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 know a thing or two about this experience, as they have offered their homes to the Independent Presbyterian Church’s celebrated fundraiser three times (this year is its 70th anniversary). “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 Sylvester.
“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 her goal of cohesion downstairs, the 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 Sylvester.
“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.” — Sybil Sylvester
With that in mind, she 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.
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, Sylvester departed a bit, selecting colors and materials inspired by the setting. In the master, that meant more-delicate pieces and softer colors. For a guest bedroom, coppery hues dictated the choice of pine cones cleverly used as garland on the headboard.
To create some excitement outside the house, Sylvester 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 weekend; the ilex added a cheerful note in the otherwise gloomy skies. Because the rain diverted visitors through the garage, Sylvester, 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.
Continue The Holiday Home Tour
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Beginning at the mail box, abundant greenery and vivid red ilex berries welcome holiday home tour visitors.
By Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography by Laurey W. Glenn