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Blair House, built around 1824 across the street from the White House, serves as the President's official guesthouse for dignitaries. As part of the State Department's Magazine Holiday Showcase, the Better Homes and Gardens team, along with New York designer Elaine Griffin and garden designer John Carloftis, gave its parlors and courtyard fresh holiday spirit. The key? Use simple shapes, natural elements, and plenty of color and sparkle.
Complement a strong fireplace and large-scale accessories with an equally magnificent Christmas tree, as shown in the Blair House parlor. Hundreds of Christmas lights bedeck this 9-foot-tall tree and provide a glow that rivals that of the room's elegant crystal chandelier.
In a room with strong traditional patterns and a grand mantel, go for simplicity and a change in scale with holiday greenery. A row of potted mini conifers and a swag of fresh evergreen garland catch the eye and add softness to the mantel. Fresh pomegranates carry the color from the carpet and upholstery.
If a fireplace is no longer working, use the firebox as another decorating opportunity. Here a stack of birch logs behind gleaming brass andirons adds natural, textural beauty. Christmas ornaments affixed with tacky wax add colorful shimmer.
For all its splendid effect, this tree's decorations are surprisingly simple. The key to the lush look is wrapping every branch with white lights and hanging ornaments deep inside the tree as well as at the tips of the branches. And you don't need to overdo the garland. Wrap the tree only four times from top to bottom to create directional movement without overpowering the tree decorations.
Classic ball ornaments pick up on the room's hues and make a modern statement through color: Trendy pomegranate, coral, and copper update the more traditional red, gold, and silver holiday colors. Garlands of golden laurel leaves and oak leaves with real gilded acorns reinforce the glittery effect.
A luscious bow made by layering wide satin and organza ribbons puts an easy final flourish on the tree. Balls of all sizes, from tiny to large-scale, give the tree a clean, classic look.
Coral poinsettias encircle the base of the tree, brightening the area and bringing color all the way to the floor. Choosing poinsettias in a shade lighter than the tree's coral-color ornaments offers a fresh counterpoint to the dark furnishings and mantelpiece.
Adding a layer of silver accessories to existing furnishings makes a festive statement without being literal about the Christmas theme. Placing one large object -- a lidded silver ball -- under a table carries the eye to the floor and adds interest to the room's decor. The silver elements were chosen as counterpoints to the gilded accents in both parlors.
On the sofa, new pillows repeat the red and green colors of the holiday decorations and update the traditional setting with more graphic motifs -- red Greek Key trim, folk art vines, and a mod geometric.
Poinsettias, fresh evergreens, and gold and silver ornaments are classic ingredients for Christmas decorating. Give the trio a fresh take by piling the ornaments into clear glass cylinders and setting the poinsettias into antiqued gold glass pots. Nestle round and egg-shape silver ornaments among the greenery to carry sparkle and color across the mantel.
Textured silver ornaments and red crystal garland add a modern accent to the mantel decorations. Short branches of an evergreen (such as arborvitae) work well on the mantel because the greenery drapes gracefully.
Symmetrical mantel arrangements are the easiest because each half of the display mirrors the other. Anchor each end with a tall crystal cylinder filled with ornaments. Evenly space poinsettias between the cylinders, varying the height of the pots. Use blocks of wood to raise them to the desired heights, and hide the supports with greenery. To protect the mantel from scratches or water damage, cover it first with plastic wrap.
Poinsettias say Christmas in any setting, so it's the container that determines whether the style is formal or casual. Here an acid-etched finish tones down the bright gold of brass pots and gives them an aged look that blends well with the antiques in the room. Soft green moss mounded over the soil provides a natural base for the plants and covers bare stems for a full, fresh look.
Instead of filling your glass container with same-size balls in a shiny finish, try mixing shapes and sizes and choose ornaments with antiqued or acid-etched finishes. The variety gives the display more depth and interest and ties into a traditional room's sense of history.
A low oval arrangement of pinecones and seedpods resting on bed of magnolia leaves decorates the formal chinoiserie tray table. Placing the arrangement on a clean-lined, square silver tray protects the furniture and adds a modern touch to the formal space.
This red lacquer desk inspired the pomegranate colors in the Christmas decorations. If you have a showstopping piece, all you need to do is embellish it with a few strategic decorations to create a Christmas look. Placing a poinsettia below the desk helps lead the eye from desktop to floor. Adding a tall, clear glass urn with bare branches calls extra attention to this corner and combines a classic shape with a contemporary element.
Christmas balls and pomegranates in a medley of containers bring the room's color scheme to the desk corner. Because the fruits and balls are the same basic shape, it's important to vary the scale to avoid monotony. Fill cake platters, stemware, or drinking glasses with ornaments, fruit, and greenery to make a quick tabletop display. To protect fine surfaces, cover them with glass or a mirror.
Add more texture and character to an evergreen wreath by tucking in sprigs of cedar, juniper, pine, or arborvitae. The feathery textures and range of greens will give the wreath a custom-designed look with softer edges. Shiny silver balls, pomegranate clusters, and strands of red crystal garland tie the wreath to the mantel decoration.
Geometric shapes, shiny silver surfaces, and red berry branches take the indoor decorating scheme outside to the courtyard. Large and medium-size stainless-steel balls from CB2 float in the basins of the Victorian-style fountain and pool. Spotlights and twinkly white lights on the wreaths that line the courtyard walls illuminate this area with a romantic Christmas glow. Metal-mesh spheres hung by fine wire from the trees add to the magical effect.
Wrought-iron furniture stays outside year-round so why not put it to use for Christmas decorating? Mercury-glass gazing balls look like large-scale Christmas ornaments when nestled into a boxwood wreath on the table -- or scattered among urns and landscaping beds. If your outdoor area is subjected to wind, make sure greenery and ornaments are well-secured.
Magnolia and winterberry make a stunning traditional outdoor decoration for Christmas. Large silver balls tucked into the greenery add eye-catching sparkle and modern shape -- and repeat the tabletop centerpiece motif. If magnolias aren't abundant in your area, adapt the idea with large-scale evergreens.
Metal-mesh spheres hung by fine wire from the trees create a magical effect in the Blair House courtyard. Large stainless-steel orbs rest on the ground like pieces of contemporary sculpture, carrying the ornament motif from the tabletops, fountain, and urns to the ground.
Woven-metal orbs that resemble delicate balls of boucle yarn take a modern, industrial material to a new decorative level. The balls move with the air, reflect the lights of the landscaping at night, and sparkle in the sunlight by day.