The kids are coming home from college. You’re hosting a party for your husband’s firm. Your parents are flying up from Boca. Then there’s New Year’s Eve and that Super Bowl party in February. With so much effort going into preparing your home for the holidays, it often feels like you are putting the decorations away before you’ve caught your breath.
But for the savvy hostess, holiday décor is no longer about untangling miles of Christmas lights, plunking red candles on the mantel, and getting out the Santa coffee mugs. It’s an opportunity to create an ambience of elegance that your family will enjoy until the first crocus blooms. The trick isn’t to do a costly home makeover but to add warmth and glamour with carefully selected accessories.
Jane Panasiti-Watkins, owner of Bittersweet Farm in Newtown Square, calls her store “Just an adorable little house filled with ‘farmhouse elegance.” I grew up in central Pennsylvania farm country surrounded by lovely things,” she explains. “My mother had an incredible sense of style and what I’ve created here is a reflection of her ability to add charm and beauty to any room.”
Each room in Bittersweet Farm, from the parlor to the kitchen, is filled with delightful decorative accessories and furnishings for every room in your house. But what keeps Panasiti-Watkins busy during the holidays is designing artificial floral arrangements in containers supplied by customers.
One customer who said, “I don’t do artificial,” quickly changed her mind after seeing Jane’s magic. “I like to do unexpected mixes,” she says. “Cherry tomatoes and sunflowers in a tool box planter and all sorts of things with pine roping, pepper berries, and twigs.”
She goes all out for Christmas at her store, with handblown glass ornaments, folk art Santas, and wooly, hand-crafted animals to hang on the tree. (Ask Jane about her feather trees.) Her bestseller for the holidays is an evergreen and citrus “cake candle.” It smells so delicious even when it’s unlit, your guests will be tempted to take a bite. But don’t wait too long, the cake candles sold out early last Christmas.
Ellen Sarafinian, founder and designer of Dezins Unlimited, believes in small changes that yield big results. “Start with your entrance. If you have an overhang, use an artificial arrangement to set the holiday mood, mixing greens with berries. If your curtains are on a rod, it’s easy to switch to warmer tones for winter such as burgundy, pumpkin, or cranberry.”
But your dining room is where you can create a grand illusion. “We can change the whole look by simply using velvet covers on end chairs, adding a festive table runner, and a floral centerpiece of an apothecary jar filled with ornaments,” says Sarafinian.
If you prefer live holiday floral arrangements to artificial, visit Michael Petrie at Handmade Gardens in Downingtown. Formerly a designer at J. Franklin Styer in Concordville, Petrie always walks away with a prize at the Philadelphia Flower Show. In 2009, he won the Philadelphia Trophy for the most distinctive focal point. And isn’t that exactly what you want for the holidays? “We specialize in container planting. Clients bring in a favorite family heirloom, antique, or found object and we do the planting for them,” Petrie says. His winter arrangements might include curly willow, blueberry branches, moss, and blooming amaryllis.
You never know what you”ll find at Handmade Gardens, from succulents in samovars to orchids in tea pots. Petrie uses object trouvé, or found objects, to create planters and garden art. “We make wreaths out of raspberry cane branches, curly willow thistle, and sumac. We also make them out of things we collect.”
Have you ever admired the illuminated ornaments hanging in the trees in Rittenhouse Square? Those are Petrie’s creations and you will find them in time for the holidays at Handmade Gardens. “It’s an open-weave vine ball from the Philippines that we wrap with colored lights. You can put them on shrubs, lay them on the ground, or use them inside your home. It’s much easier than stringing lights on a tree.”
Everything But the Kitchen Sink in Hockessin, Del., lives up to its name with 15,000 square feet of china, silver, crystal, linens, area rugs, lamps, kitchenware, a children’s boutique, stationery, bed and bath, and fabulous gifts.
“Christmas is huge for us,” says store manager Suzanne Edgar. “We usually sell out of our gold and silver wreaths and we carry all kinds of fun ornaments, including hand-blown glass. Another holiday favorite are our battery-operated candles. They flicker and look just like the real thing but you don’t have to worry about a fire. They are made out of real wax and come four to twelve inches tall.
“Our most popular holiday home fragrance is Thyme Frazier Fir. It’s a wonderful winter scent.”
Although it’s easy to wander off into every nook and cranny of The Kitchen Sink, the best way to glamorize your dining room for the season is to check out the table linens. There are exquisite French linens in a wide array of patterns and colors, along with napkins, placemats, and crystal napkin rings that will add pizzazz to your special nights.
For drop-dead chic, look for glass- beaded placemats in gold, silver, and bronze. Use just one as a centerpiece under a crystal bowl filled with ornaments, or go for the bling and use one at each place setting. Add super-sized silver candlesticks, topped with tapers or Christmas ornaments.
The Michael Aram “Forest Leaf” collection of stainless steel and silver- plated bowls, pitchers, and serving platters will add sparkle.
Another way to add elegance to your home is to dig through your family albums for old photos of holidays past, then display them in whimsical picture frames. You might try contemporary glass and chrome frames, Deco styles, or frames encrusted with seed pearls and rhinestones.
Talk about icy winter beauty—create it with collectible art studio glass from Christopher Pavlou’s Turning Point Gallery. You”ll find colorful, eye-catching glass bowls, vases, and sculptures to make your home sparkle. Some of the gallery’s real treasures are in the lower level gallery, where you”ll find art of internationally renowned glass sculptors. “This work should not be in a small gallery in Media,” Pavlou says of the museum-quality American Art Studio Glass on display.
For serious bling, consider a sculpture by Jon Kuhn that puts one hundred pounds of lead crystal on a spinning pedestal, creating a galaxy of diamonds. “One client created a special room just for this piece,” Pavlou says.
8 Reese Ave., Newtown Square, Pa.
Turning Point Gallery
34 W State St., Media, Pa.
2107 Concord Pike, Wilmington, Del.
320 W. Uwchlan Ave., Downingtown, Pa.
Everything But The Kitchen Sink
425 Hockessin Corner, Hockessin, Del. 19707