Author, tastemaker and entertaining expert Carolyne Roehm joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week on our Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Can you give us some ideas for simple yet beautiful Christmas-table flower ideas?
Although flowers are always beautiful, Christmas is perhaps the one time of year when you can really add fantasy and play to a table top, so don't be afraid to try something different. In the past, I've done baskets filled with pine cones or bowls of red and green grapes, which can look gorgeous and seasonal.
Which flowers are the best to buy real and which ones are best to buy fake?
It's always a matter of visuals. There are fantastic flowers that can be found in places such as Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and corner groceries, if you keep an open mind. With respect to fake flowers, quality is key. They are a great base for arrangements and can help you achieve the volume and shape you desire, then you can go in with real flowers to bring the arrangement to a whole new level.
Do you have a signature holiday cocktail?
I love pink champagne or prosecco. It's bubbly, affordable and comes in a huge variety. Mixed drinks don't work for everyone so sometimes it's easier to keep it straightforward. Plus, you can always elevate a simple cocktail by garnishing it with fruit.
Is there an elegant way to outfit a plastic Christmas tree or is it better to just go with the real thing?
I've done both! I love spraying green faux trees with fake snow, which gives a fantastic effect and softens the green. I've also done this in powder blue, which was wonderful. Sometimes it's just too much to do a big tree, so don't feel pressured. The quality of the faux trees has come a long way, and if it's the fragrance that you're missing, there are a ton of scented candles that will do the trick.
I've recently moved into a new home. I've redone the place with a light, contemporary feeling and incorporated whites, greys and some gold. I live in the Midwest, where it's cold and a bit dreary this time of year. Do you have any suggestions on how I could warm up my space for the holidays?
Because you already have touches of gold in the space, I'd play it up with candles, especially in hurricane lamps, which will give rooms a warm, glamorous feel.
What is your favourite home fragrance candle for the holidays?
I just launched two new scented candles on the website (the red candle is a little more holiday). Beyond that, a classic candle is Balsam by Agraria.
What is your favourite colour scheme for festive holiday decor?
Gold and red are always fantastic together. However, this year, I am experimenting with blue and white - my all-time favorite colour combo.
When decorating the tree, do you usually go for a cohesive look or do you believe in showcasing heirloom ornaments that you have collected over the years? I have so many ornaments passed down in my family
I like to take out all of the ornaments that have meaning and spread them out on a white sheet. With a blank slate as your background, you can usually find one predominant colour, maybe it's blue or gold and then buy additional baubles in that same colour scheme to tie it all together. You can also add in different finishes in the key colour, such as satin and glass.
What do you see as the newest trends for decorating with flowers?
Frankly, I do not follow trends. I've always just followed my instincts and experiment with what I'm in love with at the moment.
I would love to arrange something for the table in my foyer for the holidays. What flowers should I use to create something festive and dramatic?
You can start with a base of Christmas branches to create a dramatic shape. From there, add flowers you love. In my house in Charleston, I've also decorated with spray-painted gold branches, which gave the most incredible effect. You can also incorporate pine cones to add a seasonal touch.
When decorating with garland and wreaths, do you go for the real thing or do you buy faux?
I do both and usually mix the two. I love the scent of real wreath, but there are many beautiful faux wreaths, and it's lovely to have something special you can use over and over again. I just got a wonderful wreath from the Wisteria catalogue which is lovely and I can always add real botanical elements to give it more texture. Some natural things I love to add are juniper berries and seeded eucalyptus. Boxwood is great for adding extra body into a faux wreath, too.
How would you do up a house for Hanukkah?
I've always collected blue and white porcelain, which is perfect for decorating, especially around Hanukkah. I arrange carnations, white roses and green accents (such as seeded eucalyptus or juniper berries) in vases to give them more life. Green and white variegated ivy also looks fantastic with blue and white decorations.
What's your favourite source for holiday pillows?
The Sándor collection makes wonderful pillows and stockings.
Do you have any ideas for wreaths or other greenery to use on a red door?
How fantastic to have a red door this time of year! You can't go wrong with some greenery and a pine-cone wreath.
I hate the way Christmas tree skirts look. Do you have any ways to hide the tree stand and also make it look elevated?
I like to put mossy green felt below the tree, which is then covered with Christmas branches so the whole floor appears natural. This is also a great surface for gifts.
I was thinking of using topiaries to decorate my 12-person dining table. Do you have any tips on how I could give them a holiday spin?
In the past, I have done a topiary Christmas theme, in which I displayed mini boxwoods on the table top (one was a boxwood Christmas tree). A simple way to dress them up is by tying a lovely big ribbon around the pot or planter to add in another colour such as red or gold. I've also spray-painted the flower pots gold, which is a nice touch for the holiday season.
When do you start decorating for the holidays?
My partner, who isn't American, can't stand decorating too early, while I'd start decorating right after Halloween if I could. I think the only real rule here is taking the decorations down after the holidays and not letting them linger. The day after New Year's feels right to me.
How do you decorate your staircase for the holidays? I never know what to do.
I've used garlands of greenery with grosgrain at the ends, and even a garland made of pine cones.
Any ideas on chic ways to elevate gift wrapping this season?
One of the best ways to create a beautiful look is to always have a theme. If the theme is green, mix in as many hues and textures as possible. There are hundreds of beautiful shades of green. Also, have fun with ribbons.
Do you ever get stuck when trying to make a design decision and, if so, how do you handle it?
Don't be afraid to give the problem time. Look at it in different moods, under different lighting situations and ask for the others' opinions. Design is a process, not a destination.
I am hosting some girlfriends at my new home for a holiday cocktail party and would love some ideas on how to create a chic holiday-themed bar cart.
I always decorate my bar cart in addition to the drinks. You can simply place a small bouquet on the cart or wrap a garland around it.
Any ideas for holiday decorating with an ocean and beach theme?
There is always so much fun to be had when you have a theme. Fortunately, there are so many beautiful decorations for people who celebrate near an ocean. Shells and driftwood covered in snow can be beautiful. You could even do a theme of white coral set in a bed of snow.
Do you look to style icons from the past for inspiration when decorating? If yes, who and why?
We all build on expertise from the past. The challenge is to take these ideas and put your own twist on them. I am a classicist and a traditionalist, so I've always loved and admired the work of Pauline de Rothschild, Elsie de Wolfe and Henri Samuel.
What is your advice for people who are afraid to decorate with colour? How do you get them out of their grey and white slump?
Everyone has a colour they like and respond to. Before you start applying paint and ordering fabrics, don't be afraid to start a storyboard or interest board online. Remember that colours have many nuances. For example, red has many shades, such as coral and Chinese red. Experiment and find the shade that you love and that will work for your room before you commit to something you might end up hating in six months.
I am sure you receive a ton of holiday cards. Do you have a chic way to display them?
I'd forgotten about the tradition of displaying Christmas cards. I wish I received more to decorate with them, but I always just keep them in a little basket to read over in private moments.
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