We all want our homes to shine during the holidays as we anticipate visits from family and friends and perhaps some larger-than-usual gatherings. But what if you were expecting throngs of visitors tramping through your house over the course of a weekend? That’s exactly what faces the intrepid and generous souls who open their houses for charitable holiday home tours.
Alice and Bob Schleusner in Birmingham, Alabama, know a thing or two about this experience, as they have thrice offered their homes to the Independent Presbyterian Church’s celebrated fundraiser, a local tradition for more than 70 years. “It’s such a great cause,” says Alice. “It’s hard to say no!”
Alice engaged friend and Birmingham floral talent Sybil Sylvester of Wildflower Designs to ease the burden and bring the beauty. “We wanted the overarching look to be as natural and seasonal as it could be, bringing the outdoors in,” says Sybil.
“Sybil knows I don’t do froufrou, and I think the designs are beautiful and not over-the-top,” says Alice. The pair also wanted the decor to be in harmony with the interiors designed by Marjorie Johnston, which feature glorious rugs throughout. (Alice was a purveyor of fine rugs for 40 years before selling her business to protégé Paige Albright, who helped select some pieces for this home).
To achieve cohesion downstairs, the floral designer threaded similar materials and textures throughout. Standard mixed garlands became custom, woven with branches, berries, smilax vines, and eucalyptus pods.
“There are important considerations when decorating for a house tour, primarily scale and placement,” says Sybil. “People are not coming for a dinner party and sitting down and lingering; they are moving in and out at a fairly rapid pace, so things need to be visible and dramatic. Smaller gestures would be lost.”
With that in mind, Sybil festooned the living room chandelier and added branches and vines to the mantel garland to create height and movement. “On the coffee table, I placed a dramatic and vivid arrangement that was larger than standard for that space, so it would stand out,” says the designer.
A black urn bursts with deep-red peonies, butterfly ranunculus, spray roses, fern fronds, and pieris.
On the staircase, practicality was in play: Instead of wrapping the entire railing with greenery, she created two sections, making it easier for a crowd to traverse the stairs.
For the bedrooms, she departed a bit, selecting colors and materials inspired by the setting. Coppery hues dictated the choice of pine cones cleverly used as garland on the headboard in a guest bedroom.
The main bedroom required softer colors and more delicate pieces—wreaths of tallow berry, eucalyptus buds, privet, and lichen tied with blue-gray ribbon.
To create some excitement outside the house, Sybil used abundant greenery and ilex berries on the mailbox and in window boxes. The decision to use the bright berries proved prophetic as rain pelted down for most of the tour weekend; the ilex added a cheerful note in the otherwise gloomy skies.
Because the rain diverted visitors through the garage, Sybil, in a tongue-in-cheek move, strung up a clothesline to which she randomly pinned pieces of a Santa suit to “dry out.” Not even the rain could dampen the festive spirit of everyone involved in this worthy and wonderful holiday tradition. ’Tis the season after all.
Outdoor Holiday Decor
By Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography by Laurey W. Glenn
This story originally appeared in Flower magazine’s November/December 2019 issue. Subscribe, find a store near you, or sign up for our free e-newsletter.