Setting the Stage for Festive Holiday Gatherings
Area specialists share ideas on decking the halls for the holiday season
Photo courtesy of bb Interiors
The holidays and entertaining go hand in hand — who doesn’t look forward to celebrating the season with delicious food and drink in an environment that offers a feast for the senses? We’ve gathered advice from suburban party and decorating pros to help holiday hosts and hostesses plan an event sure to delight all in attendance.
Blooms, Boughs, Berries and Branches
Set the stage for your soiree at the front door — with decorated urns or other vessels, wreaths and lights to greet guests — then carry the look on into the house. One of the best ways to stylishly facilitate the transition indoors is with staircase garlands, says Janet Linly of Linly Designs in Clarendon Hills. “They are the first holiday element you see when you enter a home. Garlands can completely transform the feel of a space and give a house an instant holiday atmosphere.”
Fragrant evergreens, a holiday essential, will typically last indoors for several weeks. Pine, cedar, eucalyptus, juniper and balsam are the most aromatic, especially when combined. Depending on where and for what you plan to use them, check with your florist for advice on selecting the best types.
While they won’t contribute a pine aroma, some of today’s faux greens look virtually identical to the real thing, and can easily be used alongside their fresh counterparts. You may even be able to enlist your florist to help freshen up permanent pieces you already have, such as wreaths, with new ribbons, bows, lighting and trims.
Flowering bulbs, such as tulips, along with hydrangeas, roses and poinsettias in new colors and shapes are predicted to adorn many arrangements this season. Succulents, which continue to be popular year-round, are another great option for filling containers, from rustic boxes to delicate dishes. With their variety of shapes and colors, they can be easily integrated into a holiday theme, says Cyndi Weber, manager of the La Grange Park location of Phillip’s Flowers & Gifts.
Other unique natural elements will also continue to be sought after this year. Weber predicts curly willow, seed pods and pampas grass to figure in this year’s indoor and outdoor displays. “Anything to contribute a woodsy, outdoor feeling and texture,” she says.
Fruits also make long-lasting additions to arrangements, wreaths, garlands and more. From pomegranates to pears and pineapples, fruit has been incorporated into holiday decor since Colonial times. While lightweight faux fruits might work best for especially large pieces, fresh produce can be used for many arrangements and can be easily changed out as needed for extended display. And clove-studded fruits (oranges, limes and other citrus work especially well) can last a few fragrant weeks or more.
As an alternative to a large centerpiece for the dining table, Andrew Parravano, owner of Andrew’s Garden in Wheaton, encourages clients, especially those with high ceilings, to consider aiming higher. He has even used the technique in his own home. “You can have an arrangement suspended up off the table, or, if you have the space, with elongated pieces that hang down canopy style. Then you can load up the table with candles and small coordinating arrangements. It’s a huge ‘wow’ effect.”
For those who wish to have a hand in making their floral decor, most florists and even some garden centers will assist with selecting bunches of material to purchase for DIY creations. Some even offer workshops in which you pay for materials and learn to create an arrangement. Andrew’s Garden for example, has several upcoming centerpiece classes in November and December.
Another option is to work with a florist for statement pieces, such as centerpieces, wreaths and outdoor containers, but put together some smaller details that tie in to the same look, like buffet table and bar embellishments or table accents.
While there’s no disputing the season’s association with red and green, many other color palettes are coming into play, and these can be employed to equally festive effect, whether you’re seeking rustic appeal, a touch of elegance or a modern viewpoint.
Ian Essex, a lead designer for bb Interiors in Geneva, says its design team enjoys putting a fresh spin on traditional holiday decor. “When we think of Christmas and the holidays, we think of the glistening snow and the warmth from the fire,” he says. “That’s why we love decorating for the holidays with whites, golds, champagnes and a soft touch of cohesive color throughout the home.”
Linly agrees that “over the past few years neutral and monochromatic colors of silver, champagne and gold have been very sought after. What’s been exciting is to introduce accents of jewel tones into the color palette each year — we’ve done blue, rose gold, amber, etc.,” she says, adding that this year’s accent color is emerald green.
Parravano says that requests for a greater variety and mix of colors are overtaking traditional floral choices as well. “They want something with a holiday feel that doesn’t look like things their parents did,” he says, offering the example of a rich wine red paired with rose gold or gold and complemented with blush tones and seasonal textures.
Weber agrees, noting she thinks navy blue paired with gray or silver and frost pomegranate will be a trending floral palette for this year.
As is the case for home decor in general, mixing and matching pieces and styles can work for the holidays as well. It’s a time of year that embodies nostalgia, so it makes sense to incorporate heirlooms or vintage goods into your displays, giving them a distinctively personal touch.
“Christmas is about family, and we get many people who bring in a vintage container that belonged to their mother or grandmother to use as the basis of an arrangement,” says Weber.
