Friday, December 19, 2014


We're not perfect but we expect it. We're definitely not easy to live with (neither one of us) So when it comes to getting the house ready for the holidays things can get a little cantankerous; two designers and two points of view not to mention an eighteen-year-old daughter with an opinion of her own. You either find a way to compromise or you give in and back off. This year it was a little of both. Here's what we learned and we're going to pass along some lessons learned.

We started with garlands swaged along the fence that runs the length of our property. You can buy coils of evergreens in twenty-five or fifty foot lengths of pre-wired live greenery. The truth is you can purchase these any time after the first ropes are put out for sale at your local nursery or Home Depot. The first supply is frequently the only delivery so whether you buy it the day after Thanksgiving or on Christmas Eve what you get on either day or any day in between isn't going to be any fresher on the first day or the last. I'm the analytical one so I got out pencil and paper and began my long division to figure out if we bought fifty feet of rope and had six, six foot sections of fence how much rope would I have for each section? Would this be enough of a swag or too much? Rick said, "Screw it. Just put the damn stuff up and cut off what you don't need. " He was right of course.
We added swags of fir and boxwood and then finished off the fence with bows of wired copper ribbon tied with pinecones and then wrapped the swags with tiny amber battery powered lights.
We paid an arm and a leg for these miserable lights. If you read the tiny type on the tiny box for these tiny lights you'd see that although they are labeled for indoor and outdoor use they aren't guaranteed in extreme weather. As it turns out extreme weather apparently means anything north of New Orleans. There's a theory somewhere about Christmas lights and the inevitability that once strung they'll never work.
We gave up on the batteries and stepped back in electrical time replacing those sweet little lights with a mile of electrified strands connected by two miles of extension cords all plugged in to the house electrical system. The tag on the new lights said we could connect up to five strands. I'm now pushing the limit with, at last count, nine. No fuses blown as of yet.
One of the things you want to remember in outside decoration is that your decorations don't walk back into the garage during the day.
Decorations should look good not only at night but during the day as well.

We have a set of galvanized planters at the entry that during the spring and summer are blooming with morning glories, geraniums and sweet alyssum.
This holiday I wanted to plant birch branches in our planters and cover them with more little lights (not the battery operated kind). Restoration Hardware was my inspiration with their faux birch trees with bud lights and big prices. I couldn't afford the cost. I thought, "I can do this". So I set out to go to the woods and chop off some birch branches. With no botany in my background I failed to realize that a birch branch doesn't take on that beautiful white bark until it morphs from a twig to a trunk.
I switched gears and chopped down some nondescript branches that had the shape and size of those faux Restoration Hardware trees, brought them back, spray painted them to look like birch, and stuck them in the unfrozen dirt in those galvanized planters. I draped some snowball lights between the branches and spread a whole string of three hundred lights in each container.
Then we lined the porch with paper stars. We had done this last year and learned our lesson about paper and the weather. These stars were okay with a little snow that with a little wind would blow away but they didn't take kindly to any rain. When wet they started to droop and then they started to tear. This year we sprayed them with several coats of clear coat in hopes they would adjust to the weather better than our tiny light did. We stuck a wreath on the arbor and declared the entry finished.

While in New York we stopped by CB2 to pick up a fire screen Rick had put on hold for the New York apartment. It's never a good idea to leave me with too much time in a design store. While we waited for them to retrieve the screen from storage I wandered the store and discovered this beautiful simple wreath hanging on the wall. CB2 was selling these wire wreaths that they filled with large metal balls. It was the perfect wreath for the front of the house. On closer inspection you could see that they had used two wreaths wired together to hold the balls in place and the balls were sold separately. So the twenty-five dollar price tag dangling from the wreath on the wall was only the price for one wreath not two and no balls.
Once again the mantra, "I can do this" came into play. We ordered the two wreaths and had them shipped to Madison. Thus was the beginning of the world's, well at least our world's, most expensive wreath. I should have just bought the CB2 balls and been done with it. By the time I'd scoured every Pier 1, Kirklands, Marshalls and Michaels in Madison I'd run up a bill that not even Santa would be proud. I have to rely on amortization. You can depend on seeing this wreath attached to the front of our house the following year and the year after that and the year after that, and if I can think of a way to dress it up for other holidays you'll be seeing it on Easter and the Fourth of July as well.

We're very loyal when it comes almost anything and buying our Christmas tree is no different. There's a group of guys who for the last several years have set up a tree farm outside a Pepto-Bismol pink defunct Mexican restaurant down the road from us. They fence themselves in along with their tiny trailer complete with a generator that runs their heater and TV. No one in Wisconsin is willing to miss a Packer game no matter how cold it might get outside.
We bought our Douglas fir off their lot. The Douglas fir has the short needles and a beautiful blue cast. With eight foot four inch ceilings and a foot high tree stand we ended up with a tree that's lowest bough to its tip-top spike measures around six feet. Again, I bring out the mathematician in me whenever I can. Getting the tree into the stand, wrangling it in the front door, and making sure it is perfectly straight are the tasks of the holiday that always seem to fall on my honey-do list.  It is also my job to wrap the lights around the tree but from there the design concept falls to Rick. He puzzles and plots for days about what this year's tree is going to look like. We don't rely on tradition when it comes to our tree. Oh sure, we'll resurrect a design periodically but most year's it's a whole new look.
This year he went toward copper and matte white. We found we were able to do this out of stored unsold stock we had from the store on East Wilson Street. Rick and Emmy tied copper ribbons on all the old ornaments while I draped twelve twenty foot strands of silver beads around the tree until I was dizzy. The result is dazzling., and every year we marvel at our own amazing talent. As punishment for that last statement I'll be reminded of what it'll be like to have to unwrap those strands of pearls and lights off the tree once the holiday is over and the soft needles have turned to knives.
Happy Holidays to all. Now where's the snow?

Cambridge Circus, London, 1936
Wolfgang Suschitzky, photographer
Represented by The Photographers Gallery

1 comment:

  1. Looking at your house I feel like a decorating slug. Just beautiful!! The wreath is totally cool, and isn't it always the way that these things take more time and money than you ever plan on. I was smitten with those RH birch trees so really enjoyed your solution.