Home Front

Annie Groer and Jura Koncius
The Washington Post Home Staff
Monday, November 21, 2005; 1:00 PM

Each Thursday, the Washington Post Home staff talks about various ways to improve your home. This week, however, join the Home staff on Monday, Nov. 21, at 1 ET to discuss Thanksgiving table settings and holiday decorating.

Ask Post staff writers Annie Groer and Jura Koncius about all things holiday home related.

The transcript follows.


Jura Koncius: Good afternoon to all. Are you ironing tablecloths and polishing silver? Wednesday night is probably when we will be doing that. Anyway, let's talk about decorating the Thanksgiving table, decorating for Christmas, inflatables or anything else you want to talk/vent about. The city of Washington already seems like half its residents have taken off for the holiday - the traffic was very light this morning. For the rest of you, good luck with your holiday preparations and let's talk turkey or whatever.


Charlottesville, Va.: Dear Annie and Jura -

If I see another straw cornucopia Turkey Day centerpiece, I'll scream. What are some cool alternatives that will look sophisticated but not break the bank?

Jura Koncius: You are totally right! Those battered wicker cornucopias have got to go. Martha would have you gilding acorns and minwaxing oak leaves to come up with an interesting arrangement. All you need is some imagination and some beautiful flowers or gourds. Lady apples - those adorable tiny apples - look beautiful piled in a bowl. Pinecones are great and free also. Get some roses and cut the stems really short and mound them into a ball in a small vase. Any of you out there have some secrets?


Arlington, Va: I know what I want to ask. I am looking for a tablecloth liner, so that food doesn't seep through my lovely tablecloth onto my newly acquired cherry dining table. Thoughts?

Jura Koncius: It's too late to get those custom made table leaves for Christmas. But you can go to a fabric store and buy a length of white waterproof fabric that has a thin foam base. This will protect your table until you can order the custom pads.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Hey ladies!! Thanks for doing the pre-holiday thing. I read somewhere that cloth napkins should always be laid beside the plate, and not fanned out in wineglasses like some cheap restaurant. But my husband and I love the look. Will we be exiled to social limbo for doing this (we use lovely iridescent napkins in autumn colors).

Jura Koncius: Well, that is quite a question!!! Are you guests the sort that will judge you and exile you to social limbo? It is true that in the formal sense, napkins should be placed by the plate, sometimes in a napkin ring. But if you feel it is festive and reflects your own personal style to put those napkins in the wine glass, you go right ahead and do not apologize for it.


Washington, D.C.: Is it too late to get an amarylis going before Christmas?

Jura Koncius: It is probably too late to get one going from a bulb that is pretty much just getting started. I actually bought an amaryllis at Johnson's Flower & Garden Center at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW for $13.99 that was about eight inches tall and the bloom just popped over the weekend. It was very much worth it. By the way, the Holiday issue of Traditional Home magazine has a great little feature on amaryllis with tips for getting them going and how to start them over again next year.


centerpieces: instead of 1 large centerpiece, I tend to do several small ones. This year I'll have 5" vases stuffed with fall roses and gerber daisies alternating with fat 3-5" candles running the length of the table. I also like to scatter small winter squashes on the table (to make it even more economical, these are items I buy as fall/halloween decor and use until I put up the xmas stuff).

Keep in mind that large centerpieces often block the sight line across the table.

Jura Koncius: Very good point about TOO LARGE centerpieces. And we got off the phone just now with Rick Davis who owns Amaryllis Florist in NE Washington who in fact said - small is beautiful. A series of square glass vases stuffed with ladysmith apples (great minds think alike) and enough water to tuck a few orange roses in between is nice. You can also line those low glass containers with large leaves like ti leaves. Make a row of these down the table filled with low flowers. A third idea: lay a base of maple and oak leaves on the tables interspersed with small vases filled with Black Magic roses (dark red) and Orange Unique roses and a couple of pillar candles. Bravo.


Jura Koncius: Bulletin. We have Don Williams on the phone author of Saving Stuff and the Smithsonian senior furniture conservator. Any questions out there about table maintenance, stains on tablecloths, polishing silver etc. Meanwhile, Don and his family and friends are having a series of turkey and ham dinners starting tonight and Thursday in Maryland.


Gaithersburg, Md.: Any tips for a poor non-profit worker? I want to get a fresh, real tree, but they're so expensive! What about twinkle lights on the balcony? Door wreath? I always end up not doing anything because prices are so out of control!

