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A Dash of Holiday in 1-2-3

Posted On November 28, 2021

Easy steps to create an air of festivity

By Elizabeth Sugg Photos by Brandon Williams

Some years the holiday décor can be weeks in the planning, other years you may just need a dash of colorful aplomb and fresh greens to create an air of festivity. With the help of Tess Gillespie, Sandhills Magazine’s new fashion coordinator, at her featured home (see page 60), some freshly cut magnolia and pine from our farm, and a mix of ornaments and family pieces, we created simple tableaus of cheer in just moments, in easy steps of 1-2-3.

The foundation of being able to create special vignettes throughout the house at any time of the year is to feature what’s special to you – collectibles, objects that have a family history, a seasonal hobby that finds its way inside. For Gillespie the collectibles are Halcyon Days enamel boxes given to her each Christmas by her late husband Bill. Among the objects that are family heirlooms are the silver flatware and napkins rings. And the hobby she brings inside? Enjoyment of being outside and combining a little gardening with craft – note the pinecones sprayed gold and placed with the fresh greens to add some warmth and elegance.

For years our daughter and I made an annual trek to decorate her grandparents’ two-bedroom suite at an assisted living home where space was ample but still tight. We got lots of practice bringing in “instant holiday”, and I remember getting decorations from local retailers like Cameron & Co. in Pinehurst, One Eleven Main in Southern Pines and Jack Haddon Floral in Aberdeen, so that’s where this simple decorating theme came about. The two of us would pull out books from their small bookcase and place holiday snow globes and nutcrackers on top of their TV table at varying heights. Next, we would temporarily replace a couple of hanging pictures with wreathes and holiday signs, and finally we would decorate a small Christmas tree with a collection of handmade paper ornaments that a friend’s children made 20 years ago to make extra money for presents one year. (They are so dear!) Those got mixed with lace star ornaments my mother-in-law had collected herself. The visits with my husband’s parents and their enjoyment of the tradition of our trip is what’s most lasting in their absence, thus making the argument for simplicity even more persuasive. It’s the memories that are lasting set off with a little dash of holiday!


Table for Two
An elegant table is set in serene splendor.

Step 1: Set the table, note the textured placemats that add warmth to the look.

Step 2: Add the special items. In this case Gillespie’s silver angel napkin rings and the simple touch of white rose blooms.

Step 3: The ooh-la-la.  A silver decanter is filled with a bottle of Dom Perignon and trussed with a slender red ribbon of small bells.




Tabletop Cheer
The table in the heart of the living room’s bay window is a main focal point, so time to dress it up!

Step 1: The centerpiece. A tall clear cylinder vase filled with Gillespie’s gold pinecones.

Step 2: Bring on the greens. Freshly cut pine boughs and magnolia branches, easily freshened up with a walk outdoors and some clippers when they begin to shed.

Step 3: Add the holiday decorations. In this case, miniature trees pre-lit and wrapped in burlap along with a collection of large ball ornaments.


Breakfast is Ready
The small kitchen island is where breakfast is served, so adding a bit of festivity is on the menu.

Step 1: Set the table. Gillespie’s everyday dinnerware is Dedham Pottery with roots in her native Massachusetts. The pattern is the most common and recognizable design – a repeating crouching rabbit referred to as "the Dedham rabbit", and those bunnies are quite at home with the other holiday décor.

Step 2: Add the color and decor. A red holiday Halcyon Days enamel box and a festive napkin set off the space along with a collection of vintage Christmas trees Gillespie found at an antique store.

Step 3: Add the family touch. Cherished silver napkin rings passed down through the years.


Dressing Up the Family Heirloom
A bit of colorful aplomb is added to an antique breakfront chest for the holidays.

Step 1: Build on existing elements. Note the marble lamp, the period brass candlesticks and the silver box, a special family piece.

Step 2: Bring in the décor. Red ball ornaments and a simple “Merry Christmas” sign are placed inside a “Blue Dragon” bowl, a Winterthur adaptation of a porcelain bowl made in England 1765-75. Fresh greens and more golden pinecones add warmth to the setting.

Step 3: The personal touch. Within the engraved silver box are several Halcyon Days enamel boxes that add a soft pop of color.

The Spirit of Christmas
A treasured photograph by Steve Rosenthal of a lone white church in Gillespie’s wintry native Massachusetts countryside is the inspiration for this tableau.

Step 1: Building on existing elements. Fresh greens were added to the pottery vase on driftwood by Dian Ellis Moore, and more fresh pine and large natural pinecones were brought in to offset the dominant handsome blue plaid wingback in Gillespie’s library.

Step 2. The centerpiece. A Department 56 church was found to echo the white church in the photograph.

Step 3. Candles and soft light. A trio of votives set off this special nook in the library.