A Fresh Take on Seasonal Settings

Rethink traditional holiday hues, tables and trees

November 18, 2011

Wendy and Alex Santantonio use colored glass, swatches of greenery and coordinated table settings to deck out their Alexandria rowhouse for the holidays.

Wendy Santantonio and her husband, Alex, go all out when it comes to holiday decorating. “When we were kids, it was a big deal to our moms that the holidays be special,” says Wendy Santantonio, 33. “It was just something that we both grew up with, and it’s become an intrinsic part of every year. Our lives get so busy nowadays that I think it’s important to stop and celebrate the moments that make them special.”

The Santantonios live in a 125-year-old rowhouse in Old Town Alexandria (which they blog about at Oldtownhome.com). So their holiday decor reflects and honors the history of their abode. But that doesn’t mean they shy away from the modern: They embrace contemporary touches such as mercury glass and celadon-hued (rather than evergreen) trimmings for their bright turquoise front door.

“A good way to mix the traditional and modern is to use traditional elements, like natural greens, but play with different shapes and colors,” Santantonio says. “That can introduce a fun, modern twist to your decor.”

Cornucopias, pilgrims, Santa Clauses and angels aren’t your only options for seasonal style. Read on for festive decor inspiration that’s anything but ho-ho-hum.

Go Au Naturel
As the seasons change, bring the outdoors in to create your own autumn or winter wonderland, says David Anthony Chenault, the senior designer at Decorium Design and an owner of Decorium Gifts and Home (116 King St., Alexandria; 703-739-4662). “I’m one who will really use nature,” Chenault says. “That might mean cutting down a beautiful, oversized branch that still has some Thanksgiving color and incorporating that into a glass urn on the table. And I’d bring in fresh seasonal fruit, like gourds, squash and pumpkins.”

Put produce to work. “Hollow out the inside of a gourd and put a bowl in it to serve soup out of,” says Kohli Flick, visual and merchandise director for Takoma Park home and gift boutique Trohv (232 Carroll St. NW; 202-829-2941).

Change Up the Colors
“For Thanksgiving, instead of rustic reds and golds, look at browns, whites and taupes together,” says Amy Rutherford, the owner of Red Barn Mercantile (113 S. Columbus St., Alexandria; 703-838-0355). Another inspired idea: “Find some really wonderful wool menswear fabric, like a dark gray pinstripe, and make a tablecloth out of it.”

In December, resist the urge to go with the usual red and green, and instead try a hue that’s completely unexpected. Like a pop of pink. “Pink is a great choice for holiday decorating because it’s not a color that most people have in their public living areas,” says Dolly Howarth, the owner of Arlington-based Howarth Designs (703-671-8448).

Have Fun With Found Objects
One of the Christmas trees on display at Red Barn Mercantile this year boasts a nautical theme, complete with a garland made from rope. To take a page from Rutherford’s book, “hit the hardware store and see what you can find there,” she says.

Found objects lend a funky feel to decor. Try using old keys as ornaments; making a wreath out of unused buttons and a vintage life preserver; or even displaying your old ice skates. “Anything I can string up, I’ll hang out there,” Flick says. “I think using stuff that is easily found — and which, with a little bit of time, you can make into art — says something.”


Sabrina Soto, left, talks ornaments with a family on a holiday episode of “The High Low Project.” Despite the red and green seen here, Soto favors nontraditional holiday decor.

Make Over Your Mantel
Forget about swags of greenery and a lengthy lineup of stockings. Why not take a less-is-more approach?

“Do something modern and minimalistic. Hang two modern stockings from the mantel and call it a day,” says Sabrina Soto, host of HGTV’s budget-friendly decor show “The High Low Project,” which will premiere a holiday episode Dec. 10 at 8:30 p.m.

Rutherford suggests using succulents either across the top of the mantel or as a wreath above the fireplace instead of the more typical evergreen garland. “They’re a fun shape and texture for the holidays,” she says. “And they’re very eco-friendly.”

Another option: Showcase a seasonally appropriate collection. “If you have a snow globe collection, spread it across the mantel,” Rutherford says. “But don’t just spread it straight across. You have to make sure to layer and tier it to really bring interest to it.”

Try a New Tree
Sure, a towering Frasier fir placed in the corner of a room can instantly create holiday cheer. But there are plenty of ways to branch out from the norm. “Instead of having one giant Christmas tree, have a bunch of little ones so everyone can get their own to decorate,” Flick says.

Or go for foliage that’s totally unexpected. “I like the look of aluminum trees as an alternative to the traditional green tree, especially as an alternative to artificial green trees,” Howarth says. “Faux anything should look decidedly faux, in my opinion.”

Delve Into a Little DIY
Lowly, everyday items become rustic ornaments and accents with a little extra attention. Flick has a few ideas: “Spray-paint some pinecones and then cluster them together with ribbon. They look beautiful hanging from a door or staircase. Or bake some acorns and then dip them in glue and glitter. They make great tie-ons for gifts.”

Flick and her friends have held ornament-making parties, using items such as gingerbread and Popsicle sticks. “It’s going back to the arts and crafts you did at camp and school,” she says. So there is some nostalgia in all this modern decking of the-halls after all.

Easier Than Hue Think
Can’t find an ornament that fits your desired color scheme? Try a trick from HGTV’s Sabrina Soto: “Get some really cheap clear glass ball ornaments. Then, pop off the top, pour in a little bit of acrylic paint, swirl it around, and lay it upside down on a baker’s rack to dry overnight.”

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