By Sarah Burton
“In order to determine the best placement for decorative accents, consider all the architectural elements your home has to offer.” -Kerry Giles
“If you’re like me and you don’t have any training, put together things you like. Normally, inspiration just happens for me during this process, and I can add my own touches and come up with unique ideas each year.” -Drew Leftwich
“Instead of the usual approach, choose to look outside the box and make use of unusual things.” -Miranda Shotwell
If your “simple wreath on the front door” tradition has lost its holiday sparkle, it may be time to spruce up your entrance as you welcome the season and all its merriments. Central Virginia HOME invites you to enjoy the dazzling entrances to three local homes that go beyond the ho-hum to create a welcoming, lasting impression on holiday guests and passersby.
Size Up Your Entrance
Though the door is one of the most important pieces of your entryway, it’s important to realize that it is only one piece. Kerry Giles of The Farm Basket on Langhorne Road says, “While the front door becomes a focal point, her architectural elements encompass the entrance as a whole, framing the door or leading up to the door. In order to determine the best placement for decorative accents, consider all the architectural elements your home has to offer.” If design elements are strong, for example, Giles prefers a “less is more” approach to avoid overpowering the strength of the architecture. But she also says that scale is important; if columns are tall and the porch large, for example, Giles advises using larger decorations to achieve proper balance.
A Natural Beauty
Giles often finds her inspiration in nature and loves the idea of hanging a bountiful basket on the door to welcome guests during the holidays—particularly like the one featured here. “A basket speaks well of seasonal traditions, and we are fortunate to live in a region abundant in evergreen,” she says. In this design, Giles also creates a horizontal swag for the porch overhang, since the Palladian window above, if decorated or lit, would lead the eye away from the door. Instead, she wants guests to marvel at the basket on the door. She suggests that sturdy branches of magnolia, boxwood, aucuba, pine, spruce, yew and cypress are all good choices for filling holiday basket arrangements. She advises removing the leaves from holly branches, since they tend to spot if cut and kept too long, and using the red berries as a bright accent in any holiday arrangement. Winterberry and nandina offer beautiful red berries as well. Flowers such as achillean, celosia and amaranth can be air-dried and will retain their color for use later, and Giles also likes to mix in rosemary, pine and lavender to engage the sense of smell. She achieves interesting texture by mixing elements and colors. A large, broad leaf, for example, contrasts nicely with the thinner needle of a pine. To add a pop of color, consider blending yellow lemons with fresh greens and red berries. Giles also uses a vast array of dried grasses which can add strong form, delicate texture, and rustic or natural charm to any holiday design. Bare branches, feathers, lichen, nests and other collected treasures can also add interest and seasonal character.
A Touch of Whimsy
If you’re the type to have a little fun, take notes from Miranda Shotwell, owner of Smith Mountain Lake-based Designer Solutions. Since this home favors a traditional style, Shotwell creates a double-door design that embraces traditional elements but adds bits of whimsy in the details. “It’s fairly typical to see a round wreath on the front door at Christmastime. For this family of five, I chose a whimsical, childlike design which takes advantage of interesting objects including flags, bows, bells, and little tree ornaments,” she says. Two large swags made of artificial greenery feature glittering white bells and snowflakes, red berries, pinecones and plaid ribbon. The swags also contain ornaments that greet visitors with fun and familiar holiday expressions like “ho ho ho” and “believe,” expressing the fun-loving vibrance of this family with young children. In order to accentuate the beautiful architecture of this particular home, Shotwell’s colleague Dianne Lamm designed an oversized ball to hang from the brick archway over the covered porch. Reminiscent of traditional mistletoe, the sphere is made from artificial greenery, ribbons and large white bells, complementing the doorway and adding a different shape and texture to the overall look. The homeowners also enjoy this particular element from outside and in, as its merry colors and shape can be seen inside the foyer through the window over the doors. A lighted topiary with a gold base also decorates the entrance. “Instead of the usual approach, choose to look outside the box and make use of unusual things,” urges Shotwell.
Traditional Williamsburg, With a Twist
Colonial Williamsburg during the Christmas season uses the soft glow of candlelight, wreaths laden with fruit, and garlands of fresh, fragrant pine to achieve holiday grandeur. Here, Forest homeowner Drew Leftwich embraces some of that same style in his home’s annual holiday décor. “My arrangements are a mixture of Williamsburg and of my little sister’s style,” says Leftwich. His sister, a Richmond lawyer and well-known floral designer, goes for “big, organic and architectural” styles in her arrangements. He also has very fond boyhood memories of outdoor holiday decorating with his brother at the family’s home in Hopewell. Leftwich says he begins his designs by using items from his own yard, but has since branched out to use things he finds in the wild of his neighborhood—though not from anyone else’s yard, he quips. He seeks materials—mixed greens, briars, whitefrosted branches—with unusual shapes and colors as he strives for a “certain lack of symmetry and control” that adds to the organic feel of the arrangement. He also likes to use grapevine, with its natural twists and corkscrews, and stalks with unusual pods or berries. Over the years, no two Leftwich entrances have been alike. “My front door design changes depending on what I find,” he says. He works with materials he finds appealing and advises others to do the same. “If you’re like me and you don’t have any training, put together things you like. Normally, inspiration just happens for me during this process, and I can add my own touches and come up with unique ideas each year,” he says. Leftwich admits his biggest challenge is trying to appropriately light the décor. “A normal spotlight is a little harsh for a natural arrangement, so I tone it down by using a lower wattage bulb and scratching up the lens a bit. Then, I string regular Christmas tree lights in the garland and grapevine,” he says. These techniques create a soft, more natural light. Reminiscent of Williamsburg candlelight, perhaps?
Make it Last
While artificial décor will last indefinitely through the years with proper care and storage, designs with natural elements need more consideration to keep them fresh through the season. While Leftwich says his design lasts around four weeks, the length of time cut greens will last has everything to do with how much moisture is in the plant when it’s cut and what the temperature is where the plant is displayed. Giles says cut greens retain their freshness much longer in the cooler, outdoor climate, but cautions that even the winter sun can be harsh on greenery. To the extent that it’s feasible, you should place greens in water, and mist them to lengthen their lifespan. Whatever your style, be sure to give the entrance to your home the attention it deserves. The options for dressing your door for the holidays are endless, and with a little creativity, you can welcome guests with a fabulous first impression.