living room holiday decor

In the living room, Sylvester dressed the mantel and chandelier with mixed garland enhanced with lichen, olive, and acacia branches; smilax vine; and others.

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!”

dining room decorated for a holiday home tour

Alice’s blue-and-white porcelain is filled with delphinium, sea holly, amaryllis, and ilex berries in the dining space.

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).

In a bright windowsill, an airy, tall arrangement of ilex berries, pine, and other branches of greenery spring from a rustic long wood box that is bedded with moss.

“I wanted the window arrangement to look like it was scooped up in the forest and planted right in the box,” says Sylvester.

stair rail decked in greenery for holiday home tour

The staircase was wrapped in mixed garland with acacia and olive branches added in.

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.

living room holiday decor

An arrangement in 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, 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.

guest bedroom decorated for holiday home tour

“The coppery tones seemed to call out for pine cones,” says Sylvester of this guest room.

The wreaths are attached to the two front posts, with a third is attached to the canopy frame, centered above the headboard. Four airy white panels hang from each corner of the canopy

In the master bedroom and bath, Sylvester used soft blue-gray ribbon and delicate materials.

A wreath hangs from the mirror in the sleek white and gray master bath with marble counters

Tallow berry, eucalyptus buds, privet, and lichen comprised the wreaths.

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

Click the arrows (or swipe if on a mobile device) to see more from this home, outside and inside.

Greenery and ilex berries cover the post of an ornate black mailbox

Beginning at the mail box, abundant greenery and vivid red ilex berries welcome holiday home tour visitors.

tudor-style brick home with a magnolia leaf wreath on the door
The choice of natural materials for holiday decorations complements existing evergreen landscaping.
front door holiday wreath with red ribbon
On the front door, Sylvester tucked bits of lichen into a magnolia and pine cone wreath.
Holiday greenery follows the brick arch over an outdoor circular fountain built into the patio wall. Vases of red berries flank each side.
The holiday cheer extends to the patio and its splashing fountain.
Detail photo of greenery above an outdoor wall fountain. A red bow adorns the face of a medallion, from which the water flows
A simple red bow accents the spout's ornate medallion.
Patio table and chairs, with a try on the table filled with Christmas greenery and other natural elements. At the center is a very small, unadorned Christmas tree
A large tray is ideal for holding a low, holiday arrangement on a coffee table.
patio container garden
Year-round plantings on the patio include topiaries and other potted shrubs, herbs, and flowering annuals.
Window box holiday decor - ilex berries tucked among kale and other seasonal plants
Cut branches of ilex berries appear to grow among the window box plantings.
garage decor for a holiday home tour
Between the garage doors, a lantern and planter are dressed for the season, too.
Homeowners Alice and Bob Schleusner stand on the greenery festooned staircase
Alice and Bob Schleusner have offered their homes to the Independent Presbyterian Church’s annual holiday home tour three times. “It’s such a great cause,” says Alice.
Two antique carved wood chairs upholstered in leather flank a fireplace decorated with greenery arrangement as if it were growing naturally on the mantel and wall.
A roaring fire sets a cozy scene in the living room.
Nutcracker decor
In the kitchen, a marble-top island displays nutcrackers and Santa figurines on a small fine rug.
Christmas flower arrangement
The merry and unexpected combination of delphinium, sea holly, amaryllis, and ilex berries is a new Christmas favorite for the editors of Flower.
Christmas table setting
Green crystal goblets accompany china and glassware bearing a Christmas tree motif.
A spray of greenery adorns a snowshoe.
holiday decor for a dresser top
A petite wreath of smilax vine, elaeagnus whips, and tiny pine cones is a sweet detail on a bedroom dresser.
bedroom Christmas decor
Another view of the master bedroom: For the floral arrangement on the dresser, Sylvester featured ranunculus and anemones.

By Alice Welsh Doyle | Photography by Laurey W. Glenn