Jura Koncius: Dear Gaithersburg. Head to Costco or Sam's Club or Lowe's or Home Depot ASAP before all the wreaths and trees are gone. They have amazing prices but they sell out early.

We are asking Don about keeping fresh trees alive a bit longer. He says make sure you make a fresh cut at the end. And fill the reservoir in the tree stand with a 50/50 mix of distilled water and Sprite (real stuff, not diet). You need that sugar for your tree. Make a gin and tonic for yourself.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: A friend lives in a posh-lite housing development. Last year, a notice was sent to all owners that white nontwinkly lights were the only decoration (other than a "tasteful holiday wreath") permitted on the outside of the home. We think it's a ridiculous rule and we want to know where we can find giant inflatable santas for the front yard.

Jura Koncius: You go Capital Hill!!! Go directly to www.gemmy.com where they will show you DOZENS of those wonderful holiday inflatables. They have them at places like Wal-Mart, Linens 'n Things and Sears.... YOU GO!!! Let us know what happens. tee hee. And make sure you get the 8 foot inflatables...


Rockville, Md.: What are your thoughts on the all-in-one Christmas tree decoration kits? Supposedly they have everything you need to deck your tree sans lights. Are they worth the money?

Frontgate has a kit that looks wonderful, but runs almost $300 in price.

Are there other kits that are better, less pricey, more unique?

Jura Koncius: Frontgate is the Rolls Royce of holiday decorations. Anything you get there will be worth the price.


Bethesda, Md: I just inherited a 50s George Nelson dining room cabinet . . . how do I clean off 50 years of sticky fingerprints, etc. I tried oil soap and elbow grease, but it still needs help. It's not in bad shape, just rather dirty!

Jura Koncius: First of all congratulations. Don says use odorless mineral spirits on a cotton ball or naphtha would also work. Don uses four-inch square lithography pads to apply - you can get this at paper suppliers or lithography suppliers. Webril is the brand so goggle it. Once you get the gunk off, put a good coat of paste wax on it and leave it alone.


Maryland: in a pinch, go buy a cheap vinyl table cloth (light or no pattern!) that has the felt like back and trim it to fit the top of your table (piece together two if necessary). put your nice cloth over it and you'll never know the difference. But definitely invest in the table protectors . . . having had to pay for a table to be refinished due to someone putting a hot pan onto it, I can tell you they are worth every penny.

Jura Koncius: Yes!!! You described this better than I did Maryland. Don says always protect your table. If you do get a heat mark on it, you have to call someone who knows how to fix it. You cannot do this yourself. So DO NOT put a tablecloth over your beauitful table without protection.


Silver Spring, Md: Dear Home goddesses,

We're hosting our first thanksgiving...eight adults and 6 kids ages four to nine. what are your thoughts about a children's table vs. seating everyone together since much of the family is from out of state.

Jura Koncius: First of all, good luck! Do you have room for that many people at your table? If you do, congratulations. Many people have a childrens' table because they just can't put that many at their main dining room table. Of course, if you have more room in your living room, you could set up a huge table in there that would fit everybody. Children's tables are okay, but children eating with grownups and taking part in family conversation is very special. This will provide social skills for your kids. Just remember not to gossip too much about Uncle Max running off with the next door neighbor and other inappropriate topics.


Glen Echo, Md: Question on turkey presentation: turkey needs to rest; need to make gravy; need to take out stuffing (yes, make more in casserole, but it doesn't taste the same.) How to gravefully carve, serve, etc. without a huge mess while getting the fulle presentation effect of the big bird?

Jura Koncius: Dear Glen Echo. No worries. Put the bird on your most beautiful platter. Garnish with fresh herbs or fresh kale leaves. Make an elaborate presentation of the turkey to your guests. Then, let it rest for ten or fifteen minutes and carve half of it, arrange the meat on a platter and bring it out.


Arlington, Va.: I know this doesn't fit with today's theme of holiday decorating, but I'm trying to figure out some options for curtains. I live in an apartment with a large window (about 110 inches across). There are already blinds, and I am not allowed to remove them (they fit into the casing of the window, so they do not stick out on the wall). In addition, I am not allowed to put nails or screws into the walls. I would like to put up curtains that can cover about 2 feet on either side of the window, just to make the place look less sterile. How could I go about this if I cannot use nails or screws? Thanks so much!

