It was an intense day finishing up and then doing a lot of editing. In the mid- afternoon, a team from the First Lady’s office did a walk through and several projects from several of the rooms needed to be adjusted. It was “think on your feet” time for the lead designers: seeing what they had to work with, and what was left over from other projects or unused altogether, that might work to “fix” the areas that needed to be addressed. Design by committee can be tricky, but this is where the lead designers need to be flexible yet true to their visions.
An unfortunate casualty, were the great recycled trees in the Green Room made from strips of aluminum cans which had been crimped and then applied to an eight foot tall square pyramid form. Behind these were large wreaths formed also from aluminum strips looped and gathered creating a snowflake-like effect. In their place came real trees beautifully decorated in a more traditional way done by designer Todd Richesin from Knoxville. The mantle echoed the tree perfectly, incorporating similar ornaments on a bed of fresh boxwood. Todd also used sprays of stripped eucalyptus sticks, and their natural silver color highlighted the greens, ribbons, and ornaments he used.
I worked the whole week with Emily Thompson, a New York florist, who did extraordinary work. Her concept for the East Room infused this large, empty space with a romantic, yet masculine, feeling with a nod toward a Victorian Christmas. There are also touches of the Italianate, which speaks to the 18th century Italian creche that is the centerpiece of the room. Emily had clipped evergreens in urns placed in moss and rock gardens planted with living bulbs of paperwhites and hellebores planted in trays that were placed in the windows flanking beautiful 18 foot trees.
These trees, as were the trees on either side of the creche beside the portraits of George and Martha Washington (which have been covered behind protective boxes, and will be unveiled tonight), were festooned with real golden cedar garland wrapped with beautiful fig green satin ribbon. For ornaments, Emily choose three types of real crystals (rock, citrine, and amethyst) and hung them from ribbon and clustered them on the tree. As a final flourish, we swagged the whole tree in drifts of gilded leaves in gold and copper.
Emily also placed large rocks quarried from her father’s place in Vermont on the mantle that fresh flowers will be placed among. Emily then had us create massive garlands of white pine, cedar, and magnolia, that went over the windows, mirrors and large double doors that lead into the room from the Cross Hall. The corners of these garlands were build up like eagles wings and were enhanced using exuberant sprays of copper and bronze guilt leaves. I think Teddy Roosevelt, who was a great naturalist and environmentalist and whose portrait hangs in the room, would have loved it!
Toward the end of our 12 hour day, the head usher brought in a tray of warm homemade chocolate chip cookies for our East Room team. We were the last volunteers standing, but for the 10 of us left, to see this beautiful room last night glittering and sparkling and then poke our heads into the other finished rooms and hallways when it was all quiet and empty was magical.
The Blue Room tree, as I alluded to the other day, was quite different this year. Ornaments were fashioned from military service medals framed and hung from the tree, with large, long clusters of streamers made from the ribbon that is used for these medals hung vertically giving the central tree of the White House it’s thematic moment, which I am not at liberty to reveal (Bob scoops the Washington Post!), but is so appropriate.
It was an honor to be part of the dedicated volunteers who gave their time and talent to this time honored holiday tradition. To work in The White House, the “People’s House” was such an incredible experience.
It’s time to begin getting ready for the volunteer reception, and the official unveiling of Christmas 2011 at The White House. Check back tonight, when all will be revealed!