Tips I Picked Up from the White House Holiday Decor

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I was one of 300 volunteers who helped decorate the White House for the holidays and here’s what I learned.

decorating the white house for the holidays
(Pictured L-R): @kellmarcel @handmakeshome @loveyourabode @firstgenhouse @uglyducklingdiy @anitayokota @maritedoesit @craftylumberjacks @thekingstonhome @houselarsbuilt

For the second year in a row I was selected to join 300 other volunteers to help decorate the White House for the holiday season. I shared all about the process in this post from last year, but please note that the application to apply is open to the public so it’s not like anyone picked up the phone to call me specifically! That said, the grandeur and history of that building never gets old and this year was just as magical as last year! Side note: My mother saved an article from the Washington Post for me to read that was all about the role that Jackie Kennedy played in the current state of the White House. At the young age of 31, Jackie Kennedy at the foresight to establish the White House historic association which would catalog and help preserve the many historic pieces of furniture and art bestowed to past Presidents. Thanks to her, the White House is essentially a residential museum filled with important pieces that we get to see first hand as we decorate!

holidays at the White House

Back to this year. The theme was Magic, Wonder and Joy and the decor was right up my whimsical color loving alley. I was delighted to work with the talented Emily Barton to help pull together the largest room: the East Room. Emily built a GIANT advent calendar that was filled with oversized sugar cookies to help announce the theme for each day so if you follow along on the First Lady’s Instagram page they have partnered with organizations like the National Parks Service to announce each day’s theme. Cute, right?

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east room holiday decor at the white house
white house advent calendar

Although we have NOTHING to do with the design of the space, we do help execute the combined larger vision of the First Lady’s office and the designers for each room. And, best part, we are immersed in decorating so we get to see from start to finish how to make everything and there are SO many tips and pointers to take away from the whole experience.

holiday decor white house

Here’s what I noticed about the decorations this year:

There Was a Surprise Everyday Household Material Used to Decorate the White House

PAPER!! Paper was used everywhere in the White House! The fanciest house in the country and the decorations were… paper. I don’t know about you, but I love that. In the East room, we used Ram board (floor covering) to make the tree skirts under the trees. They’re covered in joint compound and glitter so they got a glow up, but still. Emily made these cute illustrative Christmas trees out of paper that sat atop the Advent Calendar boxes.

paper trees in the east room
tree skirts made of paper in the white house

Out in the Cross Hall, the talented Stephen from Glitterville made these colorful cute holy garlands out of paper and gold leaf.

paper holly garland cross hall
sugar plum fairy white house

Right next door in the Red Room, ornaments just like these ones I made a few years ago were made for the military family trees in there. (That link has the instructions… they’re SO easy and fast to make!)

paper circle ornaments

Downstairs in the Grand Floor Corridor these arches made from pictures and letters sent to the First Lady were woven together to create these exquisite handmade (paper) garlands. I would LOVE to do this one year with pictures and notes from my kids. Lastly, I didn’t take pictures but the Library and Vermeil Room also had charming ornaments and garlands made from book pages and newsprint… see more here.

paper garland at the white house
paper garland from children's letters

Decor Tips

Cluster and color block! The Official White House Tree is in the Blue Room and this year it was decorated with the most beautiful clusters of bright colorful ornaments. The fireplace mantel got the same treatment and this is something so simple I want to do in my own home. Cluster your ornaments and bonus points if you arrange them into blocks of saturated color.

white house christmas tree 23
garland clusters in white house

Similar ornaments were found in the enormous garlands around the giant mirrors in the East Room. I spent much of my time up on a ladder trying to make sense of these, but they looked so stunning when all was said and done!

giant garland in white house

I said this last year and it’s worth repeating… aside from the grandeur of the space, the biggest thing I learned was that, with few exceptions, the holiday decorations at the White House are made FROM SCRATCH. Like just the way you and I would sit at our kitchen table with a hot glue gun and glitter, that’s how the army of volunteers makes the decorations for the People’s House.

holidays at the white house

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