Parravano describes the latest holiday decorating trends as “creativity individualistic.” For example, he has customers who seek to have everything from an antique dough bowl to a ram’s horn on a pedestal to serve as a centerpiece container. “People are asking for things that are outside of the box. We’ve seen an interest in more unique and personalized designs than in the past,” he says.
Of course, incorporating more recently acquired treasures into your holiday vignettes is also a way to express your personal style. “Adding a few new pieces each year, and disposing of the tired ones helps keep things fresh,” says Essex, noting that bb Interiors is known for distinctive items such as handcrafted glass Simon Pearce trees and handmade Santas embellished with vintage treasures made by local artisan Dee Gann.
Simple but classic, “Candles are a great addition to any space,” says Linly. “A candle not only provides a type of ambient light but it also creates a great holiday atmosphere,” she explains, adding that placing silk garlands around the bases of lamps or bows on chandeliers are other easy ways to add a touch of Christmas spirit in every room of the home.
In addition to making sure your home is visually appealing to your guests, don’t overlook the opportunity to welcome them with enticing aromas. Of course, your greenery and florals will contribute to that and you may also include scented candles or potpourri throughout the entertaining space, but there are other ways to introduce aromatic elements.
“Culinary aromatherapy is big,” says David Miller, owner of Chef by Request, a catering service based out of Lisle. ”When guests come in, we want them to be engaged by the aroma.
We want them to say, ‘Wow, what is that?’ and seek it out.”
Miller says such “aroma decor” might include mulling cider in the kitchen or even tucking a heated pot full of mulling spices, berries and oranges within a food station hidden amid stones or decor. At a carving station, he might include a pan sizzling with fresh garlic cloves or steeped rosemary. For a similar effect, you might sauté garlic and spices and walk the pan around the party space before guests arrive. “This will throw out a scent that will waft through the air,” he explains. “It lures people in and relaxes them and really makes them feel like they are walking into a holiday party.”
Raise the Bar
Be the toast of the town with creative liquid refreshments, both alcoholic beverages and alcohol-free drinks. While some might go with a standard bar or stick to a selection of wine and beer, you can up your game with a customized drink station or signature cocktail.
Miller says that a customized drink station can offer the flexibility for both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks.
For example, you might have mulled cider, with bourbon or Grand Marnier as add-ons, or a champagne station with various juices, such as pomegranate and cranberry, as well as accoutrements like lavender rock candy stir sticks. “One thing people really like is our Santa’s Little Helper hot cocoa bar, with cocoa, homemade marshmallows and candy canes. If you have kids there, you can keep the alcohol bottles off the table and have servers who offer the adults two-ounce chocolate cups full of Baileys or peppermint schnapps.”
Indulgent treats and delectable appetizers can be among the most memorable elements of a successful party, which is why choosing the right food is typically at the top of most party-planners lists.
Currently, Miller says, traditional foods are making a comeback. “The trend for awhile was super contemporary, but now we’re seeing more comfort foods, but in cute little grab and go versions. You might have mashed potatoes in a martini glass, a small cast iron pan with potatoes and chicken ragout or ramekins of chicken pot pie or shrimp DeJonghe.”
Sizing things down allows you to offer more different types of foods, which can be tailored to suit your budget and accommodate guests with a variety of dietary needs.
Sweets tables are still big and often feature glamorous displays and elevations of sweet desserts, such as pastries, cookies pies, crème brûlée, or croquembouche. “Nothing says holiday like a sweets table,” says Miller.
For those looking to DIY part of the party, Miller recommends hiring a catering company for the savory foods and service and providing your own dessert or wine. “You want the buffet to look uniform, not like a potluck,” he notes.
For many gatherings, it is wise to consider hiring a server or two. “People love to go to parties where food is passed. If you are social, you don’t want to make a plate and go sit down to eat. It’s more fun to grab something off a tray, pop it in, and go back to your conversation.”
Miller personally hires staff for all his events and tries to educate clients about the value of having help on hand. Depending on the party size and number of staff, services may include cooking or finishing food on site, passing food, replenishing platters, clearing tables and removing garbage during the event, and handling setup and takedown.
“You’ll be able to enjoy your party,” he explains, “and at the end, your house is clean.”
Key decorating spots are the entry, stairway, family room, mantel and dining room, but here are five other places where you can add a spot of holiday charm.
• Decorate a tiny live tree for the guest room. Gift it to your guests or plant it in the spring.
• Display a rosemary tree or bay leaf or lemon leaf wreaths in the kitchen.
• Place a small coordinating arrangement or bouquet in the first-floor powder room.
• Adorn every window with an ornament suspended from ribbon or a tiny lighted wreath.
• Tuck a sprig of seasonal greens into each cloth napkin or use lemon leaves as place cards.Edit Module