Thomas O'Brien on Tips for Holiday Decorating

Thomas O'Brien on Tips for Holiday Decorating

Annie Werbler
Nov 17, 2009

One of our favorite people has composed a list of helpful hints for entertaining as part of Williams-Sonoma Home's Designer Series. Thomas O'Brien is known for his eclectic, masculine, and comfortable blend of vintage and contemporary. Have a read about how he makes his house a home for the holidays.

A Discussion With Thomas

Stick with tradition. I think the holidays are more fun if you incorporate traditions which add something personal. Ever since I was a kid, I've been collecting old toys and ornaments and animal figurines, and it all comes out in December, to be set up like a vintage Christmas village on my mantel. My goddaughter lights up every time she sees it. We have a ritual of unpacking all the pieces together and have a great time planning where to put everything. I'm not above adding in less precious elements in small doses, like fake snow or Frosty the Snowman. She loves it, and I get a kick out of seeing the magic through her eyes. For me, holidays are really all about the kids and family and entertaining.

Dress it up. I try to make the whole season feel special. Let yourself and your home be dressier and more festive than usual. I make a point of taking out my china, crystal, linen, and silver to use not just at dinner but during the day. It's nice having Christmas dishes too, even if it's just a set of mugs you mix in with your usual place setting. I set out holiday platters and mixed groups of glasses on the table, so that they become part of the décor.

Pick a theme. I often use a wintry, serene, white and silver palette at holiday time. There are certain details I love year after year: Christmas M & M's in brilliant cut-crystal candy bowls, big fires at all times in the fireplace, a magnolia wreath on the front door hung with antique ribbon, and lots of holly and amaryllis all over the house. Repeating the same scheme is part of the fun and makes the holiday classic for me.

Shine on. I get the largest tree possible and load it up with strands of white lights with bulbs in a number of different shapes and sizes, set back really deep in the branches. This creates a layered, twinkly effect. I also sprinkle tons of old-fashioned silver tinsel all over the tree and pile on ornaments I've had in my family for ages. In the evenings, I always light candlesticks and votives to add to the glow, with dimmed lamp light and as little other light as possible. That puts the emphasis on the tree, and makes the whole night shimmer.

Entertain in style. Every year I host a big party for my office, plus a bunch of smaller get-togethers. In November, I transform my bar and butler's pantry into an entertaining station, stocked with everything I need as a host for the whole season. I bring out favorite pieces like my Mauviel hammered copper double champagne bucket (from the wonderful line of French copper cookware that is sold at Williams-Sonoma). But even with fine things I like to keep the mood a bit casual, as in mixing and matching vintage and new glassware at the bar. This not only looks more interesting, but it is practical for parties, making it easier for guests to keep track of their particular glass. In terms of music, I go for classics like the Nutcracker and Nat King Cole. At our staff party, everyone takes a turn opening presents in front of the group, having a special moment of recognition. And everyone puts such creative effort into decorating and packaging their gifts. I keep a wide wicker basket handy for all the discarded paper and ribbons. These are the small moments that add up to an elegant evening, with so many nice details to be appreciated.

Favorite item. My favorite item in the store is the classic hotel bedding. The quality of the cotton is great, and the colors are always so sophisticated, never overdone. And with all the house guests that come through around this time, it's especially good to have extra sets of sheets.

via: Williams-Sonoma Home Designer Series

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