With a house as simple and unassuming as our 1880s row house, I really like to add something special each year to jazz up our exterior for the Christmas season. And in a historic town like Old Town Alexandria, inflatables and thousands of twinkle lights set to club Christmas rave music just won't cut it (as much as Alex would like to convince me otherwise). So where does this leave me? This year my answer is festive decor, made with fresh greens and a little something extra.
In the title of this post I hinted that we're going green this year. What do I mean exactly? Well, if you're thinking green as in sustainable or eco friendly, you're partially correct. And going green is also a nod to my color palette of choice.
In terms of the environment, my holiday decorations are made from scrap wood leftover from other projects, as well as yard clippings from a generous friend and neighbor. This, combined with my beautiful celadon ribbon and sparkly festive floral picks from a local craft store that can be reused again in future years, make me feel like I'm being eco conscious this year.
In my recent post about creating a holiday table scape with a modern flare, I talked about how varying your color palette from the traditional cranberry red and forest green can introduce a more modern look to your holiday decor. Initially this year I set out to use natural greens, accented by a pop of turquoise, in a nod to our new front door color. But sadly this didn't work out as planned. (More on that in a minute.)
So where did I start? Given the architecture of our home I knew the locations for fun and interesting house flare would be beneath each of the three windows, on the two new french doors, and something special in our cast iron urns. I had the idea to create "floral swags", for lack of a better term, along each window sill and hanging vertically down each french door.
The process started when we bought our Christmas tree last week at Lowes. While the guy helping us was nicely tying up our tree, I asked if he wouldn't mind me taking home a few of the discarded branches from the ground. He didn't mind at all -- they were trash. Trash to some but treasure to me (I do have a dumpster diving addiction after all) so I grabbed an armload full and loaded them into the back of our mustang.
Continuing on in this vein of castoff collection for Christmas decorations, I boldly asked a neighbor (who has an amazingly huge house and gorgeous garden) if she minded if I cut a few clippings from the greens in her yard. I held my breath hoping I didn't overstep with my question, but was absolutely delighted when she enthusiastically agreed. Not only did she offer up her boxwoods, but she told me I would be doing her a favor! Apparently this time each year boxwoods need to be pruned a bit in the middle to help reduce the likelihood of breakage under the weight of a heavy snow fall. And on top of that, her gardeners were coming by in the next day or two to trim her magnolia tree and she offered to save the cuttings for me! (Plus I'd be putting them to use for the holidays, instead of them being put right in the trash.) Score!
With greenery in hand, I asked my dear husband if he could wrestle up some scrap wood in the basement, cutting five pieces for me -- three for the windows and two for the doors to act as backers for the greens. He agreed, and just a short time later I had my wood backers. While waiting for him to make the cuts, I decided to tackle the first step of mission decoration: the urns. With the addition of a layer of magnolia, frasier fir and boxwood, our slowly withering warm weather plantings went from this:
Given that it took less than 10 minutes and cost absolutely nothing, I'd say it qualifies as a Christmas miracle.
Returning back inside to find my wood pieces cut, with the addition of a drop cloth to corral the needles and mess, our trusty staple gun, floral wire, ribbon, and craft store accessories, I was on my way. (More on the staple gun I used here.)
I started by arranging single magnolia leaves along the piece of wood, fanning them out in either direction of the center point, and stapling them securely in place.
After the layer of magnolia leaves was complete, I added a layer of the cut frasier fir branches.
And finally I added a sprig of boxwood on each side, as well as a turquoise bow and faux berries and acorns from Michael's. The result? Decidedly underwhelming. Even Lulu seemed unimpressed.
First of all, the scale of the bow was way off, and the fact that it wasn't wired ribbon left the bow lifeless and limp, kind of like a...well, you get the picture. And the berries? Also way too small in scale, in fact hardly noticeable from a distance. I wanted so badly to have decor that matched the front door that I ignored the little voice in my head at the store that told me the ribbon wouldn't work, and the floral picks I rummaged up form the already scavenged available selection was a no go. I should have listened to that inner voice.
To say I was dejected is an understatement. I actually contemplated throwing the whole thing in the trash, stomping around, throwing a temper tantrum, rolling around on the floor a little bit, yelling "I hate uncle Jamie," and declaring it a Christmas opportunity stolen by the Grinch, but that wouldn't be very green of me, and it is the holidays after all, so it was time for my heart to grow three sizes. So the next day I hopped back in the car and braved the ridiculous shopping crowds once again and ventured out to Michaels.
After scouring the store for anything that might work a bit better I found one lonely roll of bright green satin ribbon, which happened to be wired. I also found a selection of large bright green and slightly -- dare I say -- tacky floral picks that might just be crazy enough to work with my new theme of green. With supplies in hand and a long checkout line ahead I decided to give it another go.
The result? This time, Wendilocks (yep, that's me) declared it juuust right.
In fact, I love it. I was worried the green glitter would be too much, but when surrounded by the subtle natural greens, it all seems to balance out.
So I got to work on finishing the two other window sprays, as well as the two vertical swags for the french doors. One everything was in place I wrapped a bit of floral wire around the back of each item I created so that we would be able to hang them from the window sills.
Once the swags were ready to go, Alex hung each of them using the floral wire and 3M Command strips and hooks.
If you look closely at the original windows in our bedroom, you'll see they're in dire need of a restoration as well as the addition of custom storm windows. Maybe I'll ask Santa for that for Christmas...but back to the task at hand.
The final result of my 2011 exterior Christmas decorating...drumroll please...looks something like this:
And for good measure, here's a close up of the swags on the french doors. You may notice that they're slightly different. I could claim that this was done to add visual interest, but in fact it was a happy accident, born from the fact I couldn't find two matching large floral picks at Michael's.
So there you have it. I went green for the holidays this year, and all told, spent only about $25 for the finished product. (That's not counting the turquoise ribbon and floral picks as they've now been earmarked as wrapping accoutrements.) Not too shabby.
What are your plans to spruce up your home for the holidays? Anyone run into temper-tantrum induced decorating dilemmas that you'd like to share so I don't feel quite so ashamed of my own? Are you using non-traditional colors for your home? All I want for Christmas is to hear all about it...oh and maybe some restored windows too.
Want to see what else we're up to this holiday season? Check out our steps to quick and easy mantel decor, our annual Christmas tree traditions, our 2011 list for Santa, and the details of our first annual DIY gingerbread challenge.