Two years ago, Carla and Tom Crawford finished a major renovation and decoration of their Alexandria house just before Christmas. Their 1919 center-hall Colonial had a whole new airy feel. And it had a fresh, neutral color palette and a gracious, understated look, thanks to designer Marika Meyer.
“We were worried about how to bring the holidays into the house without being too fussy,” says Carla, who grew up in Alabama. “We wanted it to be simple and look cozy and comfortable with lots of natural touches.” She thought of Christmas in the South, with magnolia leaves on the mantels, boxwood wreaths on the doors and dinner tables set with family china and silver.
So Meyer was tapped to dress up the house for Christmas 2013 with the same restraint and natural feel she used in the decorating. This year, for the third time, Meyer has worked with the Crawfords to bring the warmth and hospitality of Carla’s childhood to the home they share with children Trice, 16, Grace, 14, and Witt, 12.
Right after Thanksgiving this year, Tom, 46, and Trice headed out to Merrifield Garden Center to pick out two trees, one for the living room and one for the family room. Carla, 47, planned menus for the parties they host for their friends and Tom’s co-workers, plus the family Christmas celebration. Meanwhile Meyer, whose firm is based in Bethesda, started planning a look.
This year, it includes boxwood wreaths hung in the windows both inside and out, bringing the look and scent of the season to every room. There are shaggy cedar garlands draped over the mantels and staircase, a giant bowl of Granny Smith apples and lots of silver and gold ornaments, along with other touches. The plan was to use a lot of fresh greens and natural accents, and incorporate mercury glass, which Carla collects.
“Carla has such a great sense of Southern style and a gracious manner in the way she keeps her home,” Meyer says. “It was really fun to work with them to create a holiday look, since they have a lot of things going on throughout the season.”
Meyer was already familiar with the calm and relaxing style the Crawfords enjoyed in their house, having designed their home’s interiors with driftwood gray floors, clean-lined furniture, tone-on-tone wallpapers and neutral fabrics. (Many fabrics are durable indoor/outdoor versions to accommodate three kids and their two Boston terriers, Winston and Baxter.) The color palette is an understated champagne, gray, silver and gold: elegant yet livable.
For holiday decorating, Meyer concentrates on the rooms on the main floor: the entry hall, living room, family room, eat-in kitchen, dining room and Carla’s office.
Carla, who is from a small town, likes to entertain a lot over the holidays. Tom, a senior managing director at an international consulting firm, is from northern Michigan and has great memories of lots and lots of twinkling lights and decorations. “Christmas at our house was a big deal,” he says. “You go all out, because in the dreary North in the depth of winter, we needed it.”
Meyer now keeps a Pinterest board of holiday ideas that she and Carla and Tom go over in the fall. She pins ideas for placecard holders, stocking holders, mantel decorations and flower arrangements.
Each year, Meyer changes the decorations up a bit, adding a few notes of glimmer or a different kind of greenery. The tree in the living room gets silvery ornaments and the one in the family room is trimmed with the Crawford family collection.
So the Thursday after Thanksgiving, Meyer’s holiday decorating SWAT team of six swept in with carloads of stuff and spent the day decking the Crawfords’ halls. They opened the family’s cupboards and used their vases and containers and bowls to hold flowers and fruits. This year there are 12 boxwood wreaths hung on windows throughout the house, a mantel layered with cypress and Asian pears in the living room and a giant clamshell filled with clementines on the coffee table in the family room. “I love it. It’s like a bunch of Santa’s elves running around,” Carla says. “I love that they use simple things, nothing that fancy or glitzy: organic pears and pine cones and natural linen ribbons.”
The mantels are layered in different greens. And this year’s placecard holders are pears Meyers sprayed gold. When you walk in the front door, the bow at the end of the banister is like a jewel: a lush four-inch-wide taupe ribbon embellished with gold embroidery, crystals and pearls.
Says Carla,“The decorations are like a breath of fresh air around the house. I find it all very peaceful and calming.”
The Crawfords enjoy it all until January when the kids go back to school. Then one morning, Carla notices there are too many tree needles on the floor and knows the party is over. So after everyone leaves for the day, she puts on her country music playlist and starts removing garland and packing up ornaments.
“It’s actually sort of therapeutic,” she says. “Out with the old and in with the new. It’s the beginning of a new year and new things to come.”
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Chat Thursday at 11 a.m. Designer Marika Meyer joins staff writer Jura Koncius for our weekly online Q&A on decorating and household advice.