Visitors to this year's holiday White House are being treated to a celebration of national heritage.

Handle with care. The star attractions are fragile.

From East Room to State Dining Room and through the Grand Foyer, decorations honor the broad theme of cultural "treasures." Traditional swags of boxwood hung with beaded pears and crimson ribbons were orchestrated by New York floral designer Robert Isabell. Volunteers contributed hand-crafted dolls and ornaments for the soaring Blue Room tree. The 18th-century Naples creche, displayed annually since 1967, has been refurbished. And the 19th-century James Monroe plateau glitters like gold on the State Dining Room table.

Made of gilded bronze and measuring 13 feet, 6 inches, the centerpiece will endure long after pastry chef Roland Mesnier's gingerbread monuments--of the White House, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument and Mount Vernon--are reduced to crumbs.

Which may be appropriate, given that a subtext of the display is the importance of preserving monuments to the nation's culture, whether well-known or less so. Across the mantels in the Green and Red rooms, 114 models represent historic places or projects. Each has been helped in some way by "Save Our Treasures," a public-private partnership forged by the White House Millennium Council and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The partnership has raised $30 million and helped almost 500 projects.

Models call attention to Edith Wharton's house in Lenox, Mass., the Ellis Island Ferry Building, the Lewis and Clark Herbarium in Philadelphia and Val-Kill Cottage at the Roosevelt estate of Hyde Park, N.Y.

Far less famous is the Thomas Day House/Union Tavern in Milton, N.C., the workshop and home of a free black furniture maker whose artistic role in antebellum North Carolina is only now being recognized.

By 1850, Day owned the largest furniture-making company in North Carolina. He produced furniture and interior woodwork for plantation owners. Originals now are sought by collectors, and some pieces are being re-created by the Craftique furniture company. Day's contribution to the decorative arts may one day be showcased in a house museum.

Restoration of the building, an old tavern dating from the 18th century and damaged by fire under a recent owner, is being funded by the Thomas Day/Union Tavern Restoration project.

"It's slow going," says Marian Thomas, president of the nonprofit group, who was invited to the White House yesterday to view the model in its grand Green Room setting.

Thomas is trying to raise $400,000. The group relies on $10 annual memberships and royalties from furniture sales.

"We could use a celebrity," says Thomas. "We need Oprah or Bill Cosby."

No doubt, all the projects behind the charming architectural models, which will remain at the White House, could use another round of funding for the "Save Our Treasures" program.

"We really, really hope it will continue beyond our time," says Sue Vogelsinger, spokeswoman for the White House Millennium Council. "It has sparked attention to the little places that would not be known about."


Call it a colorful sign of the times. IBM's ThinkPad is getting a fashion make-over.

The laptop dates from 1992, when minimalist master Richard Sapper designed its sober black case. His model was a traditional Japanese lunch box, serene and simple with a big surprise inside. ThinkPad's case hid what was then a novelty for the industry: a fully functioning computer.

"It established the credibility of the laptop," says David Hill, manager of ThinkPad's design group. He was in Washington recently to pick up a Design of the Decade award from the Industrial Designers Society of America.

Though ThinkPad has won 510 industry awards, it was nudged out of first place in that contest by Apple's year-old iMac, which introduced computers in a rainbow of colors.

Now, Big Blue's design team is indulging the rainbow, too. For those who've outgrown minimalism, IBM is offering ThinkPad covers in seven colors, including bold Ferrari red.

It's a perfect match for that Santa suit.

Christmas stockings don't have to fall behind the design curve. Rebecca Peach's updated versions sport the latest in stiletto-heeled style.

The San Francisco designer's main focus is a line of velvet pillows shaped like garden-ripe fruits and vegetables. But she got her flamboyant start reinventing Christmas tradition. Peach recalls creating her first Christmas stockings by hand from vintage dress fabrics. Today, she uses fake diamonds, ostrich feathers and a current fashion favorite, leopard spots. Says Peach, "Animal prints just won't die."

Theodore's, 2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-2300. $100-$120.


Need last-minute holiday help or decorating ideas? Join Linda Hales live online in the Dream House, Thursday from 2 to 3 p.m. Send questions in advance to