Bold Decor and Christmas Traditions

In her Birmingham, Alabama home, designer Danielle Balanis weaves some favorite Christmas traditions together with her bold decor for a timeless, festive holiday.
Danielle Balanis stands in her front door that's decorated with a wreath and a magnolia leaf garland.
The interior designer greets guests under a lush swag of magnolia.

While interior designer Danielle Balanis is not afraid to make daring choices in the homes she designs, when it comes to Christmas decorating, she’s more in the classic and bespoke camp. “I don’t like a lot of fuss,” she says. “My biggest inspiration is from the 1994 Little Women film. Their Concord home was embellished with natural elements, velvet bows, and above all, beloved citrus fruit. The carols, the candles, the twigs and berries—you can almost smell the cinnamon and cider as you watch.”

Danielle worked with Mark Thompson of Shoppe to bring her holiday vision to life, beginning at the entry to the house. They chose a garland of magnolia and mixed greenery to frame the front door and drape over the transom window, and a bushy magnolia wreath as the finishing touch. In the large foyer, a heavy magnolia swag with green-and-gold ribbon adorns the stairway, while in the dining room, gold ribbons cascade from the chandelier to the floor. The table is set for Christmas Eve with a mix of dishes and glassware on pheasant feather place mats. A blue-and-white tulipiere bursting with tulips, dianthus, hypericum, lisianthus, roses, cedar berries, ranunculus, and mini carnations serves as the centerpiece.

A magnolia leaf garland hangs on a white bannister.
The entrance hall’s burlap-hued walls provide a pleasing backdrop to show off a diverse collection of artwork. Rugs are from Paige Albright Orientals.

Such traditional holiday adornments create a pleasing balance with Danielle’s bolder interior design ethos. On any given day, a stroll through her home feels like visiting both a contemporary gallery and an antiques shop full of curiosities. The designer has a knack for merging disparate styles and pairing unexpected colors that come together to tell a compelling story in her creative mind’s eye. There is a lot to take in, so chances are that on each visit, guests will see something that makes an impression but was perhaps unnoticed before.

Antique knick-knacks fill up the top of a brown dresser.
Danielle took Pierre Frey wallpaper and mounted and framed select panels to create a triptych. Mark Thompson filled Danielle’s brass swan with peonies, tulips, protea, ranunculus, lisianthus, dianthus, and Alstroemeria lilies for a lush look.
Green bookshelves are filled books and antiques.
Danielle’s basement office is painted in a Farrow & Ball green shade that speaks to the upstairs living spaces. The designer hung art and a mirror directly on the front of the bookcases while an antique library ladder trimmed in greenery and ribbons holds a vintage birdhouse.

The dining room is one such example of this “feast” for the eyes with a buffet that displays an engaging tableau of shell-encrusted boxes, a large Victorian marble bust wearing a red coral necklace, a green Wedgewood lidded urn, and a coral marble lamp with a mother-of-pearl lampshade. Danielle wrapped the room in a shimmery Fabricut velvet that softens and warms the traditional space. “It’s an interesting fabric that changes color throughout the day and evening,” she says. “Sometimes it’s burnt
gold or more mustard, and at other times, it gives off a little chartreuse.” The velvet creates an ideal backdrop for the floor-to-ceiling, peacock-hued, linen chintz window panels topped with a custom curvaceous cornice board that hugs the crown molding. For a welcome contrast, Danielle paired the formal dining table with edgier metal chairs upholstered in a cheerful green floral print.

Gold ribbons hang from a chandelier onto a festive dining table below.
The dining room exemplifies Danielle’s deft hand when it comes to fresh color combinations and prints. Deep turquoise window dressings, tobacco-colored velvet walls, and a green floral print on the dining room chairs join hands for a beautiful yet unexpected result.

To link the first-floor living spaces together, the designer employed varying shades of green throughout, starting in the family room with green paneled walls that pop against the white vertical wainscoting below. In the cozy and decidedly elegant living room, a green-printed velvet covers two slipper chairs trimmed in bullion fringe while lime-toned lampshades offer a bit of a surprise atop white alabaster-like large scale lamps. In less skillful hands, the bright green might feel like a disconnect, but within the rich mélange, it’s a perfect supporting player.

A Christmas tree covered in silver tinsel lights up the corner of a green paneled room.

For her holiday decor, Danielle also draws inspiration from a home in her childhood owned by family friend Mrs. Doris Cowart. “Growing up in Tifton, Georgia, I would relish the invitation to her house during the holidays,” says the designer. “Beyond having an immaculate and perfectly designed home, she had the most magnificent bow that hung from her dining chandelier. As a child, I mentally earmarked it and knew I would re-create this brilliant Christmas adornment myself one day.”

A bright red bow hangs over a white mantel in a cozy living room.
A large-scale, red velvet bow over an antique mirror on the mantel adds a festive note in the living room. The space shows off an interesting mix of textures and styles, including a high-back, neutral loveseat layered with an antique tapestry and an exotic group of pillows.

Danielle, husband Nic, and their three young sons always look forward to their family traditions this time of year, including a special one on Christmas Eve. “We prepare Pastitsio, which is Greek lasagna, using a recipe from Nic’s grandmother, Ya-ya,” she says. “It’s a very special dish that we only make on this one night of the year. I accompany it with a warm spinach salad, and for dessert, we have strawberries in red wine sauce with Mascarpone cream.” It’s a much-anticipated meal with Danielle’s own decorating touches folded in to set the stage for a memorable family gathering on this most special night.

Three boys in plaid pajamas sit around a marble island with Christmas goodies.
(From left to right) James, Wyatt, and Benson Balanis indulge in hot cocoa and Christmas treats in their classic plaid pajamas. Danielle covered the kitchen in white subway tile, giving it the feel of a classic British scullery.


Designer Danielle Balanis shares what makes the holidays extra special for her family.

I love all things classic—white lights, Christopher Radko ornaments that my mom gives me every year, tinsel tossed with abandon on the tree, and gifts wrapped with greenery stuffed into the bow. I also love needle-point stockings. Everyone— even visitors who may never spend Christmas morning with us again—receives a stocking with their name embroidered on it, along with a Bergdorf Goodman stocking hook.
Our sweet local church has
a Christmas Eve morning ministry where we fill bags with food for people experiencing homelessness. As a family, we don’t eat, we don’t gift, we don’t do anything until we give on Christmas Eve morning. Giving back during this season is so important. I want my boys to recognize that.
The boys receive classic plaid pajamas from their Balanis grandparents every year the weekend before Christmas, and they always wear them on Christmas. On Christmas morning, we rush down for gifts, and I make beignets while listening to jazz and drinking coffee with a drop of Baileys. And I always put out a cookie tray of homemade treats and everything sweet from our pantry piled onto one plate!
I love a good spiked cider. Barbara Adkins of Black Sheep Antiques makes the best in her classically stylish silver samovar. I also love dressing up for a holiday party—any excuse to wear a full skirt or sequins.

By Alice Welsh Doyle

Photography by Laurey Glenn

Holiday decor by Mark Thompson of Shoppe