Jura Koncius: Dear Arlington: Unless the owner of the house lives upstairs, could you take a chance and put in two small holes and put up the curtains very carefully? Then when you move, you can spackle the holes. You are after all paying this person to live there and you deserve a tasteful and well decorated home. We do not know of a way to put up curtains without nails, unless you do some sort of elaborate tension rod or Velcro...


Bethesda, Md.: I live in a small house and normally it's just my husband and me. When I have more than a few people over, I generally have to rearrange some furniture in order to be able to accomodate everyone. For Thanksgiving, for example, I have to set up a table that will run from the dining room into the living room. It kills me that just when I'm having lots of company over and I want my home to look its best, I've got to move eveything out of the arrangement that is lovely for two people to make it into a chow hall for 15. Do you have any suggestions for managing the transition?!

Jura Koncius: We feel your pain in trying to be stylish and gracious at the same time. Annie was actually at a dinner where 42 people sat at a table that snaked into three rooms - family, living and dining rooms. You had no idea who was around the corner. You might try using two tables (you can buy for about $40 a folding table that seats eight from a place like Office Depot or Target. For the first couple of courses, people stay in place, then for dessert and coffee, you change tables so everyone gets a chance to talk. Don't worry that people think your house looks crowded, they appreciate your having them over.


Ashton, Md.: I have an oiled-finish walnut dining table that is 30 years old and has begun to show wear and tear. "Helpers" in the past have used inappropriate polishes, and there's now a marked difference in the appearance of the basic octagon table and its two leaves, which look almost new. Any advice on home remedies or suggestions on refinishers who can restore the original look without making it shiny? Merci!!

Jura Koncius: Dear Ashton. Wow. That is a problem. We have Don on the phone again. He says that for a temporary fix, you should darkening the table with a paste wax shoe polish like Kiwi in the color that will most closely darken it to the hue of the leaves. That's short term, but later you will probably need a pro to do a really sophisticated match.


Glen Echo, Md: Turkey again: So no Norman Rockwell moment with grace and full bird with Dad carving at the table for entertainment? Especially after a few glasses of pre-dinner liquid refreshments? that's half the fun!

Jura Koncius: Ho ho ho.


Glen Echo, MD: On a roll here: OK, I haven't polished the silver since last Christmas...any tips for the "gold" tea set that looks so pretty on the buffet?

Jura Koncius: Go buy Don Williams and Louisa Jaggar's book Saving Stuff ($16 Simon & Schuster)for his own formula for polishing silver. The main thing is, do not buy anything that you dip your silver into - polishing slowly with a non-abrasive cleaner is the best way to go. Meanwhile, here are Don's Rules for Saving your Family Silver: 1. Never place silverware in dishwasher. 2. Use padded mats on the table or counters when handling silver 3. Never ever wrap your silver in plastic cling wrap or wool cloth. Both cause the silver to tarnish. 4. Always remove jewelry from your hands before handling because jewelry can scratch the surface. Great tips Don.


Glen Echo, Md: A complete aside: my father's test of a future husband - can he carve a turkey or a roast? Sexist, for sure, but very handy...husband survived the test and marriage...

Jura Koncius: As my mother in law always says , "The man carves and the woman serves the vegetables." Amen. But who cleans up?


Maryland: entertaining large groups:1. don't buy tables just for use on t-giving. Table and chair rental (and linens, and china, and utensils) really is quite reasonable and far less than buying tables that are going to sit in your garage all year.2. Think several small tables of 3-6 people per instead of having everyone at one (like in restaurants). 3. Use placed seating for eating but use buffet style instead of family style for serving (often donw at weddings). Everyone fixes his/her own plate, but then the tables aren't crowded with food bowls and you can better control the food safety issues

Jura Koncius: Yes Maryland. Great ideas. Thanks.


Curtains in a Rental House: We just moved out of a rental house where we weren't allowed to install rods for curtains, etc. I simply went and got lots of tension rods at WalMart and put up drapes over sheers. Looked more permanent than it was!

Jura Koncius: Yeah. You did the right thing. We worry the person who wrote in already has blinds in the windows but maybe they be squeezed in. Renters Revolt!!!


for large crowds: My mom used two long horizontal tables in one room (not together, people sat around each one)...After dinner, one table went down, the chairs went away, and the remaining table got pushed against the bay window where it hosted the dessert.

