I revisit red and green most years, and this time, I glammed it up by pairing natural horn and raw elements with a Victorian look of black with feathers.
2 MIX ROUGH WITH REFINED
I like to layer the expected elements of reliable plaid with the unexpected elements of feathers and glistening black glass for the table when entertaining. Having the rawness of fallen stag horns and natural greenery with black ostrich feathers mixed in with pheasant and interwoven black glass creates a tension between the textures, adding interest.
3 USE SURROUNDING GREENERY
Look around your own environment for Christmas greenery. See what trees and hedges can be yours—it need not be a snowy-pine theme. One year, I used only eucalyptus branches and leaves as my door surrounds, mantel and table garlands, as I had a plethora of trees right at my fingertips to make beautiful decorative elements.
4 HAVE EXTRA GIFTS AT HAND
Always have an extra-gift closet ready for last-minute hostess gifts. I have a cache of candles, hand towels, paperweights, plus things like candlesnuffers and gourmet candy.
5 TREAT THE CHILDREN WELL
Be prepared with something to entertain kids. Fill a drawer with a few toys, games, crayons and paper, and anything your kids have outgrown. I remember when I would go to my Aunt Phyllis’ for any party, I would hit the game drawer, which always had some weird, outdated games and crafts. But since they weren’t mine, I loved them.
6 TRIM BEYOND THE TREE
Your doorways and other architectural elements (mantels, railings, entry tables) provide other spots to decorate in your home. Even a garland with all of the elements hanging from a newell post introduces Christmas and your scheme.
7 GO OLD SCHOOL ON HORS D’OEUVRES
I grew up with WASP food that would make today’s foodies cringe. I remember loving the no-fuss hors d’oeuvre involving a brick of cream cheese. It still works today and is perfect for when someone stops by without a moments notice. You literally dump a jar of jalapeño mint jelly in red or green (festive) over cream cheese on a pretty tray with Carr’s table water crackers. It’s savory, sweet and delicious. Replace it with goat cheese for a more sophisticated approach (not as good, but your insecurity might get the best of you) or mold the cream cheese into alternate forms with less embarrassment. It is very Donna Reed, but it looks pretty for Christmas, and you need do next to nothing but present it well.
8 LIGHT THE NIGHT…WITH CANDLES
Nothing is more Christmassy than the warm glow of candlelight. Do yourself a favor: Buy a bunch of candles, and dim the lights. We have all been subjected to the odd operating-room entertainer, and nothing is less festive. If you don’t have dimmers and cannot use all candlelight, buy 15-watt bulbs and supplement them with candles. It will change your life.
9 BLANKET THE TABLE
Forget the white tablecloth—why not use plaid blankets instead? Even mix plaids if they are complementary. I love the look of the fringe on the ends, and they are dual purpose, so you won’t be resentful collecting them. I have lots. Use them at an angle so you can see the fringe. Layer them so it looks collected.
10 JAZZ UP YOUR DISHES
Everyone has fresh white plates. I like to add another type of layering depending on the theme. For my plaid Victorian hunting Christmas theme, I collect pressed black glass goblets, serving pieces and plates and then weave them in, adding an element of 19th-century glamour to the more sturdy elements of tartan and woody pieces.
11 HEAD TO THE MARKET
I love the look of red apples, whole walnuts and chestnuts in mounds down the dinner table suggesting the earthy quality of home. It pairs well with the down-home stag horn and tartan elements while creating the perfect foil for black glamorous feathers and shimmering black glass.
12 RING NAPKINS WITH FROGS
Being a textile and trim designer with a fashion background, not a lot of passementerie gets by me. I love a frog for a napkin holder, especially a black one, to reinforce my Victorian-plaid Christmas. Against a white napkin, it looks like a tailored touch and, literally, takes a stitch to make.
13 FEATHER LIGHTLY
I love a good Gypsy Rose Lee ostrich feather dance as well as a group of ostrich feathers, but a little goes a long way. To glam up without cheesing up, use them as an element in a bouquet of things, such as a few peeking out from groups of fruits and nuts on a table or a fan of them behind a group of horns, fruit and pinecones on a mantel. They should almost be used like a doily peeking out under your raw pilgrim elements—emphasis
on pilgrim not gypsy.
14 DRESS THE PART
When I layer in a backdrop of black ostrich, pheasant and rooster feathers, I like to add a smart dash of it in my attire. I might take a little patch of them and let them peek out from behind a Christmas brooch or in my hair with a jet jeweled piece.
15 TIE ONE ON
Your dogs are your family too. Better than the typically corny Santa hat, a big beautiful bow on your dog’s collar—especially when you’re entertaining—adds an extra touch of warmth for anyone who stops by.