Jura Koncius: Thanks!


Maryland: where can I find electric window candles that are cordless and have an "electric eye" to automatically turn on when it gets dark and turn off at sunrise?

Jura Koncius: Maryland seems to be our audience today. Where are all you Virginians? Meanwhile, we did find these fab light-sensor cordless window candles on the QVC website. www.qvc.com. Type in : Cordless Electric Candles. They are about $32 a pair for large ones. Small ones are $20 for four. And thanks to Diane from Johnsons Flower & Garden Center for tipping us off.


Silver Spring, Md.: Annie and Jura-- please help! Not really a holiday question but, hmmm, we're hosting Thanksgiving in our home and showing off our brand-new Pella windows and my question is about the windows. So I hope you will answer it! My husband is installing the windows and the ones he chose did not come in white-- the interior surface is wood which must be either stained or painted. (Frame, grilles between "panes" of glass.) Our house is a 1940s colonial like a million others in the DC area. Our furnishings are pretty traditional and basic. Lots of wood furniture in darker woods (oak, cherry). My husband and I disagree on how to finish the windows. One of us (I won't say who) wants to stain the wood, probably a medium brown to go with the oak that is in many (though not all) rooms in the house. The other one thinks we should paint the windows white, to match the crown and floor moulding, chair rail (in the dining room), and around-the-door moulding that is throughout the house. Would staining the windows make the house look classy, or mismatched? What do you think?

Thanks a bunch, and happy Thanksgiving to both of you!

Jura Koncius: We would go with staining. A safer bet and more traditional. Do you have time to do this between now and Thursday??? GOOD LUCK!!!!


Jura Koncius: More flower ideas for the Thanksgiving table.

We have Allan Woods on the phone from his shop on 2645 Connecticut Ave. NW. 202 332-3334. Thanksgiving is a pretty major holiday for flower designers. It's not Valentines day, but it is big. Almost every family in America is having a dinner. A lot of people do their own centerpieces or they contribute something to another dinner. He has some ideas. How about mint julep cups filled with hydrangea, hypericum berries or roses or tiny mums in that Kermit green. Allan's shop is doing a lot of low arrangements - like square vases - tightly packed with flowers. That is the look of the moment. His arrangements start at $60 and they go up in $5 increments. You can order up until Tuesday afternoon for delivery before Thanksgiving.


Silver Spring, Md: I don't think it's too late to have an amaryllis for Christmas. A couple of years ago, I got my mom one from the White Flower Farm catalog for her Nov. 17 birthday--it was beautiful 3 weeks later and bloomed through Christmas.

Jura Koncius: White Flower Farm products are magic.


Washington, DC: I am allergic to real pine trees (can be around them, but can't touch them), but I'd like to get a tree for my apartment. Any recommendations for nice, but not-so-real ones?

Jura Koncius: How about a hot pink or lime green faux tree from Hecht's? They have some wild funky colors this year.


Washington, DC: Do you know anyone who delivers fresh trees? I really want to decorate my condo, but I work almost constantly and don't have much extra time to do christmas shopping, let alone get a tree.

Jura Koncius: We are with you! In fact, check out our article on Thursday about how people deal with holiday stress. Having a tree delivered is a great idea. We called Behnke Nursery in Beltsville. 301 937-1100. They will charge $50 to $60 to delivery fee in addition to the price of the tree. By the way, their first Christmas tree delivery arrived a half hour ago if you want the freshest tree in town and to have it up for as long as possible. Turkey ornaments anyone? But read Don's suggestions listed earlier for extending the life of your evergreen.


Jura Koncius: Here is a final flower tip for your Thanksgiving table. We are speaking with Rance Goff at Ultra Violet on 1218 31st Street in Washington. 202 333-3002. Clear glass squares in groups scattered down the table are big here. They are using exciting things like pepper berries, anemonies, peonies, amaryllis, fall hue parrot tulips. Artichokes are big this year for Thanksgiving. Rolling into Christmas, we use pomogranates, beets and asparagus are good, says Rance.


Jura Koncius: We're out of time. So Happy Thanksgiving to all. And thanks to Don for calling in from an airport somewhere out there.

No regular chat on Thursday as we will all be too busy eating to talk. But tune in again on Thursday December 1 at 11 a.m. for more on paint and other good holiday topics. Jura and Annie.


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